Sustainable agriculture is a multi-faceted concept, which encompasses those things that must be done to protect the earth's unified eco-systems to ensure sufficient food, clean water and clean air for this generation and those to come.
The importance of sustainable agriculture becomes clear when you consider that the world's population is a staggering 6.7 billion people and that we are increasing by about eighty million per year. Pollution and poor management of our resources, by this many people, has changed the very face of the earth until even in a time of plenty, countless thousands are starving.
Sustainable agriculture now has the world's attention due to environmental issues, economic upheaval, shifting weather patterns and starvation in third world countries and the goal is shifting away from earning money at any cost.
So, if the bottom line of sustainable agriculture isn't money, what is it? It's balance, and the ability of this and future generations to survive. It can be very cost effective too, as long as farms remain in the hands of those who actually work the soil, live in the community and are willing to do those things, which define sustainable agriculture, such as the following.
1-Community Supported Agriculture Instead of Commercial Farming
Instead of farmers becoming nothing more than sharecroppers with an absentee landlord, they receive monetary support from the local community. Local investors commit to maintaining the farm even through the bad years when crops are lost to insects or weather. The farmer is therefore able to maintain his livelihood without having to bear the whole burden.
Commercial farms look at nature as a competitor instead of a helper and measure their success by one thing only; how much money they make. While, commercial farming does earn big bucks, it also pollutes the land, water and air thereby alienating the surrounding community. They exhibit little if any consideration for how their methods may be causing irreversible damage to the earth.
2-Sound Land Management
*Crop Rotation and Soil Building Green Crops*
Man has known about the benefits of crop rotation since biblical times. Crop rotation plays a large part in sustainable agriculture as it breaks the life cycle of harmful insects and pathogens living in the soil.
Planting the same crop in the same space year after year depletes the soil of nutrients needed by that particular crop. Once, the nutrients are depleted, the soil is no longer healthy and the crop is weak and becomes a breeding ground for harmful insects.
Rotating the crops and planting a green crop, to be tilled under such as clover, allows the soil to renew any nutrients that were lost. Green crops are excellent for building healthy soil and keep the soil from sitting bare for a season when wind and water erosion might remove the top soil.
*Natural Fertilizers and Pest Control*
Companion planting and removal of dead matter from the garden area leaves less habitat for harmful insects. Release of beneficial insects, such as ladybugs, praying mantis and wasps, help keep crop eating insects under control. Providing habitat for birds and bats will help diminish the insect population around the clock.
Using manure and other composted waste such as grass clippings, garden litter, sawdust and chipped limbs is a safe as well as economical method of fertilizing crops, as are cottonseed meal, blood meal and fish emulsion.
*Carbon Sequestration and Conservation Buffer Strips*
Our ancestors maintained a healthy balance between the number of acres tilled and those left for forests and meadows. Perhaps, they didn't understand about trees removing carbon dioxide from the air but they knew it worked if they left strips of grass and trees between fields.
Buffer strips provide habitat for beneficial insects and birds that eat harmful insects and this is a sustainable way of killing garden pests. Buffer strips also stop wind and water erosion of the precious top layer of soil.
This is only a brief explanation of sustainable agriculture, as it encompasses much more than can be covered in this article. Integrated Farming Systems, Organic Farming and Permaculture are other methods of sustainable agriculture that are proving to be truly doable.