In recent years, there has been a growing consensus among scientists, farmers, and the general public that agricultural production practices must change. In particular there is an increasing concern and even an increasing demand that food production must become more of a sustainable process. Thus in recent years the term sustainable agriculture has become a buzzword among agriculturalists, environmentalists, and the public at large. What do we really mean by terms such as sustainable agriculture?

There are a number of definitions offerred to explain the concept of sustainable agriculture. Some have described sustainable agriculture as a system that ensures the ability of future generations to produce adequate food and fiber. Others have described sustainable agriculture as....... The table below lists a number of characteristics often ascribed to sustainable agriculture by various sources.


Sustainable Agriculture is a system of production that.....
utilizes more on farm, organic inputs than off farm synthetic inputs (e.g. manures instead of purchased synthetic fertilizers)
emphasizes minimal disturbance of soil to reduce soil erosion (e.g. minimum tillage or no tillage)
uses lower amounts of synthetic agrichemicals by utilizing techniques such as Integrated Pest Management (IPM)
maximizes the use of animal manures, green manure crops, and crop residues as fertilizers
uses crop rotation to control pests instead of extensive use of agrichemicals
integrates animal production with crop production to enhance nutrient cycling
encourages the use of legumes in crop rotations to add nitrogen to the soil







The principles included in the concept of sustainable agriculture as explained above can be employed in forage production in a number of ways. For example, a well managed permanent pasture or even a temporary cover crop will reduce soil erosion. Utilizing forage legumes that assimilate nitrogen from the atmosphere (see BNF lecture) will enhance long term soil fertility. Using annual forages as green manure crops adds organic matter to the soil, which in turn enhances fertility and increases water holding capacity. Sustainable forage production on rangelands can be an important part of maintaining appropriate populations of wildlife. Maintaining a healthy forage stand on rangeland can help combat invasion by noxious weeds that would otherwise lower biodiversity and possibly poison animals. Forages may also be planted to stabilize streambanks and to improve the environment for wetland wildlife.

Image: Wildlife grazing on rangeland
In recent decades there has been an increasing effort by various groups and individuals to develop agricultural production systems that meet society's demand for food and fiber while preserving the ability of the earth to produce food for future generations. This effort has included government agencies (USDA-SARE, NRCS), private agencies (Rodale Experimental Farm, Savery Institute for Holistic Living) and individual farmers and ranchers. How successful will this effort be? Will the sustainable agriculture movement continue to expand until the majority of our food is produced in this way? These are questions whose answers will be determined in coming years.