I think this article was mentioned in the recent dialog
on sanet regarding the organic-sustainable delimna.
* Earth Day, 4.5 billion years later *
Hanson, James C., Charles S. Kaufman, and Anne Schauer. 1995.
Attitudes and practices of sustainable farmers, with applications
to designing a sustainable agriculture Extension program. Journal
of Sustainable Agriculture, Vol. 6(2/3): 135-156.
As a background, the survey data was based on questionaires
asked of farmers who attended Rodale's "Take Charge" workshops
in 1991 and 1992 in 14 states in the Midwest, mid-South, and
Pennsylvania. A total of 1,322 people attended these
workshops. A total of 543 farmers completed these surveys.
Farmers included grain farmers and fruit/veggie growers.
* 80% have reduced their use of inorganic fertilizer or do
not use inorganic fertilizer
* 85% have reduced their use of herbicides
* A majority of farmers use animal or green manures to
satisfy crop nutrient needs
* Fruit/veggie farmers also used non-traditional nutrients
such as composted plant nutrients, fish emulsions, natural
rock P and K, and kelp
* Manure testing and late-spring N testing were used
* Farmers used cultivation, rotary hoes, crop rotations,
timing of tillage, banding of herbicides, cover crops,
and mowing as principle methods to control weeds
* Farms were more diverse with important ecological effects
One interesting angle in this study was the question put to
farmers on how they perceived their neighbors attitudes to
sustainable agriculture and likelihood of adopting it
* 53% of their farming neighbors/community are opposed to
A major hindrince to adoption of sustainable agriculture
is lack of information. This implies a big role for
educational organizations such as Cooperative Extension
Service and non-governmental organizations such as ATTRA,
Land Stewardship Project, and Center for Rural Affairs.
Though there has been a movement away from the "low input"
(purchased chemical inputs) aspect of sustainable
agriculture (ye olde LISA) in favor of the new and improved
SARE, it remains however that the data show the association
between low use of chemical inputs and sustainable farmers.
"To ignore sustainable farmers' attitudes towards chemical
use would limit the success of any extension program
developed to meet their needs."
"The challenge for CES is to recognize the extent of
sustainable farmers' reliance on rotations and other
cultural practices to control pests and supply nutrients;
they are not employed as complements to modest reductions
in chemical applications, but more nearly as substitutes
for its use."
"Sustainable farmers differ from the general farm population
by their desire to greatly reduce or even eliminate their
use of chemicals to supply nutrients and control weeds. A
useful working guideline for extension agents to employ when
working with these farmers is 'how to farm profitably while
significantly reducing chemical applications.'"
The authors do not wish to reintroduce low chemical use into
the sustainable agriculture definition, but say that
extension educators need more focus than that provided by
the current Farm Bill definition.
One more angle of particular interest:
Available educational formats tend to favor component
learning. A typical extension conference has talks on
weed control, crop varieties, fertility recommendations,
and insect control. When the audience accepts inorganic
fertilizers and chemical pesticides as the norm, this
is an effective educational program.
However, sustainable farmers with their greatly reduced
reliance on chemical inputs in favor of cultural practices
can not make use of the component approach. A systems
approach to educational delivery would work better. A
morning program, as an example, may instead be geared
towards a discussion on dominant field crop rotation.
Working together, specialists of different disciplines
would team-teach, discussing the interaction of pest
control, tillage practices, and fertility requirements
due to the selection and order of winter cover crops
and field crops.
Finally, some of the innovative approaches to educational
delivery include the growth of farmer/extension folks
doing on-farm research and demonstration (aka Practical
Farmers of Iowa and the early 90s version of Rodale);
and the trend in CES to instead label programs in acceptable
terminology such as Maryland's Profitable Agriculture and
a Clean Environment (PACE).