Pros & Cons Of Sustainable Agriculture & Farming

In this guide, we take a look at the pros and cons of sustainable agriculture and farming.

We also look at what it is and the goals it might help achieve.

 

Summary – Pros & Cons Of Sustainable Agriculture & Farming

As a brief summary of the present of sustainable agriculture and farming:

– There’s a number of practices and methods that can help make agriculture and farming more sustainable

– Aspects of sustainable agriculture and farming are already being used worldwide

– Sometimes individual sustainable practices are being used, and sometimes entire systems are being used (especially on smaller scale agricultural operations)

– For sustainable farming to grow in the future in regions that are currently heavily using conventional and industrial farming methods, there might be a focus on four main things 1. Increased public funding/resource support of sustainable farming compared to other types of farming, 2. Covering of financial risk for agricultural business owners and farmers, 3. Better and more comprehensive data available on the definite results that sustainable farming produces, and 4. Training and education for the agricultural business owners that will use the sustainable practices on their farming operations

– It should also be noted that not everyone agrees on what sustainable farming is and should entail, the sustainable farming metrics that should make it up, and what requirements or guidelines should go into a sustainable policy in the future

 

Pros

Some developed countries and regions have already adopted at least some practices to do with more sustainable farming and agriculture

Can help reduce the environmental footprint of conventional farming and agriculture

Can help with the sustainable use of resources, and the use of more renewable resources over non renewable resources

Can help address the cost of conventional and industrial farming that is claimed to be externalized

There’s already evidence of the results that sustainable farming and agriculture might produce from the past, and in the current day in lesser developed regions

There are a number of potential sustainable farming practices – farmers can select one practice at a time to incorporate and test as they see fit

Some of the suggested sustainable food farming practices can be done by individuals, and don’t need to be completely done by large scale farms

Some reports suggest that sustainable farming practices can decrease insecticide use, and increase yield and/or profit

May protect the health and safety of farm workers in some instances

May lead to farmers being more independent and less externally reliant on others

 

Cons

Some parties disagree on what sustainable farming actually is, and the metrics that should be involved

There’s debate that some of the goals of sustainable farming are not actually achievable or realistic

There’s some disagreement between different parties on the best farming systems and practices that will achieve the general goal of increased sustainability (a lack of agreement means uncertainty)

A rigid completely natural approach to sustainable farming may not work in some instances

Some of the suggested sustainable farming practices may have evidence available that suggests that they don’t contribute to sustainability as much as is claimed

Farmers may argue that incorporating new farming practices without economic protection or an economic guarantee is too much of a financial risk for their business

Some sustainable farming practices may be more resource intensive, lower quality of life, and be less profitable for farmers

Sustainable farming can be a tough ‘sell’ when the benefits are not immediately visible compared to conventional farming where the benefits are immediately visible

Sustainable farming is harder to implement when there is less support for agroecology research, along with less outreach and education to help farmers make effective use of the science

Greater public resources may be required for greater adoption of more sustainable farming practices in the future

Some parties argue that agriculture itself may not need to change as much as population sizes and the demand for resource intensive foods

Reducing or stopping the production of some ‘unsustainable’ to farm foods can decrease the selection of food available to consumers

Some foods considered to be ‘unsustainable’ to farm may be necessary for some people’s health requirements

Some foods considered to be ‘unsustainable’ to farm may be part of some people’s religious beliefs or culture

 

*Note – this is a generalized guide with general pros and cons.

Obviously, the sustainability of farming and agriculture can be broken down the the specific farming operation and the individual agricultural products they produce.

 

What Is Sustainable Agriculture & Farming?

Sustainable agriculture is farming in sustainable ways meeting society’s present food and textile needs, without compromising the ability for current or future generations to meet their needs (wikipedia.org)

It takes into account both short term and long term wants and needs of individuals and society.

 

What Might Be The General Goals Or Requirements Of Sustainable Farming & Agriculture?

– Needs to satisfy the population’s demand for food, fiber and other agricultural products

– Needs to protect the environment against environmental degradation past a certain point for each environmental issue

– Needs to protect against resource depletion, and use renewable resources over non renewable resources where possible. There may also be an emphasis on being as efficient with resources as possible

– Needs to integrate natural (or organic) processes and practices where possible

– Needs to protect the farmer and the farm workers from both an economic, and quality of life perspective

– Needs to be healthy and affordable for consumers

 

Specific examples of goals farmers might be trying to achieve might be:

– Soil conservation (to protect the land and soil from soil erosion and land degradation to the point it’s unusable, to prevent reduced yields, and to prevent nutrient depletion)

– Sustainable water use (to protect water resources for use in future irrigation)

– Reduced use of non renewable and potentially harmful synthetic fertilizers and pesticides (that could pollute water sources elsewhere)

– Reduce energy use, or meet energy demand through cleaner energy (reducing energy use might be achieved through sourcing supplies and selling more produce locally to cut down on transport, and using more green energy sources)

 

*As mentioned below, there’s debate on exactly the systems that should be used in sustainable agriculture.

