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Some of the specific points that livestock producers need to address are listed below. Including livestock in the farming system increases the complexity of biological and economic relationships. The mobility of the stock, daily feeding, health concerns, breeding operations, seasonal feed and forage sources, and complex marketing are sources of this complexity. Therefore, a successful ranch plan should include enterprise calendars of operations, stock flows, forage flows, labor needs, herd production records and land use plans to give the manager control and a means of monitoring progress toward goals.

The animal enterprise must be appropriate for the farm or ranch resources. Farm capabilities and constraints such as feed and forage sources, landscape, climate and skill of the manager must be considered in selecting which animals to produce. For example, ruminant animals can be raised on a variety of feed sources including range and pasture, cultivated forage, cover crops, shrubs, weeds, and crop residues.

There is a wide range of breeds available in each of the major ruminant species, i. Hardier breeds that, in general, have lower growth and milk production potential, are better adapted to less favorable environments with sparse or highly seasonal forage growth. Feed costs are the largest single variable cost in any livestock operation.

While most of the feed may come from other enterprises on the ranch, some purchased feed is usually imported from off the farm. Feed costs can be kept to a minimum by monitoring animal condition and performance and understanding seasonal variations in feed and forage quality on the farm. Determining the optimal use of farm-generated by-products is an important challenge of diversified farming. Use of quality germplasm to improve herd performance is another key to sustainability.

In combination with good genetic stock, adapting the reproduction season to fit the climate and sources of feed and forage reduce health problems and feed costs. Animal health greatly influences reproductive success and weight gains, two key aspects of successful livestock production.

Unhealthy stock waste feed and require additional labor. A herd health program is critical to sustainable livestock production. Most adverse environmental impacts associated with grazing can be prevented or mitigated with proper grazing management. First, the number of stock per unit area stocking rate must be correct for the landscape and the forage sources. There will need to be compromises between the convenience of tilling large, unfenced fields and the fencing needs of livestock operations.

Use of modern, temporary fencing may provide one practical solution to this dilemma. Second, the long term carrying capacity and the stocking rate must take into account short and long-term droughts. Especially in Mediterranean climates such as in California, properly managed grazing significantly reduces fire hazards by reducing fuel build-up in grasslands and brushlands. Finally, the manager must achieve sufficient control to reduce overuse in some areas while other areas go unused. Prolonged concentration of stock that results in permanent loss of vegetative cover on uplands or in riparian zones should be avoided.

However, small scale loss of vegetative cover around water or feed troughs may be tolerated if surrounding vegetative cover is adequate. Animal health and waste management are key issues in confined livestock operations. The moral and ethical debate taking place today regarding animal welfare is particularly intense for confined livestock production systems. The issues raised in this debate need to be addressed.

Confinement livestock production is increasingly a source of surface and ground water pollutants, particularly where there are large numbers of animals per unit area. Expensive waste management facilities are now a necessary cost of confined production systems.

Waste is a problem of almost all operations and must be managed with respect to both the environment and the quality of life in nearby communities. Livestock production systems that disperse stock in pastures so the wastes are not concentrated and do not overwhelm natural nutrient cycling processes have become a subject of renewed interest.

In addition to strategies for preserving natural resources and changing production practices, sustainable agriculture requires a commitment to changing public policies, economic institutions, and social values. Strategies for change must take into account the complex, reciprocal and ever-changing relationship between agricultural production and the broader society. The "food system" extends far beyond the farm and involves the interaction of individuals and institutions with contrasting and often competing goals including farmers, researchers, input suppliers, farmworkers, unions, farm advisors, processors, retailers, consumers, and policymakers.

Relationships among these actors shift over time as new technologies spawn economic, social and political changes. A wide diversity of strategies and approaches are necessary to create a more sustainable food system. These will range from specific and concentrated efforts to alter specific policies or practices, to the longer-term tasks of reforming key institutions, rethinking economic priorities, and challenging widely-held social values.

