What is sustainable agriculture?

A sustainable approach to farming is economically viable, environmentally sound, and socially beneficial: it works for the farmer, the land, and the community.

Sustainable agriculture is grounded in the idea of stewardship: preserving the resources that allow us to meet our own needs, so that future generations can meet theirs too. This idea might seem too obvious to need stating, but its implications are far-reaching. If we are serious about sustainability, we cannot continue to farm in ways that deplete soil, pollute water, reduce biodiversity, and impoverish rural communities. We need a new agricultural toolkit. And farmers across America, with the help of science, are developing that toolkit.

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Sustainable agriculture practices

Photo: farmhack.net

Crops require fertile soil and protection from weeds and insect pests in order to produce the food we need. Sustainable agriculture meets these requirements with sophisticated management practices grounded in the science of agroecology, which views farms as ecosystems made up of interacting elements—soil, water, plants, and animals—that can be modified to solve problems, maximize yields, and conserve resources.

Research has shown that agroecologically based methods—such as organic fertilizers, crop rotation, and cover crops—can succeed in meeting our food needs while avoiding the harmful impacts of industrial agriculture.

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Sustainable agriculture benefits


As farmers incorporate these practices into their work, many benefits emerge: Less pollution. Healthier, more fertile soil that is less vulnerable to drought and flooding. A lighter impact on surrounding ecosystems, resulting in greater biodiversity. Reduced global warming impact. Less antibiotic and pesticide resistance.

This checklist of benefits adds up to more than the sum of its parts. The ultimate benefit of adopting sustainable agriculture is that in doing so, we make it more likely that our farms will remain healthy and productive for future generations.

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Advancing sustainable agriculture

Photo: USDA NRCS South Dakota/Flickr

Ultimately, it is farmers themselves, by adopting sustainable practices, who will turn sustainable agriculture from a movement of forward-thinking innovators into standard operating procedure for U.S. food production. But consumers and policy makers have a role to play as well. Here are some things we can do:

As consumers, we can vote for sustainability with our wallets at the supermarket—or better yet, at the farmers market, where the chances that our food was grown sustainably go way up.

And as citizens, we can call on policy makers to increase funding for research to improve sustainable practices, provide incentives and support for farmers to adopt or expand their use, and invest in local and regional food systems, which connect farmers with consumers while creating jobs and stimulating rural economies. The current system is the result of policy choices—and we will need to make better policy choices to move that system in a new direction.

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We Need Your Support
to Make Change Happen

We can transform the U.S. agricultural system to prioritize investments in healthy foods and farms —but not without you. Your generous support helps develop science-based solutions for a healthy, safe, and sustainable future.