By: Brodt Sonja (UC Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program and Agricultural Sustainability Institute), Six Johan (Department of Plant Sciences, UC), Feenstra Gail (UC Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program and Agricultural Sustainability Institute), Ingels Chuck (University of California Cooperative Extension, Sacramento County) & Campbell David (Department of Human and Community Development, UC) © 2011 Nature Education
Citation: Brodt, S., Six, J., Feenstra, G., Ingels, C. & Campbell, D. (2011) Sustainable Agriculture. Nature Education Knowledge 3(10):1
History and Key Concepts
Agriculture has changed dramatically since the end of World War II. Food and fiber productivity has soared due to new technologies, mechanization, increased chemical use, specialization, and government policies that favored maximizing production and reducing food prices. These changes have allowed fewer farmers to produce more food and fiber at lower prices.
Although these developments have had many positive effects and reduced many risks in farming, they also have significant costs. Prominent among these are topsoil depletion, groundwater contamination, air pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, the decline of family farms, neglect of the living and working conditions of farm laborers, new threats to human health and safety due to the spread of new pathogens, economic concentration in food and agricultural industries, and disintegration of rural communities.
A growing movement has emerged during the past four decades to question the necessity of these high costs and to offer innovative alternatives. Today this movement for sustainable agriculture is garnering increasing support and acceptance within our food production systems. Sustainable agriculture integrates three main goals – environmental health, economic profitability, and social equity (Figure 1). A variety of philosophies, policies and practices have contributed to these goals, but a few common themes and principles weave through most definitions of sustainable agriculture.
Sustainable agriculture gives equal weight to environmental, social, and economic concerns in agriculture.
© 2011 Nature Education Courtesy of Brodt et al. All rights reserved.