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Areas of concern where change is most needed include the following:. Existing federal, state and local government policies often impede the goals of sustainable agriculture. New policies are needed to simultaneously promote environmental health, economic profitability, and social and economic equity. For example, commodity and price support programs could be restructured to allow farmers to realize the full benefits of the productivity gains made possible through alternative practices.

Tax and credit policies could be modified to encourage a diverse and decentralized system of family farms rather than corporate concentration and absentee ownership. Government and land grant university research policies could be modified to emphasize the development of sustainable alternatives. Marketing orders and cosmetic standards could be amended to encourage reduced pesticide use. Coalitions must be created to address these policy concerns at the local, regional, and national level. Conversion of agricultural land to urban uses is a particular concern in California, as rapid growth and escalating land values threaten farming on prime soils.

Existing farmland conversion patterns often discourage farmers from adopting sustainable practices and a long-term perspective on the value of land. At the same time, the close proximity of newly developed residential areas to farms is increasing the public demand for environmentally safe farming practices. Comprehensive new policies to protect prime soils and regulate development are needed, particularly in California's Central Valley.

By helping farmers to adopt practices that reduce chemical use and conserve scarce resources, sustainable agriculture research and education can play a key role in building public support for agricultural land preservation. Educating land use planners and decision-makers about sustainable agriculture is an important priority. In California, the conditions of agricultural labor are generally far below accepted social standards and legal protections in other forms of employment.

Policies and programs are needed to address this problem, working toward socially just and safe employment that provides adequate wages, working conditions, health benefits, and chances for economic stability. The needs of migrant labor for year-around employment and adequate housing are a particularly crucial problem needing immediate attention. To be more sustainable over the long-term, labor must be acknowledged and supported by government policies, recognized as important constituents of land grant universities, and carefully considered when assessing the impacts of new technologies and practices.

Rural communities in California are currently characterized by economic and environmental deterioration. Many are among the poorest locations in the nation. The reasons for the decline are complex, but changes in farm structure have played a significant role. Sustainable agriculture presents an opportunity to rethink the importance of family farms and rural communities.

Economic development policies are needed that encourage more diversified agricultural production on family farms as a foundation for healthy economies in rural communities. In combination with other strategies, sustainable agriculture practices and policies can help foster community institutions that meet employment, educational, health, cultural and spiritual needs. Consumers can play a critical role in creating a sustainable food system. Through their purchases, they send strong messages to producers, retailers and others in the system about what they think is important.

Food cost and nutritional quality have always influenced consumer choices. The challenge now is to find strategies that broaden consumer perspectives, so that environmental quality, resource use, and social equity issues are also considered in shopping decisions. At the same time, new policies and institutions must be created to enable producers using sustainable practices to market their goods to a wider public.

Coalitions organized around improving the food system are one specific method of creating a dialogue among consumers, retailers, producers and others. These coalitions or other public forums can be important vehicles for clarifying issues, suggesting new policies, increasing mutual trust, and encouraging a long-term view of food production, distribution and consumption. Because the concept of sustainable agriculture is still evolving, we intend this page not as a definitive or final statement, but as an invitation to continue the dialogue What is Sustainable Agriculture?

Despite the diversity of people and perspectives, the following themes commonly weave through definitions of sustainable agriculture: Sustainability rests on the principle that we must meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Bhullar, Navreet K. Publisher: Elsevier Science Pub. Date: pages: ISBN: Collaboratively written by top international experts and established scientists in various fields of agricultural research, this book focuses on the state of food production and sustainability; the problems with degradation of valuable sources of land, water, and air and their effects on food crops;.

Provides cutting edge scientific tools and available technologies for research Addresses the effects of climate change and the population explosion on food supply and offers solutions to combat them Written by a range of experts covering a broad range of agriculture-related disciplines. Similar books. Public Folders 0. Private Folders 0. Low input is not an exactly appropriate term because it carries the wrong connotation, that something can be achieved for nothing.

In fact, the preferred designation is sustainable agriculture. This means the use of the very best technology in a balanced, well-managed, and environmentally responsible system. It relies on skilled management, scientific know-how, and on-farm resources. It should be stressed again that the emphasis is not to eliminate the use of important chemicals and fertilizers.

