“Sustainable Agriculture” is a term that is being used more frequently today than ever before, but what does it really mean? Sustainable agriculture can be defined as a means of food production that does not deplete or contaminate the earth’s natural resources that are available. Sustainable agriculture differs from conventional agriculture in that instead of using synthetic fertilizers and pesticides it tries to mimic nature and utilize a more natural and self-sustaining method of growing crops and livestock. Three important concepts of sustainable agriculture that are often mentioned are environmental health, social & economic equity and economic profitability.
The industrial revolution led to many “advancements” in agriculture in that more food was able to be produced in a broader scale, and the food was able to be sold at cheaper prices due to these advancements. With the goals of conventional agriculture structured after industrial production, much damage has been done to our natural resources in exchange for the abundance of food produced. Most obviously, the soil and water has been degraded. Due to the high rate of industrialization in farming, the farms that are operating got bigger and bigger, and the number of farmers has grown smaller and smaller. The number of farmers in the U.S. dropped by 4.3% from 2007 to 2012. There was a 6% drop in the same time frame for the number of woman farmers. For the past 30 years the average age of farmers has been steadily increasing. In 2012 the average age of farmers was 58.3 years, and this number has been steadily rising.
Many farmers were essentially forced into conventional farming methods my means of supply and demand, the farmer who is his competition converted to industrial means of farming and in order to compete in scale and price the next farmer had to convert as well. There is now a movement towards more sustainable agriculture because many people are realizing the vast amount of damage that conventional agriculture has caused over the recent decades. Sustainable agriculture is by no means a new idea, it has been practiced for many decades and is appearing to expand even more in recent years. The sustainable farmer is usually (though not always) a farmer on a smaller scale that utilizes minimal tillage, water conservation and protection, protects soil from washout and erosion, encourages biodiversity, recycles nutrients and incorporates both animal and horticulture enterprises on the farm.