Sustainable agriculture seeks to provide more profitable farm income, promote environmental stewardship, and enhance quality of life for farm families and communities.
NIFA promotes sustainable agriculture through national program leadership and funding for research and extension. It offers competitive grants programs and a professional development program, and it collaborates with other federal agencies through the USDA Sustainable Development Council.
Legal Definition of Sustainable Agriculture
The term ''sustainable agriculture'' (U.S. Code Title 7, Section 3103) means an integrated system of plant and animal production practices having a site-specific application that will over the long-term:
- Satisfy human food and fiber needs.
- Enhance environmental quality and the natural resource base upon which the agriculture economy depends.
- Make the most efficient use of nonrenewable resources and on-farm resources and integrate, where appropriate, natural biological cycles and controls.
- Sustain the economic viability of farm operations.
- Enhance the quality of life for farmers and society as a whole.
Farm and Ranch Practices
Farmers and ranchers can choose many ways to improve their sustainability, and these vary from region to region, state to state and farm to farm. However, some common sets of practices have emerged, many of them aimed at greater use of on-farm or local resources. Some of those practices are described here, each contributing in some way to long-term farm profitability, environmental stewardship and improved quality of life.
Integrated Pest Management (IPM)
IPM is an approach to managing pests by combining biological, cultural, physical, and chemical tools in ways that minimize economic, health and environmental risks.
Management-intensive grazing systems take animals out of the barn and into the pasture to provide high-quality forage and reduced feed costs while avoiding manure buildup.
Many soil conservation methods, including strip cropping, reduced tillage, and no-till, help prevent loss of soil caused by wind and water erosion.
Water conservation and protection have become important parts of agricultural stewardship. Practices such as planting riparian buffer strips can improve the quality of drinking and surface water, as well as protect wetlands.
Growing plants such as rye, clover, or vetch after harvesting a grain or vegetable crop or intercropping them can provide several benefits, including weed suppression, erosion control, and improved soil nutrients and soil quality.
Growing a greater variety of crops and livestock on a farm can help reduce risks from extremes in weather, market conditions, or pests. Increased diversity of crops and other plants, such as trees and shrubs, also can contribute to soil conservation, wildlife habitat, and increased populations of beneficial insects.
Proper management of manure, nitrogen, and other plant nutrients can improve the soil and protect the environment. Increased use of on-farm nutrient sources, such as manure and leguminous cover crops, also reduces purchased fertilizer costs.
Agroforestry covers a range of tree uses on farms, including inter-planting trees (such as walnuts) with crops or pasture, growing shade-loving specialty crops in forests, better managing woodlots and windbreaks, and using trees and shrubs along streams as buffer strips.
Farmers and ranchers across the country are finding that innovative marketing strategies can improve profits. Direct marketing of agricultural goods may include selling at farmers markets, roadside stands, or through the World Wide Web; delivering to restaurants and small grocers; and running community-supported agriculture (CSA) enterprises.
Related Funding Opportunities
- Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) Regional Host Institution