In many instances, such chemicals and fertilizers are absolutely necessary to the farmer. The emphasis is, however, to seek ways to reduce their use and increase their effectiveness to improve and maintain environmental and economic sustainability. The appropriate measure of a system's productivity and efficiency is not how much it produces but, rather, the relative value of what it produces compared with what went into producing it.

Environmental impacts must now be included in the cost-benefit equation; this has not always been considered. Contributions will be needed from all the agricultural sciences to develop sustainability models with sound management practices and techniques for food and fiber production systems.

It must be made absolutely clear that those involved in the U. It is one of USDA 's top priorities, and this is certainly evident in the proposals in the farm bill and the federal budget both of which are discussed below. Agriculture has always tried to be a careful steward of the nation 's land and water resources, but that effort is now receiving renewed emphasis. For example, an excellent summary of data, case studies, and recommendations was presented in Alternative Agriculture National Research Council, a , which has received a great deal of attention.


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Since its publication, many people have commended the National Research Council for producing such a comprehensive assessment at such a critical time. Other readers, however, say that it overstates the economic feasibility and the benefits of adopting alternative agriculture practices. The principles laid out in that report are well worth thoughtful study and can point the way to change. A recent issue of Chemical and Engineering News March 5, contains a good analysis of the issues involved, and the Board on Agriculture of the National Research Council will soon provide a response to some of the comments that Alternative Agriculture has generated.

In fact, some of the reactions miss the point of that report. It was never intended to prove that one kind of agriculture is superior to another but, rather, to help provide an understanding of the kinds of agriculture systems being used on U. The current scarcity of hard evidence on either side of the issue can only invite unfounded and unhelpful assertions. There must be an effort to gain more hard data so that informed decisions can be made based on science rather than on emotion. It is human nature to want to know everything without having to wait for it.

People want to know immediately what does and does not work and why. These kinds of questions take time to answer, and time is needed to gather the evidence that will eventually lead to conclusions. Under the President's Initiative on Water Quality, research will help to provide a better sense of real versus perceived progress on the issue of water quality.

This initiative will determine what agricultural practices. The Cooperative Extension Service and the Soil Conservation Service will extend the existing knowledge of the best management practices. On February 9, , USDA announced the establishment of eight water quality demonstration projects to show new ways to minimize the effects of agricultural nutrients and pesticides on water quality.

The Soil Conservation Service and Extension Service will provide joint leadership for the on-farm demonstration projects. In the field season, the Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service will test a cost-sharing program for reducing chemical use. The trial program is designed to encourage the adoption of integrated pest and fertilizer management practices. It will be limited to 20 farms in each of five counties per state in all 50 states. Participants must enroll at least 40 acres of small grains, forage, hay, or row crops and follow a written integrated crop management plan that seeks to reduce pesticide or fertilizer use by at least 20 percent.

Research in integrated pest management will also be continued. Integrated pest management is the study of biological controls and management practices that aid in the more precise use of pesticides and in judicious reductions in the amounts that are used. The goal is to avoid adverse effects on the environment and beneficial organisms. Yet, at the same time, care must be taken so that, in the enthusiasm to remove toxic compounds, conditions are not created in which naturally occurring toxic substances such as aflatoxins are able to increase.

In July , R. This laboratory will study the effects of a variety of agricultural practices on soil structure, organic matter, microorganisms, and movement of nutrients. The Alternative Farming Systems Information Center at the National Agricultural Library is another way that the transfer of knowledge is being increased. As part of the team working with sustainable agriculture, this information center focuses human expertise on the specialized subject area of sustainable agriculture.

This center inventories and coordinates data from many sources and plays an important role in meeting the information needs of researchers and producers. In the endeavor to create management systems that combine knowledge from a variety of areas, universities will want to create internal mechanisms to facilitate multidisciplinary approaches to research. It takes cooperative interactions among members of many disciplines for the development of stable systems.

The widespread awareness of the need for economical and environmentally sound ways of farming has not always been matched by the availability of reliable and practical information on what, in fact, can be done. Innovative farmers and researchers have generated considerable new information, but it has not always been shared with and tested by others to the extent that it should.

