By John Mesko • SFA Executive Director
Recently, I learned the MN Department of Agriculture has essentially phased out the distinction they’ve been making between sustainable agriculture and other, non-organic brands of agriculture. Aside from the Sustainable Agriculture Demonstration Grant program, you’ll find very little on the MDA website referring to “sustainable” agriculture.
I think for most of us, this might come as a bit of a surprise, especially given how supportive MDA has been of our organization over the years. Frankly, I don’t expect the change in language on the MDA website is in any way a reflection of a desire on the part of the department to become any less supportive of SFA, but it raises an interesting discussion.
The sustainable agriculture movement of the last 25-30 years or so was a product of the discontent in the land after the farm crises of the 1980s which saw many farmers succumb to the pressures of a farm economy which was heavily rewarding economies of scale and making it very difficult to farm effectively in the small and mid scale. Pioneers banded together against the brand of agriculture forcing them out at that time. The enemies were banks, the government, and big ag. Those pioneers sought low cost solutions in order to survive. As a result there were many innovative models and techniques that were developed and perfected, such as: reduced tillage, no-tillage, cover crops, and the rise of the organic farmer.
Many of these practices have become mainstream in the past generation. The modern farmer, regardless of his or her preferred production model may be more sustainability minded than the previous generation. And while we may differ on the definition of sustainability, there are few out there today who are actively engaging in farming with the intent to waste land resources and knowingly damage the environment.
I understand MDAs decision on “sustainable” agriculture. It means we have more farmers in our audience. More farmers moving toward ever improving sustainable production models is a good thing.
Do you think it’s possible for all farmers to be in the same category? Or, should we be divided into “sustainable” and “conventional” farmers? I’d like to hear your thoughts. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.