The world is growing fast, and seven billion people can eat a lot of food. Working toward feeding everyone in a way that keeps the planet healthy is quickly becoming a top priority. Sustainable agriculture is pretty much our only option. It’s a simple concept, which promotes farming methods that are economically sound, environmentally protective and supportive of public health — but getting there is easier said than done.
Our current farming industry has some problems. Small, family owned and operated farms have been almost run out of business by the largest agriculture giants. There is some benefit to that, but it significantly dampens competition and innovation. Many of the agricultural laws we have were written when the planet was seen as an infinite resource, with no requirements for sustainable practices. That needs to change.
Higher Standard of Living for Farmers
One of the first steps to creating a more sustainable agriculture business is to create a better life for farmers. Without incentive or means to produce long-lasting change, there is little reason for farmers or companies to worry about it.
The standard method is to offer subsidies or bonuses from the government to give farmers a boost, but these are often taken up by larger companies first or are insufficient to make a real change in the standard of living. However, creating crops that grow better with sustainable methods and actively buying those at the store is a long-lasting way to return a benefit without the red tape and shenanigans that come with the government.
Recycle and Reuse
A huge part of sustainable agriculture is to use fewer resources — especially those that are non-renewable. Obviously, things like composting are excellent for small or personal farms, but they are nearly impossible to use on a large scale. Manure can even be used on medium farms, but again, it’s not a good option for industrial scale farming since the logistics simply aren’t workable.
Shipping, however, is a huge part of sustainable agriculture, and it’s an area many companies are working on. Many farms are starting to use trains instead of trucks, which puts a huge dent in a farm’s carbon footprint. Farmers also recycle or purchase reconditioned seed bags, which is a big benefit when planting thousands of acres at a time. It also gives them a place to send their used or damaged bags, instead of to the landfill.
Emphasize Animal Welfare
Plants aren’t the only things farmed for food. Animals are, too. While the process of raising meat specifically for butchering seems a bit harsh to many, it has been the most effective form of feeding the masses we’ve been able to come up with.
In addition, we also need to make sure the animals have the best lives they can. The USDA’s regulations on organic farming have made some strides toward that. The animals are supposed to have access to the outside in order to perform instinctual behaviors. It’s a small start, but there’s a lot of room for improvement there!
How You Can Help
If the goal is to change the way large agriculture companies operate, what can you do to help?
The first and most important thing you can do is simply to learn. Go talk to a farmer! Other, simple things you can do include:
- Buying local
- Farmers markets are a great place to start
- Reducing personal pesticide use
- Growing your own food
- Donating to charities supporting 3rd world farming communities
- Voting for legislation that supports sustainable farming
Farming is a consumer-driven industry. When the public supports something, and put their dollars into it, the industry will provide it. Use your money wisely and spend more where it counts. You can make a difference, even with just that simple step.