Extension certainly has an historic and very current role in meeting this need. It's got to sustain the land, the soil, the people, the communities, and the pocket-book. Its members are involved in a number of demonstration projects that pair customary practices with alternative methods.

For instance, ridge-till farmers have compared chemical weed control with nonchemical weed control in soybean and corn demonstration projects. In 11 soybean field trials in , participating PFI farmers applied no herbicides and substituted nonchemical weed control such as cultivation. Yields were not affected in either case. New ways of sharing such information must continue to be examined. Every ounce of careful management and efficient technology that can be mustered is needed to continue to maintain competitiveness in a tough global marketplace and, at the same time, to have an environmentally sensitive agriculture system.

It is essential that policymakers, researchers, and farmers join together to take an assertive, proactive approach in dealing with environmental issues. To say that there are no problems or that public concern is completely the product of misinformation is not a productive approach, neither for the future of agriculture nor for the restoration of public confidence. The public is growing more and more concerned about the impact of agriculture on the environment, particularly its potential effect on water quality. There are recent data that give some credence to that fear.

Geological Survey report showed that in a sampling of surface water in 10 midwestern states, 90 percent of the samples showed the presence of some agricultural chemicals. The issue is not limited to the United States. In England, there are suits pending against water companies citing the high levels of nitrogen in drinking water, and legislation is being proposed that would regulate the amount of fertilizer an English farmer can use. The legislation proposes that the amount be based on the nitrate content of the region's well water.

If such restrictive legislation is to be avoided in the United States, a positive response to these issues must be made. It is time to be proactive rather than defensive. To do otherwise is to invite legislation and regulation that may remove farmers' decision-making powers and constrain their flexibility in adapting management practices that best fit each farming situation. Emerging environmental concerns were strongly reflected in the Food Security Act of I predict that they will be even more strongly present in the current debates over farm legislation.

The proposals of the farm bill should be mentioned here because one of its three basic goals is to deal with environmental concerns. The administration is seeking an assertive role in shaping the nation's sustainable agriculture policy in the years to come. The farm bill will go far in this direction. The bill proposes the enhancement of resource stewardship of U. In the farm bill, the administration encourages changes in commodity programs to ensure that the farmers who participate in those programs will not be penalized for adopting sustainable agriculture practices.

Currently, commodity programs reward farmers for growing as much of the program crop as they can on their eligible base acres. They would lose that base, and, therefore, future price support payments, if they used it to grow rotation crops, even though those crops could increase environmental and economic sustainability. The administration 's flexibility proposals would allow farmers to incorporate rotation crops without having to make that sacrifice.

LISA research and education program in LISA is highly favored by some because it provides opportunities for users of the research to have direct input into the decision-making process of selecting the projects that should be funded. Unfortunately, it has sometimes engendered skepticism as well as enthusiastic support —in part, because it differs from traditional research and education. For example, some people are suspicious of the results of studies that put farmers and others in the middle of the research and education process.

Now in its third year, the program has supported up to 90 projects ranging from experimental research to the development of educational materials. Most of the projects reviewed in this volume have been funded partially by the LISA program. The benefits of this effort include more than information for farmers. The program is a catalyst. It is helping to stimulate sustainable agriculture research and education in many universities and other research organizations. The LISA program is just a start, however. For one thing, it is currently limited to farm-level research and education.

As noted by the National Research Council b , very little research is being done on what implications the adoption of sustainable agriculture might have for the structure of agriculture, environmental quality, and rural communities, as well as for national and global food production. This is not to say that people should ignore the question: How can the world have a clean environment and enough to eat?

The pervasive negativism is that the world cannot have both and, therefore, that LISA is a false hope. Regrettably, that conclusion overlooks the other side of the equation, namely, what will be the outcome for future generations if continued reliance is placed on highly specialized, capital-intensive, chemical-intensive ways of farming?

Thoughtful research is needed on this fundamental issue. The ability to offer the farmer a broad range of practices and to tap the full potential of technology depends on a reservoir of knowledge in the basic sciences essential to agriculture.