 

Examples Of Sustainable Farming Practices

In this guide, we list different sustainable farming practices and methods

 

Potential Pros Of Sustainable Agriculture & Farming

Some developed countries and regions have already adopted at least some practices to do with more sustainable farming and agriculture

For example, there’s evidence that Australian farmers already invest in safeguarding soil, preserving water, biodiversity, precise pasture management, and renewable energy (business.nab.com.au)

 

Can help reduce the environmental footprint of conventional farming and agriculture

Sustainable farming practices may help in addressing environmental issues that conventional farming can contribute to, such as carbon emissions, air pollution, water pollution, land degradation, sustainable water use, and more

 

Can help with the sustainable use of resources, and the use of more renewable resources over non renewable resources

The sustainable use of resources can happen via better and more efficient use of fresh water resources, and through soil conservation (topsoil and land are technically resources)

The use of renewable resources can occur through the use of fertilizers and pesticides that don’t rely on non renewable resources to make (such as fossil fuels used to make synthetic fertilizers and pesticides)

 

Can help address the cost of conventional and industrial farming that is claimed to be externalized

Some claim that the cost of modern day conventional farming and industrial farming is externalized, and is either not seen directly, or the cost does not show up until years down the track

Two examples of this are:

– Where chemicals like pesticides used on the farm pollute or cause environmental issues in water sources away from the farm

– Where issues to do with topsoil degradation and erosion don’t show up or become serious until decades later (after decades of intense farming activity)

 

There’s already evidence of the results that sustainable farming and agriculture might produce from the past, and in the current day in lesser developed regions

There’s already data on the results that more sustainable farming practices might produce in the farming results that were achieved in the past prior to the agricultural and industrial revolutions, and also in lesser developed regions that don’t have access to modern farming equipment and technology, or a lot of synthetic chemicals 

Data on potential tradeoffs (in terms of quality of life, labor intensity, profits, yield, ability to compete economically, and more) is also available

 

There are a number of potential sustainable farming practices – farmers can select one practice at a time to test

More sustainable farming does not have to be an ‘all or nothing’ situation

There are many suggested sustainable farming practices and systems 

Farmers may choose to incorporate and test one practice at a time so that they can ‘scale in’ and ‘scale out’ at their discretion 

 

Some of the suggested sustainable food farming practices can be done by individuals, and don’t need to be completely done by large scale farms

One example of this is urban agriculture – people growing small amounts of foods in their gardens, or in community spaces

 

Some reports suggest that sustainable farming practices can decrease insecticide use, and increase yield and/or profit

One report:

Recent work in irrigated rice production system of east Asia has suggested that – in relation to pest management at least – promoting the ecosystem service of biological control using nectar plants can reduce the need for insecticides by 70% whilst delivering a 5% yield advantage compared with standard practice (wiikpedia.org)

 

Another report:

The latest science … shows how agroecological practices can support productive, profitable farms. For instance, an ongoing study at Iowa State University’s Marsden Farm research center has shown that complex crop rotation systems can outperform conventional monoculture in both yield and profitability (ucsusa.org)

 

May protect the health and safety of farm workers in some instances

Like for example where certain potentially harmful pesticides and other chemicals could impact the health of farm workers

On a farm using natural and organic processes – exposure to these types of chemicals might be reduced

 

May lead to farmers being more independent and less externally reliant on others

When farmers can either manage or produce more systems and resources on their farm, they because less externally reliant on externally owned resources, technology and equipment they may use for farming

Just one example of this, a farmer that uses more internally generated compost or manure as opposed to externally sourced fertilizer may be in more internal control of their nutrient supply

 

Potential Cons Of Sustainable Agriculture & Farming

Some parties disagree on what sustainable farming actually is, and the metrics that should be involved

As just one example of this, as recent as 2019, in Australia:

[there was a ‘policy vacuum’ in regards to sustainable farming and there was no] contemporary definition of sustainable agriculture, including agreed on-farm metrics (theconversation.com)

 

There’s debate that some of the goals of sustainable farming are not actually achievable or realistic

Such as the goal related to reduced use of non renewable resources:

The capacity for ecosystem services to be strong enough to allow a reduction in use of non-renewable inputs whilst maintaining or boosting yields has been the subject of much debate (wikipdia.org)

What it being highlighted in the above statement essentially is that it might be hard to maintain or increase production if there is a reduced use of non renewable resources like some types of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides for example.

