that we need to reform our food system. From droughts, to challenges in energy demand, to the lack of transparency in our food choices, there are many reasons why we need to change from a conventional industrial food system to one that is sustainable. The following list demonstrates why sustainable agriculture is ultimately the best way to grow food for people, for the health of the planet, and for profitability.
Reasons why sustainable agriculture is crucial for our future:
- Sustainable agriculture restores and nourishes the soil
In contrast, the conventional agriculture style of heavy tillage and ever-increasing toxic chemicals that dominates our food system today is very destructive to soil ecology[sc:1]. Such as a system generally fails to nourish the soil beyond the three primary nutrients of nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorous. Such a simplified mechanistic view of plant-based nutrition and wellness leaves out many different important nutrients, minerals, and healthful plant compounds that plants need, resulting in depleted soil that grows much less nutritious food and leads to nutrient deficiencies in the human population.
This lack of respect for the soil in today’s conventional industrial agriculture system is plagued with problems of soil erosion, crops that are susceptible to attacks from disease and pests (thus requiring more toxic chemicals for “protection”), water pollution, and higher susceptibility to drought.
- Sustainable agriculture works in harmony with nature and not against it
Nature generally works through cooperation and collaboration instead of by domination, everything is recycled in some way, and everything functions well within natural limits. Sustainable agriculture takes future generations into account and is regenerative.
In contrast, conventional industrial agriculture is the embodiment of man working to dominate against nature. What society is in the midst of discovering right now is that our constant strivings to control everything when we farm is largely failing, and nature will always find a way to outdo us. Although we are very clever, we are still hitting nearly every natural limit that exists, and we absolutely must re-examine our relationship with Mother Nature for our own survival.
- Sustainable agriculture saves energy
In contrast, conventional industrial agriculture is extremely energy-intensive and is heavily reliant upon fossil fuels for both production and transport many thousands of miles from field to plate. In fact, the conventional industrial agriculture is one of the largest sources of greenhouse gases in the world today.
- Sustainable agriculture protects and conserves water
Sustainable agriculture also employs methods that help to protect waterbodies from pollution and works to prevent pollution (in these systems, pollution is considered to be “waste” that is leaving the system), such as through the use of filter strips near water bodies and contour farming.
In contrast, conventional industrial agriculture requires a great deal of water for production, and the crops in such systems are generally vulnerable to drought.
- Sustainable agriculture values diversity
In contrast, conventional industrial agriculture generally relies upon a few primary crops, and chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides to protect their monocrop plants that are more vulnerable to disease and pests. These agricultural chemicals can be very toxic to people, wildlife, and pollinators. Crop and animal production are generally separate, with animal waste requiring disposal, and crops require their own fertilizers in these “efficient” conventional agricultural systems.
- Sustainable agriculture provides resilience in a world of climate change
With diverse systems that grow a variety of crops, an emphasis on those plants that naturally require less water, and systems that have healthier plants because of the presence of healthier soils, crops in sustainable systems should have greater resilience than those in conventional systems.
In addition, when sustainable agriculture systems incorporate trees and other perennial plants, along with free-range livestock grazing systems, agriculture can actually become carbon sinks[sc:3].
- Sustainable agriculture is primarily local and supports local communities and economies
- True sustainable agriculture is good for people, the planet, and is profitable
While we are still striving to create a food system that largely embodies all three of these values, there are those who are making headway. If there are enough people who demand a sustainable food system and support such efforts with their money, we may very well see such an equitable system come to pass before we know it.