Fortunately, Secretary of Agriculture Clayton Yeutter has a deep appreciation for the role of research, and. This commitment was obvious when the president presented his budget to the Congress. Also, other areas in the budget are directly related to the goal of a sustainable agriculture system. The goal is to determine those genes that regulate agriculturally important traits, such as disease and insect resistance. The first challenge was to get the initiative into the budget. Now, perhaps an even tougher challenge is to get it through the Congress. This is where the administration needs help and support.

In addition, the Office of Management and Budget is watching carefully to see whether the administration can get the initiative passed by the Congress unimpaired by ear-marking of funds for special interest purposes. It is clearly in the best interest of everyone to resist the urge to carve up the initiative.

It would be killing the goose that laid the golden egg. The quest for agricultural sustainability in the United States and abroad bears more than a casual resemblance to the astonishing events that have been taking place in Eastern Europe, the Soviet Union, and elsewhere around the world.


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  • Both phenomena have caught some by surprise but have captured the imagination of everyone. The similarities do not stop there. The pursuit of an environmentally and economically sustainable agriculture system, no less than the drive for freedom, involves a deep questioning of the status quo and an intense commit-. Both the search for sustainability and the parting of the Iron Curtain have been brewing for decades, and they are now bursting forth. I applaud the participants of the workshop on which this volume is based for making an effort to tell others about the important work that is being done and to join in learning about the information provided by this research.

    Agriculture in the United States is facing major challenges, some of which may appear to be in conflict. On one hand, agriculture needs to be highly efficient and internationally competitive in order to be economically viable. On the other hand, it needs a system of production that is environmentally sensitive and sustainable and whose products are viewed as safe.

    Both goals are achievable. Sustainable agriculture is a direction that makes remarkable sense for farmers and for the rest of U. It is a direction that must be faced with a spirit of openness and willingness to change for the better. National Research Council.

    Alternative Agriculture. Washington, D. Geological Survey. Reconnaissance for triazine herbicides in surface waters in agricultural areas of the upper midwestern United States. October The roots of the low-input sustainable agriculture LISA program go far back in time. It is the product of growing concerns of the public and farmers over unforseen high costs of conventional agriculture.

    Indeed, the highly specialized, capital-intensive, and chemical-intensive conventional farming methods, while boosting farm output to higher and higher levels, have had a myriad of adverse side effects on natural resources, environmental quality, human health, and food quality and safety.

    LISA is but one of several names used to describe a form of agriculture that will not only be productive and profitable for generations to come but will also conserve resources, protect the environment, and enhance the health and safety of the citizenry. Other versions of the same ideal or different paths to it, are known by names such as organic, regenerative, biological, ecological, biodynamic, sustainable, low-input, reduced-input, and alternative agriculture.

    Low input had the advantage that it could include, but not be limited to, the chemical-free path to sustainability. The relevant question implied here is which path is the. A discussion of LISA might not have occurred if it were not for important turning points in the support for agricultural sustainability.

    One such turning point was the farm financial crisis of the s. It has long been known that conventional farming might not be environmentally sustainable. It took the financial tragedy that struck farm families early in the s, however, which was the result of declining exports of U. Farmers who survived that economic crisis saw the urgency of farming in ways that would lower production costs and debts.

    Their discovery helps to explain why so much of the search for a more sustainable agriculture system has focused on reducing the use of purchased chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Not only were those inputs known to be potentially harmful to the environment, but farmers' extreme dependence on them has also been seen as weakening agriculture's economic sustainability. Another development fostering interest in agricultural sustainability has been the growing realization among environmentalists that 1 environmentally sound farming practices must be profitable if farmers are going to adopt them, and 2 it might not always be essential —or even sustainable—to try to eliminate all synthetic chemicals from farming practices, as was assumed by some of the environmentally concerned critics of conventional agriculture.

