Re: Sustainable Agriculture

Stanley G Freyenberger (
Thu, 5 Jun 1997 08:39:32 -0500 (CDT)

Cyrus, you have a good question. First of all, I do not see sustainable
agriculture as a practice or a point to be arrived at. SA for me is the
process of moving towards sustainability. "how to know if a system
(no-till) is sustainable?" What are we trying to sustain, the system or
the effect that the system has on profitability, environment and quality
of life (our goal)? If SA is a process of moving towards sustainability,
we are really talking about a system of decision-making, and evaluating the
effect that tools (no-till) have on our goal (not just a sustainable
future). As you said there are trade-offs, on the posative side, no- till
conserves water and maintains ground cover to reduce erosion, on the
negative side it has repeated herbicide application, raising the risk of
pesticide runnoff or leaching. I like the Holistic Management guidelines
for evaluating if a practice is sustainable or not. (For further
information there, see the Center for Holistic Management web page:

I will not go through their seven testing questions, but your action,
no-till will likely pass some testing questions and will likely fail
others. Finally having gone though these questions you
will know what effect your action will have. It is then your decision
to go ahead or reject the action or activity this year. If the action
passes your requirements move forward. But having decided to go ahead
with an action, monitoring is needed to see that you continue to move
towards your goal. Conditions change and what may have been a correct
decision at one point and time may no longer be the best.

I do not want to drag this out, I hate long postings. But you should get
the jist of what I am presenting. The practice is only a tool.
Sustainability is something that we will forever be moving towards in
this ever changing world.

For me, the dilema right now is that we are beginning to develop a
networking directory of farmers using "sustainable" practice. Do we
exclude the chemical no-till farmer and the practices associated? I lean
towards including them. No they do not pass all of my tests, but they,
as well as me, are on the road to sustainability as they endeavor to
reduce erosion and keep ground cover.

Let us build bridges, not roadblocks to the future.

Stan Freyenberger
Research Assistant
Dept of Ag Econ, KSU
Manhattan, KS 66506

On Thu, 5 Jun 1997, Cyrus Abivardi wrote:

> June 5, 1997
> Dear Colleagues,
> Although the urgent need for a sustainable agriculture is well documented,
> criteria (and indicators) for sustainability have not been well
> established.
> Since sustainability is defined a posteriori, THE QUESTION IS how can we
> know that an agricultural system (for instance no-tillage agriculture with
> numerous positive/negative points) is sustainable?
> I would appreciate it very much if you could participate in this discussion!
> Many thanks in advance,
> Cyrus