What you see above are three sets of methods and approaches to farming and ranching that would allow us to meet our economic goals, social goals and environmental goals (the three circles). Where the sets overlap represents those methods that would allow us to meet all of our short and long term goals simultaneously. This is the sort of farming and ranching we want to develop and promote, the type that meets our needs for a long time and is therefore a Sustainable Agriculture. Clearly this would vary a great deal from place to place depending on climate, soil, water, markets, agriculture policies, quality of life, personal goals, etc.
This broad view of agriculture and its potential to meet multiple, positive goals for the people and other cooperating organisms involved is echoed in the widely held business and professional philosophy of the Rotary Club. Their 4-Way Test asks every member to consider, 1) Is it the Truth?, 2) Is it Fair to all concerned?, 3) Will it build Goodwill and Better Friendships?, and 4) Will it be Beneficial to all concerned? The model for Sustainable Agriculture above similarly asks those of us involved in agriculture to consider fully the potential of what we do or might do in regards to achieving our goals and the goals of future generations.
A slightly more direct definition of Sustainable Agriculture comes from the US Congress in the Food, Agriculture, Conservation and Trade Act of 1996, Title XVI, Subtitle A. Section 1603:
Sustainable Agriculture is an integrated system of plant and animal production practices having a site-specific application that will over the long term :
Given this definition and the larger conceptual framework, the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program has concerned itself with some of the following major elements of sustainability: Integrated Pest and Weed Management, Managed Grazing, Soil Conservation, Water Conservation, Cover Crops, Crop and Landscape Diversity, Nutrient Management, Agroforestry, Alternative Marketing and Wildlife Conservation. However, SARE is not limited to production agriculture and environmental stewardship in the field. Educators and citizens working on issues of rural community development, youth education, consumer education, food preparation and safety, critical thinking and goal setting, citizenship, and a host of other issues and skill areas are critical in helping all of us to determine our larger personal and community goals, to identify forms of agriculture that will meet them, and to re-connect consumers of food with their food producing neighbors and local environments.
So is your farm or ranch sustainable? Decide for yourself.
If any of your answers to these questions are not affirmative, then please check out our other pages to learn about what others in North Dakota and across the country are trying to do to overcome problems similar to yours and to develop a truly sustainable agriculture.