Defining and comparing measures of sustainability between farming system types.
Hulting, Andrew*,1, Mortensen, David1, 1 The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA
ABSTRACT- Farming systems that fall under the umbrella of alternative agricultural practices are the fastest growing sector of agriculture in the U.S. and include organic, pesticide free, low-external-input, natural, holistic, and biodynamic cropping practices among others. These systems of farming are often purported to be more sustainable than conventional agricultural systems that rely heavily on synthetic off-farm inputs to manage pests, for example, or supply fertility for crop growth. Definitions of the term sustainability abound, but when applied to agricultural systems the concept generally implies practices that satisfy food and fiber production needs, maintain or enhance environmental quality, provide adequate and equitable economic returns and enhance the quality of life of farmers and for society as whole over the long term. However, this definition is often too general and is therefore difficult to apply to the diversity of farming practices currently being practiced. One of our roles as applied scientists is to continue to define and develop metrics that can be broadly used to test hypotheses related to the sustainability of all farming systems across a wide array of agroecosystems. With this role in mind, we examine available information over a range of disciplines including agronomy, plant ecology, entomology and biochemistry that identify and compare specific measures of sustainability, such as biodiversity and the signatures of the population dynamics of pest and beneficial organisms, between farming systems and prioritize fruitful areas of research that warrant further attention.
Key words: agroecosystems, sustainability, alternative farming systems
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