So What Exactly is “Sustainable Agriculture?”

Rincker Law Food & Ag Policy Leave a Comment

Sustainability has been a big buzz word in agriculture over the last few years – but what does it mean?  In preparation for this presentation that I gave earlier this month, I found the “legal definition” of “sustainable agriculture” here.  Pursuant to 7 U.S.C. 3103, “sustainable agriculture” means an “integrated system of plant and animal production practices having a site-specific application that will over the long-term” will meet 5 basic requirements:

1) satisfy human food and fiber needs (i.e., food security);

2) enhance environmental quality and the natural resource base upon which the agriculture economy depends;

3) make the most efficient use of nonrenewable resources and on-farm resources and integrate, where appropriate, natural biological cycles and controls;

4) sustain the economic viability of farm operations; and,

5) enhance the quality of life for farmers and society as a whole.

It is especially interesting to me that profitability and quality of life for the producers are included in the definition — and rightly so.  In order to be sustainable, farms have to make money.  Money is not a dirty word when it comes to the livelihoods of the people who toil the earth to make our food.  The average age of farmers in the United States is 55.  In order to have a sustainable food production system, the business economics must be sustainable to allow for smooth succession planning.

Do you have thoughts on the legal definition of sustainable agriculture?  Were you likewise surprised that profitability and quality of life for farmers & society are included in the 5 core elements?  Do you think other factors should be weighed?

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