40 percent of today’s global population works in agriculture, making it the single largest employer in the world.
Sustainable agriculture is the rejection of the industrial approach to food production (aka factory farms). It integrates three main things: environmental health, economic profitability, and social and economic equity.
The ecological and social price of factory farms is: erosion, deforestation, depleted and contaminated soil and water resources, loss of biodiversity, labor abuses, and the decline of family farms.
The concept of sustainable agriculture embraces a wide range of techniques, including organic, free-range, low-input, holistic, and biodynamic.
With this type of farming, chemical pesticides or fertilizers aren’t necessary, crop diversity is encouraged, and precipitation provides irrigation water.
Organic farming typically requires 2.5 times more labor than conventional farming, but it yields 10 times the profit.
Organic food products saw a 7.7 percent growth rate in 2010, compared to 2009. Organic food accounts for nearly 4 percent of all food products sold in the U.S.
In contrast, 88 percent of corn and 94 percent of soybeans were genetically modified in 2011. This number was less than 20 percent in 1996.
“Healthy” soil is an important component of sustainability. Methods to enhance and protect the productivity of the soil include using cover crops, reducing tillage, compost/manures, avoiding traffic on wet soils, and maintaining soil cover with plants/mulches.
The goal of sustainable farmers is to develop efficient, biological systems that don’t need high levels of material inputs (aka harmful chemicals).
There are four key societal sustainability goals:
Satisfy human food, feed, and fiber needs, and contribute to biofuel needs.
Enhance environmental quality and the resource base.
Sustain the economic viability of agriculture.
Enhance the quality of life for farmers, farm workers and society as a whole.
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