Farmers are not the only ones responsible for promoting and encouraging sustainable agriculture, according to Anastasia Becker, research and outreach coordinator at the Southwest Research Center in Mt. Vernon, Mo.
"Consumers play a crucial role in supporting and encouraging sustainable agriculture when making food choices. That is why University Outreach and Extension continues to play a role in educating the public about sustainable agriculture. Agencies and policy makers also share of responsibility when making policies related to food and agriculture," said Becker.
There are over 70 characteristics or practices that constitute sustainable agriculture.
For example, sustainable agriculture is a practice that has lower off-farm inputs (chemical and non-renewable energy) and farming decisions take natural resources into consideration.
"A balanced system with minimum external input and reasonable output is the ultimate goal of a farm practicing sustainable agriculture," said Becker.
Other characteristics include efforts to maintain and enhance soil fertility by a combination of organically based practices. In fact, biological and organic principles are normally used throughout the farming system.
"Sustainable agriculture also nurtures and empowers all people involved in the farm production, processing, and consumption," said Becker.
Many studies have found evidence of comparable economic viability and yields between sustainable agriculture and conventional agriculture.
In addition, the transition to sustainable agriculture represents fewer risks than farmers think. The use of more natural, less disruptive methods - like crop rotations and integrated pest management -- help the farmer incur fewer costs.
The decision to market locally at restaurants, farmers' markets, or local institutions contributes to a stronger local economy.
One thing that is being done to encourage farmer's to adopt sustainable practices is the Missouri Sustainable Agriculture Demonstration Award. This grant, or award, is part of a program that helps farmers test, evaluate and adopt sustainable agricultural practices on their own farms.
Since starting in 1995, over 190 Missouri farmers have received demonstration award funds for projects that help them make their farms more sustainable. Sustainable farming means using techniques that are ecologically sound, economically viable and socially responsible.
Over 15 farming operations in southwest Missouri have been awarded a demonstration award since 1995 and have shared their experience and information with others.
The Missouri Sustainable Agriculture Demonstration Awards are administered by the Missouri Department of Agriculture with support from the Community Food Systems and Sustainable Agriculture Program of the University of Missouri and Lincoln University.
Applications are due Nov. 30, 2003.
For more information on sustainable agriculture, or to request a grant application, contact Joan Benjamin, Missouri Department of Agriculture, (573) 522-8616 or Becker at the Southwest Research Center, (417) 466-4225.