What might also be an important point to make is that sustainable farming practices may have problems with producing on a large scale, and make be better suited to smaller farming operations.

 

There’s some disagreement and debate between different parties on the best farming system and practices that will achieve the goal of sustainability

Those two different approaches are the ecocentric approach and a technocentric approach

The ecocentric approach involves more organic and biodynamic farming techniques

The technocentric approach involves modification of the existing industrial system, and the use of biotechnology, amongst a range of other strategies

– wikipedia.org

 

A rigid completely natural approach to sustainable farming may not work in some instances

An example of where this may have been the case may have been where Uganda experienced a banana crisis, and the government ended up issuing a Bill which will allow scientists to start experimenting with genetically modified organisms to help address the issue (wikipedia.org)

 

Some of the suggested sustainable farming practices may have evidence available that suggests that they don’t contribute to sustainability as much as is claimed

There is limited evidence polyculture may contribute to sustainable agriculture. A meta-analysis of a number of polycrop studies found that predator insect biodiversity was higher at comparable yields than conventional in certain two-crop systems with a single cash crop combined with a cover crop (wikipedia.org)

 

Farmers may argue that incorporating new farming practices without economic protection or an economic guarantee is too much of a financial risk for their business

Farming and agriculture is a business

Businesses are subject to market factors and forces, and provide a livelihood and employment for people

Farmers may argue that asking them to incorporate new practices without a guarantee of financial support from the government (such as insurances for example) is too much of a financial risk for their business in some instances (when the short term and long term results of new practices are either less profitable, not guaranteed, or are uncertain)

 

Some sustainable farming practices may be more resource intensive, lower quality of life, and be less profitable for farmers

Some sustainable farming practices may involve more labor, require more intensive labor based effort, and/or may be less profitable for farmers than conventional farming practices

Farmers may argue that this lowers quality of life for them and their employees, and in some cases decreases the incentive to farm or penalizes them as business owners when profits are less

 

Sustainable farming can be a tough ‘sell’ when the benefits are not immediately visible compared to conventional farming where the benefits are immediately visible

As just one example, efforts to conserve soil health make takes years to show a result

Alternatively, in conventional agriculture, the impact of using of synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, and intense farming practices may show up immediately (in the case of getting rid of animal and plant pests) or over the course of one growing season.

Additionally, the costs of using conventional farming methods may be ‘hidden’ or ‘externalized’, covering up the true net benefits and costs of a conventional farming approach

 

Sustainable farming is harder to implement when there is less support for agroecology research, along with less outreach and education to help farmers make effective use of the science

And there’s evidence this has been the case in some places recently:

[Crop] Breeding research programs have dwindled in recent years, leaving farmers increasingly reliant on a limited set of varieties tailored to the needs of industrial farms (ucsusa.org)

 

Greater public resources may be required for greater adoption of more sustainable farming practices in the future

Reports suggest that:

… the lion’s share of public resources [are currently put] behind subsidizing overproduction of corn and other commodity crops (ucsusa.org)

 

Some parties argue that agriculture itself may not need to change as much as population sizes and the demand for resource intensive foods

Some argue that a focus on majorly changing agricultural practices are not the root issue, and the real root issues are addressing population sizes, and the demand for resource intensive foods and the demand for more calories in general (especially in populations where there are obesity related epidemics starting to appear)

 

Reducing or stopping the production production of some foods considered ‘unsustainable’ to farm can decrease the selection of food available to consumers

So, choice of foods types for consumers may become more narrow in some places for food based businesses and of course consumers

 

Some foods considered to be ‘unsustainable’ to farm may be necessary to some people’s health requirements

Some people may require a certain type of food diet to meet their specific health requirements

Some people are intolerant to, allergic to, or experience negative side effects when consuming certain types of food

One example of this is people who eat primarily beef in their diet for health reasons, which is reported to be a resource intensive food to produce

 

Some foods considered to be ‘unsustainable’ to farm may be part of some people’s religious beliefs or culture

Some religions and cultures eat certain foods

From a sustainability perspective, these same foods could be considered to be unsustainable (from a resource use and environmental degradation perspective)

 

Sustainable Farming vs Other Types Of Farming: Comparison

In this guide, we compare sustainable farming to other types of farming

 

Sources

1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sustainable_agriculture

2. https://www.ucsusa.org/resources/what-sustainable-agriculture

3. https://foodprint.org/the-total-footprint-of-our-food-system/issues/sustainable-agriculture/

4. https://business.nab.com.au/hats-off-to-australian-farmers-putting-sustainable-agriculture-into-practice-35602/

5. https://theconversation.com/australia-urgently-needs-real-sustainable-agriculture-policy-120597

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