    Despite the important developments described above, in the early s the U. Congress failed to pass legislation supporting sustainable agriculture research and education. Two reasons for this stand out. First, the initial attempts emphasized or were identified with organic farming, which lacked wide support. Some in the agriculture community saw organic farming only as a way to meet a special market niche. Another possible reason for failure to enact legislation was that early proposals supporting sustainable farming research and education included the establishment of new centers or procedures that departed from and even threatened the traditional structure and practices of the land-grant system and the U.

    Because the reasons for interest in a more sustainable agriculture system persisted, however, it was only a matter of time before supportive policies would be enacted see Table That happened in with passage of. Government Printing Office, Many members of Congress and the agricultural community were, and still are, more comfortable with the term productivity than with the term LISA.

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    Subtitle C discussed farmers' need for sound information on alternative production systems that would not only enhance productivity but also reduce soil erosion, conserve energy, and protect the environment. It referred indirectly to the negative side effects of farming practices that rely heavily on purchased chemicals and other inputs. It called for an inventory of studies and told USDA to conduct research projects on alternative farming systems. Farmers, it said, should be involved in those studies, to be sure that the results would be useful to them.

    The research should also be open to people from all interested universities and private organizations. The LISA program remained on the drawing board through and That was because Congress did not appropriate funds to support a new program, and USDA chose not to redirect existing research funds to get one started. In response to the act, however, USDA formed a task force on alternative farming systems and began to inventory existing research. The launching of the LISA program finally came in January , after Congress passed an agriculture appropriations bill for with funds earmarked for such a program.

    The House Appropriations Committee report introduced the words low-input farming. Congress, House, The report then discussed the low-input research that was under way and the fact that the National Agricultural Library had established an Alternative Farming Systems Information Center. The Senate committee was more generous. The Senate language used reduced input instead of low-input.

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    Congress, Senate, Many of the participants at the workshop on which this volume is based and others associated with universities and private organizations played key roles in that process. It drafted a departmental memorandum that defined and established support for research and education on alternative farming systems. The draft became an official policy statement that was issued by then Secretary Richard Lyng in January U. Department of Agriculture, The decision was made to invite, review, and approve LISA project proposals mainly at the regional level.

    To do that, host institutions were selected in each of the four U. Coordinators were named to guide the program in each region. The current coordinators are Neil Pelsue, Jr.

    Digging Into Sustainable Agriculture | Ceres

    Technical committees were established in each region, along with a smaller administrative council to act as a regional board of directors and decision-making body. Each region was given the same amount of money, after setting aside limited funding to support conferences and other activities at the national level. An example is the Farm Decision Support System, a computer-assisted system to help farmers choose their best farming options. Ongoing food and agriculture research and LISA research are not the same things, but they need each other.

    LISA research is applied research on alternative low-input sustainable agriculture practices and their feasibility. LISA projects deal with, or are at least oriented to the concept of, a total farm system. In contrast, much of the ongoing production-related research is focused on single practices or relationships involved in farming—for example, on the effects of different levels of a single input or technology on the yield of a particular crop.

    Often, the latter research can make an important contribution to the development and testing of knowledge about sustainable agriculture practices. The results of LISA research, in turn, can increase the payoff from ongoing research by identifying the component problems that it should address.

    In the first year , a total of project proposals were received. Of those, 49 13 percent were selected to receive funding. Other competitive grant research programs administered by USDA now fund an average of 20 percent of the proposals received.

    The 20 percent figure is also fairly typical for other federal and nonprofit research organizations. In an effort to reduce the disappointment level associated with this very low acceptance rate, the Western region LISA program called for abbreviated preproposals in Of a total of preproposals submitted, 32 were selected for development of full proposals. Of 30 proposals received and reviewed, 11 were funded. For the United States as a whole, full proposals were evaluated in ; 56 18 percent were approved, including 27 renewal projects that were first funded in for which continued support was requested and 29 new projects.


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    • In , the Southern and North Central regions called for abbreviated preproposals. A total of were submitted; 91 of these preproposals were selected for development into full proposals, and 86 proposals were submitted. Twenty-one of these were funded: 12 in the Southern region including 11 new projects and 9 in the North Central region 5 new projects.

