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What is Sustainable Agriculture Anyway?

Sustainability and sustainable agriculture – the use of these s-words can be like dropping the f-bomb at the school play. They can cause forms of social leprosy that can stop a dinner party in its soup course, empty a backyard BBQ before the cutlets are even partly charred and generate the 'back away slowly and don't make eye contact' response. But we're prepared to 'open the batting' on these topics to give you and chance to explore them from the safety and privacy of your computer.

Sustainability and sustainable agriculture are complex and contested concepts. The definitions of them and the management principles that guide them are hotly debated, seasoned with vested interest, ignorance and denial. In fact, these s-words are not far behind discussions of anthropogenic climate change in their capacity to cause fights between friends, wars between neighbours and prevent any constructive, civilised responses to achieve either s-words.

Sustainable agriculture can perpetually supply life-supporting goods and services.

We get the sense that part of the cause of aggressive and fearful responses is that if you believe that there's nothing we can do about a nasty situation that could inflict pain and suffering on you, the best course of action is to ignore or deny the existence of the threat. At My Farm Shop, our message is that yes, we believe that agriculture is not fully sustainable at the moment. But we are convinced that not only can we turn it around, we can do it rapidly and create a number of really positive outcomes as well.

At My Farm Shop we're willing to call it as we see it - discussing the management principles we should use to achieve sustainable agriculture and our perception of Australian agriculture's performance compared to those. Here's the simple view.....

  1. Anything that relies on finite resources (including places to 'get rid of waste') is by definition not sustainable. Examples of finite resources currently used extensively in agriculture include:
  • lime as an antidote to the acidifying effect of fertilisers
  • capacity of waterways and seas to safely absorb excess fertilisers
  • Anything that doesn't fully replenish renewable resources turns them into finite resources which is unsustainable. Soils, breeding herds, pastures, farmers and customers are fully renewable if: we are able to fully replenish exported nutrients and cycle wastes into new resources, replace old plants and animals with young ones, replace old farmers with young ones and keep customers buying the produce.
  • Agriculture is currently not sustainable for the simple reason that we have not yet decided to make it sustainable. We can do it, we are already making great progress. We have to do it, the alternative is unthinkable.
  • For those interested in reading the detailed principles behind My Farm Shop's view of sustainability, our Sustainability Policy is available for download here. Feedback, suggestions and comments are most welcome.