Introduction - What is sustainable farming?
- “Sustainability” became a popular buzzword in the 1990s, and the concept was driven by the Resource Management Act (RMA) 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 accept 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 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 concern about the environment and global warming, those who farm have to be seen to be stewards who ensure farming in all it’s aspects is sustainable.