      In the Northeast region, 67 proposals were reviewed and 16 were funded, including 7 new projects. The Western region did not invite new proposals in They had agreed in to continue supporting previously approved projects, if their progress was satisfactory, leaving insufficient funds for new projects.

      Without a higher level of funding, the LISA program will be able to support either a limited number of proposals for 1 or 2 years or an even smaller number of proposals for several years. Neither choice is satisfactory. The need to provide support for more than 1 or 2 years is especially critical for projects dealing with the feasibility of expanded rotations and other practice changes that extend over many years. The need to assist more of the prospective LISA research teams that are interested in and able to shed light on low-input sustainable practices is just as compelling.

      Moreover, a relatively high proportion of LISA proposals is not likely to find support elsewhere. The following are some of the questions people ask about the LISA program and the current answers:. Only four states cannot claim a principal coordinator or major participant in a LISA-supported project. About 1, farmers are now involved as participants in LISA-funded projects. Of these, have generated ideas for projects, and have provided land for experimentation and other inputs Table Of a total of 74 people who are members of the regional technical committess, 19 are farmers.

      Eight farmers are serving on the regional administrative councils, which have a total of 39 members. Nineteen of the projects now supported have principal participants who are with private organizations. In the 2-year period from to , some 20 institutes, associations, and other private organizations have added.

      How much support are LISA projects actually receiving from the program? The LISA program has a matching fund requirement. How much have participating organizations contributed to LISA projects? What proportion of LISA projects deals primarily with organic farming? The future status of the LISA program rests to a great extent on the outcome of the farm bill debate, which was under way at the time of this writing, as well as on annual appropriations. The current authorization ends with expiration of the Food Security Act of Different reauthorization language has been suggested by various interest groups and USDA.

      Most of the proposed language reaffirms the purpose of the current LISA program and its structure and procedures. Some extend the program's scope—for example, to support research on the social and economic implications of widespread adoption of LISA, in addition to providing farmers with practical information on sustainable agriculture practices.

      The year is surely critical to the life of LISA. From all indications, however, sustainable agriculture research and education could be well on the way to becoming mainstream agriculture research and education. During and early , more LISA projects were funded, and more farmers became involved in the program.

      Madden Associates, Inc. Farmers participating in LISA projects, directory to Madden, J. De Shazer, F. Magdoff, N. Pelsue, Jr. Laughlin, and D. LISA Department of Agriculture. Congress, House of Representatives. House Agricultural Appropriations Committee Report. Congress, Senate. Senate Agricultural Appropriations Committee Report. Office of the Secretary. Alternative Farming Systems. Secretary's Memorandum January Government Printing Office. Food Security Act of For the past 50 or more years, the emphasis in agricultural research and education has been on improving crop plants and livestock as biological resources.

      This emphasis must continue. There is another equally great biological resource, however, that has the potential to increase both the productivity and sustainability of agriculture that remains largely untapped. This biological resource is external or sometimes internal to, while interacting with, crops and livestock, and it is represented by a nearly limitless variety of biological systems, interactions, and natural cycles on farms.

      The farming systems identified in the report Alternative Agriculture National Research Council, a have as their common thread the goal to make greater use of these biological resources. John Pesek, who was the chairman of the committee that produced the report Alternative Agriculture, made the central theme of the report very clear in remarks in Washington, D. Alternative farming practices are far more than conventional agriculture with lowered inputs of fertilizer and pesticides. They are an array of options that emphasize management and take advantage of biological relationships that occur naturally on the farm.

      The objective is to enhance and sustain rather than to reduce and simplify these relationships—to make them relevant to the production system rather than irrelevant; not to mask them with excesses. No present technologies have been ruled out—the intensity and, in some cases, the frequency of their use is moderated. This idea is not new. Charles Benbrook, executive director of the Board on Agriculture, has brought together some quotes from the writings of Aldo Leopold, after whom the recently opened and dedicated Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture is named at Iowa State University in Ames.

