Many good scientists accept these indicators of problems, but most seek
solutions just the way we all were trained: as reductionists. Therefore, the
search continues for "magic bullets" in the forms of more potent chemicals,
genetically altered life forms, etc. The point is that each development is a
specific fix that ignores the complex interactions of living systems, the
cultural aspects of agriculture and the environmental consequences of the
The reality of agriculture production in the eastern corn belt is that a
minimum of 1200 acres of corn and soybean production is necessary to support
a farm family. That translates to a land value of $3 million at $2500/acre
(the minimum value of "good" farm land. It is generally accepted that corn
and beans will yield a net of $30/acre or $36,000 annually for a 1200 acre
farming operation. What business of any kind that requires a $3 million
asset base to generate an annual return of $36,000 is sustainable? Secondly,
more than half of all farmed land in the Midwest is rented. How many can
afford or will practice comprehensive stewardship on rented land?
Therefore, the search for a production system that addresses these known
indicators is the process of sustainable agriculture. System is the key;
hence, the references to holism. Whatever the sustainable agricultural
system looks like, it will have to integrate economic, environmental and
social (quality of life, community viability, etc.) concerns.
As for positive indicators, there are also many on farms that function as
integrated systems. I know of many farms that are profitable enough to
support a farm family, that control runoff from the farm, who do not rely on
large amounts of chemical inputs for fertility and weed and insect control,
etc. Although these farms will undoubtedly have to incorporate adjustments
to their systems over time, they are defining sustainability in agriculture.
Steve Bonney, President
Indiana Sustainable Agriculture Association
100 Georgton Ct.
W. Lafayette IN 47906
(317) 463-9366, fax (317) 497-0164