Introduction - What is sustainable farming?
- “Sustainability” became a popular buzzword in the 1990s, and the concept was driven by the Resource Management Act (RMA) of 1991.
- A major aim of the RMA (Section 5) is to promote sustainable management of our natural and physical resources for future generations. Air, water, and soil are covered in this category.
- Breaches of the RMA are a criminal rather than a civil defence and fines go from $2200 to $20,000.
- Sustainable farming is about “protecting the environment for future generations”, so everyone who operates in that environment (eg. farmers) carries responsibilities to comply with the act.
- Sustainable “management” is not sustainable “development”.
- In sustainable management, the needs of all members of society must be met, and not just those who live in the countryside.
- Those who farm the land have to ensure that all “development’ is sustainable over time in (a) a social, (b) an economic, and (c) an environmental sense.
- Farmers have to avoid, remedy or mitigate any adverse effects of their activities on the environment.
What would a sustainable farm look like?
- A series of farmers’ workshops in the Waikato in the late 1990s came up with these components of a sustainable farm:
- Contented farm animals
- Efficient farm animals
- Clean water
- Productive vegetation
- Unrestricted market access for the produce
- Farmer and family health
- Adequate rural and agricultural services
- Control of feral pests
- These are not in any priority order and reflect some farmers’ views on sustainability in the late 1990s.
- The farmers stressed that sustainable farming must be profitable. Otherwise, there would be no farming business to sustain.
- They may seem a mixed bag of issues, and there are plenty of others that could be included – for example, the protection of high-quality soils. But at least it’s a start to understand and accepting the concept of sustainability and what it means in practice.
- Anyone who owns or manages land must accept the full responsibility of “stewardship”.
- The dictionary defines a steward as “a person entrusted with the management of another person’s property”.
- So stewardship must be a major farming objective – that of trust in the care of the land.
- It’s the old concept of farming the land to leave it richer than when you started.
- So with all the current concerns about the environment and global warming, those who farm have to be seen to be stewards who ensure farming in all its aspects is sustainable.
Written by: Dr Clive Dalton