Sustainable Agriculture

Maintaining a strong partnership with the land


Maintaining a strong partnership with the land is vital for farmers who are concerned about sustaining profitable production. Not only are farmers the producers of our nation's food supply, they are also stewards of the natural resources that provide a stable, healthy food supply.

Today, many farmers are interested in what is called "sustainable agriculture." What does this mean? An agriculture that is sustainable recognizes and seeks to balance farm profit over the long term with needs for good soil and clean water, a safe and plentiful food supply, and rural communities that provide meaningful work and are inviting places to live.

When we study agriculture and ecology together it is called "agroecology." Traditionally, we have studied agriculture by examining each component separately. Agronomists study crops, soil scientists study soil, hydrologists study water. This can result in a lack of appreciation of how the system's parts fit together and interact. In agroecology, all factors present in the ecological system - soil, water, air, sunlight, plants, microorganisms, animals, and humans - are studied together.

Farmers that practice sustainable agriculture understand the complex relationships among all parts of the agroecosystern, and make decisions based on these relationships.


Students will be able to:

  • define sustainable agriculture and agroecology.
  • explain the ways that farmers can practice sustainable agriculture.


Poster board, color markers, paints, magazines and newspapers.

Activity 1: Understanding Sustainable Agriculture

Sustainable agriculture is a philosophy that promotes integrated systems of plant and animal production, using practices with site-specific applications to:

  • satisfy human food and fiber needs
  • enhance environmental quality
  • maintain the natural resource base
  • make efficient use of both renewable and nonrenewable resources
  • integrate natural biological cycles and controls
  • ensure the short- and long-term profit and strength of farms
  • enhance the quality of life for farmers
  • promote strong rural communities

Introduce the term Agroecology
Agroecology incorporates ideas about a more environmentally and socially sensitive approach to agriculture, one that focuses not only on production, but also on the ecological sustainability of the production system.

Make a list
Ask each student to list five ways that farmers can practice sustainable agriculture. As a class, develop a list of the student responses. Some possible responses may include:

  • Non-chemical and reduced chemical methods to reduce pest damage to crops,
  • Reduced rates of herbicides and fertility management to minimize runoff and leaching to help protect our ground and surface water supplies;
  • Proper chemical handling and storage;
  • Crop scouting for pests and soil testing to determine levels of nutrients available
  • Minimizing soil erosion through such methods as contour planting, minimum tillage, cover crops, no-till, and the use of perennial plants
  • Use of hedgerows and windbreaks to control wind erosion
  • Crop rotations, crop residues, animal manures, and mechanical cultivation to control weeds
  • Long-term crop rotations, decreased levels of fertilizers and pesticides
  • A commitment to land stewardship. There is a potential to improve the quality and quantity of wildlife habitat and to reduce the rate of species extinction.

Posters and Collage
Have the students draw a poster and/or develop a collage that illustrates the ways that farmers can protect the environment through sustainable agriculture practices.

Make a Class Presentation
Ask each student to present their poster to the class. Display the posters on the walls of the classroom for everyone to see.


Toward a Sustainable Agriculture: A Teacher's Guide, Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems, University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Focus on Sustainable Agriculture, University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
Agroecology: The Scientific Basis of Alternative Agriculture, Miguel A. Allied