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What Is Sustainable Agriculture? - Definition, Benefits and Issues

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  • 0:07 What Is Sustainable…
  • 2:19 Benefits fo…
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Margaret Cunningham

Margaret has taught many Biology and Environmental Science courses and has Master's degrees in Environmental Science and Education.

The word 'sustainable' has become very popular these days and is used to describe many different things. In this lesson we will explore how sustainability is associated with agriculture and the benefits and issues of this type of farming.

What Is Sustainable Agriculture?

If you had to choose, which would you prefer to eat: food that is grown more naturally or food that is enhanced by spraying it with pesticides or applying chemical fertilizers? Most people would prefer the natural food that is free of chemicals and artificial enhancements. Unfortunately, the majority of food we consume is produced using industrialized agriculture, which is a type of agriculture where large quantities of crops and livestock are produced through industrial techniques for the purpose of sale. This type of agriculture relies heavily on a variety of chemicals and artificial enhancements, such as pesticides, fertilizers, and genetically modified organisms. This type of agriculture also uses a large amount of fossil fuels and large machines to manage the farm land. Although industrialized agriculture has made it possible to produce large quantities of food, due to the negative aspects of this technique, there has been a shift towards sustainable agriculture.

Sustainable agriculture is a type of agriculture that focuses on producing long-term crops and livestock while having minimal effects on the environment. This type of agriculture tries to find a good balance between the need for food production and the preservation of the ecological system within the environment. In addition to producing food, there are several overall goals associated with sustainable agriculture, including conserving water, reducing the use of fertilizers and pesticides, and promoting biodiversity in crops grown and the ecosystem. Sustainable agriculture also focuses on maintaining economic stability of farms and helping farmers improve their techniques and quality of life.

There are many farming strategies that are used that help make agriculture more sustainable. Some of the most common techniques include growing plants that can create their own nutrients to reduce the use of fertilizers and rotating crops in fields, which minimizes pesticide use because the crops are changing frequently. Another common technique is mixing crops, which reduces the risk of a disease destroying a whole crop and decreases the need for pesticides and herbicides. Sustainable farmers also utilize water management systems, such as drip irrigation, that waste less water.

Benefits of Sustainable Agriculture

There are many benefits of sustainable agriculture, and overall, they can be divided into human health benefits and environmental benefits. In terms of human health, crops grown through sustainable agriculture are better for people. Due to the lack of chemical pesticides and fertilizers, people are not being exposed to or consuming synthetic materials. This limits the risk of people becoming ill from exposure to these chemicals. In addition, the crops produced through sustainable agriculture can also be more nutritious because the overall crops are healthier and more natural.

Sustainable agriculture has also had positive impacts of the environment. One major benefit to the environment is that sustainable agriculture uses 30% less energy per unit of crop yield in comparison to industrialized agriculture. This reduced reliance on fossil fuels results in the release of less chemicals and pollution into the environment. Sustainable agriculture also benefits the environment by maintaining soil quality, reducing soil degradation and erosion, and saving water. In addition to these benefits, sustainable agriculture also increases biodiversity of the area by providing a variety of organisms with healthy and natural environments to live in.

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