One aspect of modern agriculture receiving a lot of attention in the sustainable agriculture discussion is the use of chemical inputs to supply fertility and pest control. White agriculture chemicals will continue to play an important role in American agriculture. Many farmers are looking at alternatives due to environmental, economical, or regulatory reasons. In a transition to farming systems more reliant on biological methods of production, low-input farming serves as in intermediary step.
Sustainable agriculture emphasizes the conservation of its own resources. For a farm to be sustainable, it must produce adequate amounts of high-quality foods, be environmentally safe, and where appropriate, be profitable. Sustainable farms minimize their purchased inputs (fertilizers, energy and equipment) and rely, as much as possible on the renewable resources of the farm itself. This is especially important in the 90 per cent of farms that exist in the third world, where these inputs are often not available or affordable.
Agricultural ecosystems, unlike the natural ecosystems, are human manipulated ecosystems and regular and sometimes intense disturbances arc a major part of economically viable agriculture management systems.
Sustainable agriculture is a complex issue associated with producing food while maintaining our biophysical resources including soil, water and biota with no adverse impacts on the wider environment. It should:
There are different concepts of sustainable agriculture, but none is generally accepted.It embraces several forms of non-conventional agriculture that are often called organic, alternative, ecological or low input. However, from economic and ecological perspectives, two basic criteria must be met if agriculture is to be sustainable in the long term. These are:
Sustainable farming uses some form of integrated pest management for pest control, and this can include the use of chemical pesticides that are not used by organic farmers. Thus, sustainable agriculture does not mean a return to the farming methods of the late 1800\s. Rather, it combines traditional techniques that stress conservation with modern technologies, such as improved seed, modern equipment for low-tillage practices, integrated pest management that relies heavily on biological control principles, and weed control that depends on crop rotations. Sustainable farms try to use wind or solar energy instead of purchased energy, and use organic animal manure and nitrogen-fixing legumes as green manure to maintain soil fertility, as much as possible, thereby minimizing the need to purchase inputs from outside the farm. The use of genetically engineered crop strains is certainly not excluded by sustainable farming. The emphasis is on maintaining the environment, not on rules about what can or cannot be done. Profits from sustainable farms can exceed those of conventional farms.
Innovative farmers have developed many alternative farming methods and systems. These systems consist of a wide variety of integrated practices and methods suited to the specific needs, limitations, resource bases and economic conditions of different farms. To make wider adoption possible, however, farmers need to receive information and technical assistance in developing new management skills.
There are several established approaches to eco-friendly farming systems. A common thread in all schools is an emphasis on biological systems to supply fertility and pest control rather than chemical inputs.
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