Re: Sustainable Agriculture

Cyrus, you have a good question. First of all, I do not see sustainable 
agriculture as a practice or a point to be arrived at.  SA for me is the 
process of moving towards sustainability.  "how to know if a system 
(no-till) is sustainable?" What are we trying to sustain, the system or 
the effect that the system has on profitability, environment and quality 
of life (our goal)?  If SA is a process of moving towards sustainability, 
we are really talking about a system of decision-making, and evaluating the 
effect that tools (no-till) have on our goal (not just a sustainable 
future). As you said there are trade-offs, on the posative side, no- till 
conserves water and maintains ground cover to reduce erosion, on the 
negative side it has repeated herbicide application, raising the risk of 
pesticide runnoff or leaching.  I like the Holistic Management guidelines 
for evaluating if a practice is sustainable or not. (For further 
information there, see the Center for Holistic Management web page: 

I will not go through their seven testing questions, but your action, 
no-till will likely pass some testing questions and will likely fail 
others. Finally having gone though these questions you 
will know what effect your action will have.  It is then your decision 
to go ahead or reject the action or activity this year.  If the action 
passes your requirements move forward.  But having decided to go ahead 
with an action, monitoring is needed to see that you continue to move 
towards your goal. Conditions change and what may have been a correct 
decision at one point and time may no longer be the best.

I do not want to drag this out, I hate long postings.  But you should get 
the jist of what I am presenting.  The practice is only a tool.  
Sustainability is something that we will forever be moving towards in 
this ever changing world.

For me, the dilema right now is that we are beginning to develop a 
networking directory of farmers using "sustainable" practice.  Do we 
exclude the chemical no-till farmer and the practices associated?  I lean 
towards including them.  No they do not pass all of my tests, but they, 
as well as me, are on the road to sustainability as they endeavor to 
reduce erosion and keep ground cover.  

Let us build bridges, not roadblocks to the future.

Stan Freyenberger
Research Assistant
Dept of Ag Econ, KSU
Manhattan, KS  66506

On Thu, 5 Jun 1997, Cyrus Abivardi wrote:

> June 5, 1997
> Dear Colleagues,
> Although the urgent need for a sustainable agriculture is well documented,
> criteria (and indicators) for sustainability have not been well
> established.
> Since sustainability is defined a posteriori, THE QUESTION IS how can we
> know that an agricultural system (for instance no-tillage agriculture with
> numerous positive/negative points) is sustainable?
> I would appreciate it very much if you could participate in this discussion!
> Many thanks in advance,
> Cyrus

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