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Fostering Sustainability and Innovation in Agriculture
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A Definition of Sustainable Agriculture

March 1, 2011 |

The phrase ‘sustainable agriculture’ evokes a multitude of extreme reactions.  Some people hear ‘sustainable agriculture’, immediately roll their eyes, and utter ‘LOW OUTPUT,’ while other people associate it strictly with the organic movement.  Some say ‘sustainable agriculture’ means no GMO, while others say that many GMO products increase sustainability by reducing tillage and loss of topsoil.  It’s a bit of a mess.

Sustainable Agriculture has numerous definitions, but as John Ikerd states:

“at its essence it’s about farmers and producers finding balance and harmony among the economic, social, and ecological dimensions of their farming operations.”

The Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education (SARE) program, a USDA funded program that disseminates information on sustainable agriculture as well as grant funding for producers and researchers, similarly defines sustainable agriculture as providing:

  • Profit over the long term
  • Stewardship of our nation’s land, air, and water
  • Quality of life for farmers, ranchers, and their communities

These two definitions, each with subtle nuances, form the consensus view of the purpose of sustainable agriculture.  The right of assignation of the term ‘sustainable agriculture’ to GMO, biodynamic, organic, et al. products, though, remains an area of contention among producers, farmers, and consumer groups.