Re: Sustainable Agriculture

Leaping in where I have no special knowledge,
I offer the following: 

I think it is impossible to define, in any 
specific way,  what practices constitute sustainable
agriculture, (not that we shouldn't try to come as close as
possible). Conditions in the future will change 
and practises must change with them, or our 
civilisation will decline or perish. 
    I think it *is* possible to define 
practises which are *not* sustainable. By continuously
and systematically identifying practises which are
not sustainable, we will ultimately arrive at the
practises that give us the best chance of sustainability. 
Some of the obviously unsustainable ones include 
dependence on non-renewable resources, using systems that 
create positive feedback loops, (ie the more 
you do something to mitigate a problem, the 
worse the problem gets**), depending on a reducing 
gene pool (making us vulnerable to new diseases, 
conditions). The list is likely very long, but 
an agricultural system which addressed even these three
would be a remarkable improvement, over the conventional one. 
   Sustainable agriculture depends not only on
sustainable production, but also sustainable consumption. 
Obviously there is a level of consumption, and 
a world population, beyond which the carrying
capacity of the earth will have been exceeded. 
Sustainable consumption is a component of a 
sustainable agriculture system. 
   I think that part of the problem of sustainable
agriculture lies in considering problems of 
agriculture in isolation, treating the symptoms
rather than the core problem. Thus, people working
on creating good, safe food are working in another
arena from people working on abundant, cheap food,
who are working in another arena from people 
working on efficiently produced food, etc. 
  I don't think that organic agriculture is
*necessarily* synonymous with sustainable agriculture, 
unless it addresses the use of energy inputs for cultivation. 
And if non-renewable energy isn't used, then I think it has 
to address the social transformation that has to occur for 
us to live within our means. 
   A sustainable system would address
the unified common goal of sustainable agriculture
rather than one element, and would address core
problems, rather than symptoms, IMHO. I like 
Stanley Freyenberger's suggestion of using the
Holistic Management testing guidelines in 
creating a decision making system for sustainable 
**An example of this would be a report from a 
group of Canadian ag scientists who produced a 
report a few years ago stating that excess nitrogen 
being applied to Canadian farmland was lowering soil pH 
and reducing productivity, but that it wasn't a major
concern because increasing the amount of nitrogen fertilisation 
would overcome the losses in productivity. I'm not 
kidding, they actually published those conclusions!

Bye for now

>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
>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,

Jim Wright
Box 129
Lougheed Alberta Canada
T0B 2V0
403 386-2479