Agriculture is part of a competitive, global market. Forms of agriculture that rely on the chemical inputs promoted by the global chemical companies, have degraded the environment to unsustainable levels. Environmental concerns and the looming food crisis are confronting all agricultural enterprises. There is an immediate need for agricultural leaders who can respond in an intelligent and environmentally aware manner.
Alternative agricultural enterprises look outside the corporate-controlled agricultural environment toward creating new markets and new ways of "doing things" - by value adding or by designing market niches not able to be readily filled by mass market competition.
Where We Have Been - Where We Are Going
The widespread development of low input agricultural systems depends not only on the desires of farmers and consumers, but also upon national and international policy changes. Many existing policies favour high input-high output agricultural systems. However, governments around the world have begun to recognise the need for sustainable agricultural practices.
In 1972, the US Government established the Integrated Pest Management Program (IPM) which aims to decrease the use of chemical pesticides by teaching farmers how to use a variety of biological controls, genetic resistance, and appropriate use of tillage, pruning, plant density and residue management. In 1977, the US Government developed “best management practices” including the use of cover crops, green manure crops, and strip cropping to minimise erosion; soil testing and targeting and timing of chemical applications to prevent the loss of nutrients and pesticides. These BMPs are used by district officers to help farmers to develop conservation plans for their farms. The Agricultural Conservation Program provides funding for farmers to commence conservation practices such as crop rotation, biological pest control, soil testing and ridge tilling.
In the United Kingdom, the Government has established the Sustainable Development Commission. The Commission's role is to advocate sustainable development across all sectors in the UK, review progress towards it, and build consensus on the actions needed if further progress is to be achieved. The Sustainable Development Commission has published “A Vision for Sustainable Agriculture”. It states that Agriculture must:
- Produce safe, healthy food and non-food products in response to market demands, now and in the future
- Enable viable livelihoods to be made from sustainable land management, taking account of payments for public benefits provided
- Operate within biophysical constraints and conform to other environmental imperatives
- Provide environmental improvements and other benefits that the public wants - such as re-creation of habitats and access to land
- Achieve the highest standards of animal health and welfare compatible with society's right of access to food at a fair price
- Support the vitality of rural economies and the diversity of rural culture
- Sustain the resource available for growing food and supplying other public benefits over time, except where alternative land uses are essential in order to meet other needs of society
The Australian Government has acknowledged the need for "sustainable development of agricultural industries" to "contribute to "long term productivity, and to Australia's economic well being". In addition it acknowledges the need to protect the biological and physical resources which agriculture depends upon.
A strategic approach has been developed requiring cooperative action from different agencies, all levels of government, community and agricultural industries, across Australia. This approach has put forward five objectives as follows:
- Create a framework of integrated government policies and programs which promote community based self reliant approaches to agricultural resource management.
- Promote integrated planning of agricultural resource management, particularly in areas affected by land degradation; and extend measures (particularly community based self help approaches) which encourage information transfer and land holder adoption of sustainable management.
- Reduce and manage effectively the impacts of pest plant and animal species on Australia’s agricultural areas.
- Improve kangaroo management at the national level, including removal of impediments to a sustainable commercial kangaroo industry.
- Improve effective and safe management of agricultural and veterinary chemicals while improving levels of, and access to information on these chemicals.