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Unformatted text preview: Sustainable Agriculture F or nearly four decades after World W a r 11,U .S.agriculture was the envy of the world, almost annually setting n e w records in crop production and labor efficiency.Dur- ing this period U .S. farms became highly mechanized and specialized, as well as heavily dependent on fossil fuels, borrowed capital and chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Today the same farms are associated with de- clining soil productivity, deteriorating environmental quality, reduced profit- ability and threats to h u m a n and ani- mal health. A growing cross section of American society is questioning the environ- mental, economic and social impacts of conventional agriculture. Conse- quently, m a n y individuals are seeking alternative practices that would m a k e agriculture m o r e sustainable . Sustainable agriculture embraces several variants of nonconventional agriculture that are often called organ- ic, alternative, regenerative, ecological or low-input. Just because a farm is organic or alternative does not m e a n that it is sustainable, however. For a JOHN P.REGANOLD, ROBERT I.PAPEN- DICK and JAMES F. PARR are soil sci- entists who have studied agricultural sustainability and organic farming for many years.Reganold teaches introduc- tory soil science and conservation and management at Washington State Uni- versity and has conducted several stud- ies that compare the effects of conven- tional and organic farming methods on soil systems .Papendick is head of the land management and water conserva- tion research unit with the USDA Agri- cultural Research Service in Pullman, Wash.He served as chairman and coor- dinator of the study Report a n d Recom- mendations on Organic Farming, pub- lished in 1980. Parr is a soil-fertility program leader with the USDA Agri- cultural Research Service in Beltsville, Md ., and an authority on crop-residue management systems for soiland water conservation. Traditional conservation-minded methods combined with modern technology can reduce farmers' dependence on possibly dangerous chemicals.The rewards are both environmental and financial SCIENTIFIC A M E R I C A N J u n e 1 9 9 0 by John P.Reganold, Robert I.Papendick and James F.Parr farm to be sustainable, it m u s t pro- duce adequate amounts of high-qual- ity food, protect its resources and be both environmentally safe and prof- itable. Instead of depending on pur- chased materials such as fertilizers, a sustainable farm relies as m u c h as possible on beneficial natural process- es and renewable resources drawn from the farm itself. Sustainable agriculture addresses m a n y serious problems afflicting U .S. and world food production : high ener- gy costs, groundwater contamination, soil erosion, loss of productivity, de- pletion of fossil resources, low farm incomes and risks to h u m a n health and wildlife habitats.It is not so m u c h a specific farming strategy as it is a system-level approach to understand- ing the complex interactions within agricultural ecologies .agricultural ecologies ....
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- Fall '10