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The Virginia Agricultural Experiment Station and the Virginia Tech College of Agriculture and Life Sciences are developing leaders and creating and sharing knowledge through diverse, hands-on applications that help communities thrive. Image courtesy of the Virginia Agricultural Experiment Station.

How Sustainable Agriculture Relates to Sustainable Development

Sustainable agriculture is related to a broader concept, sustainable development, which applies the same balance—economics, environment, and community—to more than agriculture. 

The phrase “sustainable development” came into widespread use as a result of the 1987 report, “Our Common Future,” from the World Commission on Environment and Development. The Commission was chaired by the Prime Minister of Norway, Gro Harlem Bruntland, so it is often called “The Bruntland Report.” It described sustainable development as “development which meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

Although the term “development” is most commonly used in an international context, “sustainable development” is increasingly used in the United States and other “developed” countries, by businesses as well as government. The idea that sustainability must address three equally important goals (economics, environment, and community) is often referred to as “the triple bottom line,” particularly in the business community.

At USDA, the concept of sustainable development is applied to agriculture, forestry, and rural community development. See the Sustainable Development program page for NIFA sustainable development research, education, and extension activities. See Sustainable Development at USDA for the USDA principles, policy, and activities in sustainable development, including participation in the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development.


Farm bill priority areas
Agriculture systems and technology
Bioenergy, natural resources, and environment

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