Resilience, sustainability in agriculture

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Source: Soil Science Society of America

Agriculture is going through a revolution, one that rivals the industrial revolution of the 19th century and the green revolution in the 20th century, according to Charles Francis, Editor of the recently published book, Organic Farming: The Ecological System.  Francis claims that these previous changes transformed industries based primarily on local resources and principally serving local markets to more complex systems using high levels of technology.  There is a recognition that the resilience and sustainability of ecology and natural systems have much to teach modern agriculture. Organic farming systems are one manifestation of this new awareness.

Francis states that some people define current agricultural changes only in terms of specific technologies, such as transgenic crops and site-specific input use determined by GPS spatial methods.  However, he believes that there is a more profound change taking place mostly at the grass roots—a recognition that the resilience and sustainability of ecology and natural systems have much to teach modern agriculture. 

Francis states that to participate in the current food system, it is imperative that agronomists and horticulturists get up to speed on the practices, systems design, certification process, and details of that system’s organic farming sector. The last American Society of Agronomy (ASA) book on organic farming was published more than two decades ago.

Combining farmer experience and wisdom with the best that science has to offer can lead us to a better understanding of organic systems’ mechanisms, as well as how we can design them to both meet human needs and preserve an environment where we would like to live. Beyond their production, economics, and environmental impacts, Francis believes that we are also learning that organic farming and food systems have potential to revitalize the rural landscape and its communities—areas that, as a result of industrial agriculture, are currently highly exploited, depopulated to some degree, and lacking in essential human and ecosystem services on which our long-term well-being depends.

Francis states that Organic Farming: The Ecological System provides a snapshot of programs and some history of development of this emerging part of local and global food systems. There will be many changes in the near future as a result of increasing economic pressures, growing appreciation of the impacts of chemicals on our food supply, livestock and human health, and understanding of how the structure of agriculture impacts the quality of life in the rural landscape and the ecosystem services available to us all.

Adapted from the Preface to Organic Farming: The Ecological System, Charles Francis (ed.) For more information and to order a copy of the book, see the Society Store.

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