      To set the stage for why better use should be made of natural biological interactions and cycles on the farm, one of these quotes is appropriate here Benbrook, , p. Few educated people realize that the marvelous advances in technique made during recent decades are improvements in the pump, rather than the well. Acre for acre, they have barely sufficed to offset the sinking level of fertility. In all of these cleavages, we see repeated the same basic paradoxes: man the conqueror versus man the biotic citizen; science the sharpener versus science the searchlight on his universe; land the slave and servant versus land the collective organism.

      Department of Agriculture USDA , recognized the power of what he termed the biological factor in producing pine seedlings in nurseries for reforestation Hartley, The nursery soils were treated with live steam to kill the pathogens responsible for seedling blights and damping off, but following steam treatment, any inadvertent recontamination of the soil with these pathogens resulted in even more seedling blight than occurred in the natural soil.

      He attempted to reproduce the biological factor by adding common soil microorganisms back to the steamed soil. This was the first attempt at biological control of plant diseases by the deliberate release of microorganisms into soil. The effectiveness of his treatments approached but could not duplicate that of the natural biological factor of soil that was suppressive to the pathogens of pine seedlings. Thirty years later, in the s, Kenneth Baker, who was with the California Agricultural Experiment Station, developed a method whereby steam and air could be mixed to selectively treat soils at temperatures just high enough to kill pathogens but not so high as to eliminate the biological factor Baker, , This relatively simple technology, plus the use of pathogen-free seeds planted into these soils, was the basis for the U.

      System for Producing Healthy Container-Grown Plants Baker, and revolutionized the ornamental and bedding plant industries in the United States and other countries. It stands to reason that taking greater advantage of the enormous potential of the biological interactions and natural cycles working in consortium with crops, especially the important food and agronomic crops, is the next big step in making agriculture both economically more viable and ecologically more sustainable.

      Before discussing the challenges and rewards of sustainable agriculture research and education, some basic concepts must be introduced. These definitions refer to the plant side of agriculture, but they could possibly be adapted to livestock systems as well.

      Agricultural Sustainability

      Any crop production system can be subdivided, on the basis of component elements, into 1 inputs, 2 biological processes, and 3 depletions or net losses Figure A. The biological processes include photosynthesis, genetics of the crop in terms of its adaptation to the soils and climate and resistance to pests and diseases, biological nitrogen fixation, nitrogen cycling in the soil, phosphorus uptake by mycorrhizal fungi associated with roots, plant defense by plant-associated microorganisms and natural enemies of insect pests, and soil sanitation by the natural soil microbiota.

      The inputs include the fertilizers, water, where irrigation is practiced, pesticides, labor, and energy. The depletions or net losses are largely earth resources and include the organic matter and mineral nutrient contents of the soil, water reserves and water quality, soil lost through erosion, and fossil fuels. The relative contributions of these three component elements to crop production on any given farm vary with the farming system.

      Some systems attempt to reduce inputs and make greater use of biological processes; others use more inputs and depend less on biological processes. These components refer only to those elements that are involved directly in crop production and do not include broader considerations such as food safety. Crop plants growing wild in their native ecosystems depend only on the biological processes Figure B. There are no external inputs and basically no net depletions; more likely, there are net gains in earth resources through the soil-building processes of undisturbed ecosystems.

      Crop plants in the wild present a valuable source of germ plasm and biological control agents for transfer to agricultural systems, and the natural ecosystems present a wealth of clues for assisting in the recognition of potentially useful biological interactions, but these natural systems, by themselves, cannot support the human race. Sustainable agriculture is a goal aimed at not only allowing no net depletions or net losses in earth resources but, ultimately, at rebuilding or restoring the productive capacity of agricultural soils as well Figure C.

      Sustainable agriculture must meet many other criteria, and these are identified in the many definitions provided by Charles M. Benbrook in the. FIGURE Conceptual illustrations of the major elements that are directly involved in or affected by A crop production, B crops in the wild natural ecosystems , and C sustainable agriculture. Source: R. Cook and R. Wheat Health Management. Paul, Minn. Introduction to this volume, but fundamentally, so long as agriculture is responsible for a steady depletion of earth resources, it cannot claim to be sustainable.