Sustainable practices in agriculture are required for a long and prosperous agricultural system. Since agriculture techniques became integrated with human culture, about 10,000 years ago, agriculture was practiced in a sustainable way; the intent may not have always been to be sustainable as human beings are likely to employ work-reduction strategies whenever they can, sustainability was the by-product of low-tech farming practices.
Once the industrial revolution impacted farming, sustainability was no longer a natural byproduct of humans living off of the land. Large-scale monoculture, use of chemicals, and reliance on fossil fuels to power machinery became the norm; none of the agricultural practices are sustainable and many farmers recognized the need to return to the “old ways” of sustainable agriculture.
Sustainable agriculture provides high yields without undermining the natural systems and resources. Farmers who take a sustainable approach work efficiently with natural processes rather than ignoring or struggling against them; this use of the permaculture concept of farming uses the best of current knowledge and technology to avoid the unintended consequences of industrial, chemical-based agriculture. One important result is that farmers are able to minimize their use of pesticides and fertilizers, thereby saving money and protecting future productivity, as well as the environment.
Some of the most common sustainable agricultural techniques used by modern farmers to achieve the key goals of weed control, pest control, disease control, erosion control and high soil quality include:
- Crop rotation
- Soil enrichment and composting
- Natural pest predators
- Use of cover crops
- No-till farming
- Integration of keyline design
- Seed saving
- Soil management and prevention of soil erosion
- Water conservation
Unfortunately, many industrial farmers are reluctant to adopt sustainable farming practices because it means less reliance on machines and more intensive work by human beings. This is not laziness, it is simple economics as most farmers fear that they will reduce crop yields and will not be able to sustain their families economically.
The key to getting industrial farmers to integrate sustainable agricultural practices is to ensure that it is not a loss to them economically. Many times this is a long-term viewpoint rather than a per season yield viewpoint. In the end, sustainability must be viewed as a process and integrating anyone aspect of sustainability a benefit to the overall agricultural system.