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Important Developments That Will Help Sustain Agriculture in America

Farm workers at work

Agriculture is essential to the survival of our civilization. Agriculture is the only way to sustain the global population of 7 billion. Gone are the days when we could, as a species, return to being hunter-gatherers. Agriculture is here to stay. It is, therefore, imperative that we keep it sustainable for the foreseeable future.

Practices within modern agriculture, have greatly increased the productivity of farms, but some of them are unsustainable in the long term. Monocultural farming, for example, helps with efficiency but, if the one crop is wiped out by a blight, that can seriously compromise a farm or agribusiness dependent on that crop.

Economic effects have also been negative since large-scale farming rather than smaller local farms, has made many communities less independent and locally sustainable. This has made them more susceptible to the whims of the global food markets.

There are also environmental concerns since the growth of farmland can reduce the habitat of local wildlife thereby reducing biodiversity. This might not seem like a human issue, to some, but it would be in the case that our most important crops died out and we had to somehow derive new crops from wild ancestors. This seems unlikely, but it could, nonetheless, happen and reducing biodiversity, is not going to help if it does occur.

Luckily, recent developments in agriculture, could help to alleviate some of these issues. Among them is the increasing use of advanced technologies such as drones and genetic engineering, use of organic methods of farming, and the movement toward a more localized, community-based economic model for farming. These all might improve the health and safety of those reliant on agriculture for both food and their livelihood.


New Technologies

Genetic engineering is becoming increa

singly common in modern agriculture. Through genetic engineering, crops can be produced that are more blight-resistant and that can be produced in greater quantities. This can help provide food for the rapidly growing population and make up for the loss of biodiversity. If we cannot find natural variants to create new crops, genetic engineering technology at least, gives us the potential to create variants.

Artificial intelligence can also play a role. Drones are already being used to monitor fields. They can determine if water or nutrients are lacking in the soil in part of the farm, or if some sort of infection is spreading through the plants more quickly than a human farmer on his own, making it easier to ensure large crop yields and fields that can continue to be used in the future. These are just two examples of the benefits of using drones in agriculture for sustainability.

Other remote sensing methods such as satellites, are already being used to monitor crop growth, as well as variations in climate and weather. This allows farmers to predict changes in the weather or climate more easily so that they can more easily prepare for these changes and the effects that they have on their farms.

Organic farming


Increasingly, more farms are turning to using farming methods which do not use pesticides or herbicides on crops or antibiotics or hormones on livestock. Natural fertilizer, such as manure is used on these farms rather than the chemical fertilizers. Livestock, such as cattle, are more likely to be simply fed grass or whatever is closer to their natural diet rather than corn.

This form of farming is more expensive, but it is also healthier both for the plants and animals being raised, and the humans that are being fed. It also makes it easier for a community to be locally sustained since they don’t have to rely on resources that cannot be gained from the farm itself.

Instead of having to purchase chemical fertilizers, they can just let their cattle graze over an area of land and deposit manure before planting crops there. This practice, called crop rotation, has been used by farmers for thousands of years to restore nutrients to the soil.

Movement Toward Locality

Since the Industrial Revolution, there have been several “Back to the Land movements,” such as the Catholic Land movement in the early 20th century. There was also a movement in the 1970s which desired to set up farms and communes away from cities, and several of them succeeded.

Another such movement also connected to the Roman Catholic Church, was that of the distributists who advocated an economic system where the largest number of people possible, were owners of their own land and could support themselves economically simply by using their own land and capital. Although many distributists also advocated distributism within an urban context, many distributists believed that the best way to enact distributism was by a large-scale return to a rural way of life.

Today, a very small percentage of the American population lives on a farm. There are very few towns left that rely mainly on local farms. Also, if anything, the latest trends show increasing urbanization rather than a decrease in urbanization. This is not just true for the United States, but for developing countries, which still have a large population of farmers.

Considering this, it seems unlikely that more local farming is a possibility for the future of America, whether or not that is something that you consider to be a good thing. Yet, although going back to the days when cities were supported by local farms in the surrounding countryside might seem unrealistic or unnecessary, there are good reasons to return to local farming.

One advantage of local farming is that it makes the community dependent on local farms more flexible. A community that grows all its food locally, will be less affected by a global food shortage than one which relies heavily on imports.

Additionally, local farms are better for the environment. Local farming implies that more people are farming to feed themselves rather than to make a profit. Since the farm is not simply there to make money, it will also not necessarily grow continuously with demand since it will only need to be large enough to feed the family or community dependent on it. Smaller farms mean more land can be left wild and uncultivated, leaving more room for wildlife and forests to flourish.

Interestingly enough, scientists have found that more environmentally friendly cities are those that are more compact, with definite limits, rather than cities that are diffuse and prone to urban and suburban sprawl. More local farming will require less urban sprawl to make room for farmland. Consequently, encouraging more local farming, also gives incentives for environmentally friendly cities. This could be seen as another indirect benefit of local farming.

Whatever form agriculture takes in the future of America, it will need to be agriculture that provides enough food for humans, keeps humans healthy, and, at the same time, does not overwhelm the natural environment. These developments in technology, organic farming techniques, and local subsistence farming might just succeed in accomplishing it since they make agriculture easier, healthier, and better for the environment.

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