Redefining sustainable

There seems to be more consideration given to the long-term productivity of livestock

IN developed countries, is the “sustainable” in sustainable farming actually sustaining the right thing?

Perhaps we need to make the shift to “sustainable production” for food, not sustainable farming for the environment.

A reasonable description of what we know as “sustainable farming” is the production of food, fibre, or other plant or animal products using farming techniques that protect the environment, public health, our economic communities, and animal welfare.

In theory, this system of agriculture enables us to produce healthy food without compromising future generations' ability to do the same.

This all sounds good and is applauded around the globe, but the concept does not take into account the preservation of our species, the human race. There seems to be more consideration given to the long-term productivity and sustainability of livestock than humans.

It seems the “sustainable” aspect many people spruik refers to our surroundings, not us. And I’m thinking with the inevitability of global hunger pains in the next century, it might be good to start planning now for what sustainable actually means.

I mentioned in my blog two weeks ago that a leading global agricultural consultant was quoted stating 65 to 80 million hectares of land need to be opened up for farming in the next 10 years to meet the world’s predicted population of 10.9 billion by 2050.

There are billions of dollars being invested in agriculture every year across the world, and I’m hoping that soon a focus will be on sustainable large-scale production globally. Why? Because it’s produce that will keep us alive, not the environment.

That said, we can’t have one without the other, but we must be careful which one we put first. In 60 to 80 years, the preference or “choice” to eat or farm sustainably may be compromised, and a focus on maximum production to feed as many people as possible will over-ride environmental considerations.

We might get to a stage when countries become self-sufficient and choose not to import or export in order to protect their own, leaving densely populated countries in trouble. Australia may well be the “lucky country” for reasons far greater and profound than the original meaning.

At what point will governments look at parts of national parks like some farmers do of that tree-laden paddock down the back? We may develop a measurement of average rates of land coverage that have “kilograms of food per hectare” attached - where a tree covered block, after some logging, is capable of being sown down and made more productive than just being grazed or left alone.

A focus on globally sustainable production means pumping out as much produce you can per hectare, or square metre. Of course, we’re giving it a good crack here, but will developing countries fail to pull their weight?

Until the elected that make up our governments understand not only the industry but the ins and outs of farm production, will we see real changes that address the future of humanity.

Production levels are rising, as is the unlocking of farm land globally, but not at rates conducive to the population growth we see. Where farmers and industry are often taken for granted in developed nations, I predict our children will see in their lifetime a global squeeze on food supply, finally turning the spotlight on agriculture and its leaders.

There are many people in Australia and across the world who won’t care or ask questions about farming and food production until they can’t get what they want at the supermarket. It’s not an attitude or ingratitude, but an understanding.

Disasters aside, the earth seems as though it will outlive us, like it has seen many species before us. Do we plan to leave it in as good condition as possible, or stay longer and make more of a mess?

Sam Trethewey

Sam Trethewey

grew up farming down south and now commentates on agriculture across Australia
Date: Newest first | Oldest first


17/09/2013 7:28:08 AM

“sustainable” rural communities?
17/09/2013 8:31:56 AM

"Because it’s produce that will keep us alive, not the environment." So we don't need oxygen? We don't need water? Where do you think these resources come from? We're just going to farm these are we? An ignorant statement which puts greed before scientific reality. You don't seem to understand that without a healthy environment you won't have healthy agriculture. In fact as a species we won't exist. The environment and agriculture are not separate entities. Has it ever occured to you that broad acre monocultures may not be the way to feed humanity?
17/09/2013 9:02:08 AM

But of course not even the word "sustainable" is sustainable, I am so sick of that word!
Holy moly
17/09/2013 9:43:46 AM

I have never read such uninformed load of BS in my life. I thought you were a bit more switched on, Sam.
17/09/2013 9:50:02 AM

If we apply an agroecological approach to the entire farming system (including marketing and distribution) we can find a range of efficiencies to increase the supply of food from the existing system and minimise the need for end-game tactics. Better use of existing on-farm resources has facilitated improvements in production and more sustainable environmental management. Creating unsustainable economic conditions for farming (through bad policy and market corruption) can erode the economic basis of sustainability, and force unsustainable on-farm natural resource management decisions.
2/10/2013 11:09:35 AM

That's great until you completely erode the ecosystem services that your farming methods depend on. A very short term solution.
2/10/2013 1:01:49 PM

As Bagheera says, "an ignorant statement which puts greed before scientific reality." Trethewey is using a debating trick as an excuse to attack environmentalism; his implied proposition that there are only two choices (environment OR food production) is a nonsense. Healthy agriculture depends on a healthy environment, not replacing one with the other. How Australia responds to the global problems of population, climate change, and resource depletion will depend on clear thinking, generosity, and some good science.
2/10/2013 1:06:42 PM

The global food shortage is a con. Output exceeds demand for most of our food, that's why the prices are not increasing. It's so cheap, 50% is not consumed. That will drop when demand increases. But we can sustain a lot more people if food is the limiting factor. If we degrade the resource we may reduce the production and we will run out of new areas to exploit, but people are starving due to economics, not food shortage.
Get MuddyTo think clearly in farming and about farming, you need to get muddy - commit, roll up your sleeves and get involved. SAM TRETHEWEY gets stuck into some of the issues facing those on the land.


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