A word from the RALF (August 2021)
The Regional Agriculture Landcare Facilitator (RALF) role supports farmers, industry and community groups (including Landcare Groups) to adopt new and innovative sustainable agriculture practices. Pivoting around it all is the focus on the words ‘sustainable agriculture’. The question that could be pinned up is ‘What does sustainable agriculture mean?’
Back in 1999, a definition was provided by the Standing Committee on Agriculture of the Australian Agriculture Council Working Group on Sustainable Agriculture: “Sustainable agriculture is the use of farming practices and systems which maintain and enhance the economic viability of agricultural production; the natural resource base; and other ecosystems which are influenced by agricultural activities” (Sinclair, 1999).
The Farm Table provides the following definitions for sustainability and agriculture:
- Agriculture – The word agriculture comes from the Latin words ager, meaning the soil, and cultura, meaning cultivation. So agriculture can be defined as the cultivation and/or production of crop plants or livestock products.
- Sustainability – Everything that we need for our survival and well-being depends, either directly or indirectly, on our natural environment. To pursue sustainability is to create and maintain the conditions under which humans and nature can exist in productive harmony to support present and future generations.
Combining these definitions into a practical sense for the purpose of this article, let’s say that sustainable agriculture could be:
Cultivating or producing crop plants or livestock products in productive harmony of our natural environment to support present and future generations of which humans and nature can exist, also in productive harmony.
Taking from all of the above, healthy environmental systems and farm economic profitability are key objectives of sustainable agriculture. Drawing back onto the human factor of sustainable agriculture, it could also be said that to farm sustainably, the social connectivity within a farming business and within the farming and rural town communities is a major contributing factor to sustainability.
For example, improving and maintaining healthy human relationships in order to:
- Improve and maintain healthy farm natural ecological systems (land/soil/water),
- Improve and maintain healthy biodiversity, and
- Improve and maintain healthy economic productivity.
With the introduction of Landcare in 1989, and still going strong today, this has been a strategic platform that works with other agricultural groups to influence sustainable agricultural practice change and innovation through suasion and capacity building.
Hatfield-Dodds S, Greenville J, Burns K and Downham R (2020). Pathways to sustainable and productive agriculture – An Australian perspective, Notes prepared for webinar on EU – Australia Farming: One goal but many paths to sustainability on 28 October 2020, ABARES, Canberra.
Sinclair I (1999). What is sustainable agriculture? Issues in rural and metropolitan fringe planning. As published in New Planner, The Magazine of the Planning Profession in NSW. Number 38, March 1999.