Re: Sustainable Agriculture

Hi Cyrus and others,
IMHO, there are clear indicators that the current practice of agriculture, 
often termed conventional, is NOT sustainable. Average loss of 3.8 tons of 
soil annually from cropped lands, almost complete reliance upon fossil 
fuels, declining genetic diversity (which is actually promoted by 
agribusinesses interests including land grant universities), a huge reliance 
upon export sales, increasing risks from insect damage in monoculture 
systems, fewer and fewer marketing options for most farmers. I could go on.

Many good scientists accept these indicators of problems, but most seek 
solutions just the way we all were trained: as reductionists. Therefore, the 
search continues for "magic bullets" in the forms of more potent chemicals, 
genetically altered life forms, etc. The point is that each development is a 
specific fix that ignores the complex interactions of living systems, the 
cultural aspects of agriculture and the environmental consequences of the 
chemical juggernaut. 

The reality of agriculture production in the eastern corn belt is that a 
minimum of 1200 acres of corn and soybean production is necessary to support 
a farm family. That translates to a land value of $3 million at $2500/acre 
(the minimum value of "good" farm land. It is generally accepted that corn 
and beans will yield a net of $30/acre or $36,000 annually for a 1200 acre 
farming operation. What business of any kind that requires a $3 million 
asset base to generate an annual return of $36,000 is sustainable? Secondly, 
more than half of all farmed land in the Midwest is rented. How many can 
afford or will practice comprehensive stewardship on rented land? 

Therefore, the search for a production system that addresses these known 
indicators is the process of sustainable agriculture. System is the key; 
hence, the references to holism. Whatever the sustainable agricultural 
system looks like, it will have to integrate economic, environmental and 
social (quality of life, community viability, etc.) concerns.

As for positive indicators, there are also many on farms that function as 
integrated systems. I know of many farms that are profitable enough to 
support a farm family, that control runoff from the farm, who do not rely on 
large amounts of chemical inputs for fertility and weed and insect control, 
etc. Although these farms will undoubtedly have to incorporate adjustments 
to their systems over time, they are defining sustainability in agriculture.

Best regards,
Steve Bonney, President
Indiana Sustainable Agriculture Association
100 Georgton Ct.
W. Lafayette IN 47906
(317) 463-9366, fax (317) 497-0164
email sbonney@iquest.net