Sustainable agriculture combines environmental soundness, socially equal and just practices, humane animal management, and economic viability. Advances in technology, transportation, mechanization, and plant and animal breeding has changed agriculture, especially over the last 50 years. These changes have not come with out huge costs. Today we are plagued with depleted topsoil, pesticide resistant insects, pollution, and contamination of soil, groundwater and air. Family farms are forced to make income from non-farming activities to remain viable.
Sustainable agriculture encourages crop rotation to manage weeds and pest infestation. It also reduces the need to use chemicals which helps to keep nutrients in the soil and also prevents erosion. Erosion has led to massive dust storms and farmland that is extremely susceptible to flooding. Erosion has also destroyed farms and has cost the food system billions of dollars. Limited use of non-renewable energy and greater uses of renewable energy are also encouraged by sustainable agriculture.
The effectiveness of sustainable agriculture is highly debated. We must look at the global effect of farming, starting with the individual farm and local ecosystems. Can farmers who practice sustainable agriculture meet demand? Can they compete with large scale farms that do not practice sustainability? Will sustainability be affordable to the general public? Is it the best way to approach food production for the future?
Ultimately, the food system has a whole host of players and its not just farmers and consumers who drive change in the food system. Policy, the price of oil, farm subsidies, and retailers are just a few things that influence food health and price.
Change in agriculture will take time but it may be a food crisis that forces us to make drastic transformations. Assaults against the food system from weather, disease, and market price will most likely disrupt the current system. Hopefully any knee-jerk reactions will take into consideration the future of food.