The green revolution was a period of extreme innovation that occurred in agriculture predominantly in the 1960's and 1970's, although commenced in the 1940's. During this period huge amounts of research and development were undertaken that increased agricultural productivity significantly, the benefits of which we continue to enjoy today. Initiatives included the development of higher yielding crop varieties, the introduction of synthetic fertilisers and pesticides as well as improving and modernizing farm management.
It was these innovations that enabled more food security in the developed world than previously possible. Huge yields were achieved from relatively small areas of land, making food easy to come by in the developed world for most people. As modern farming practices developed, the need for sustainable agriculture was broadened from economic and food sustainability to environmental and social sustainability. While the level of investment in agricultural research and development has been substantially reduced since the green revolution, the knowledge within the sector has greatly increased and agricultural businesses have adjusted their practices to deliver agriculture sustainability.
Sustainable agriculture program
Today all agricultural industries including grains, horticulture, fisheries, sugar and meat are concerned with sustainable agriculture. Agriculture land is not as plentiful as it was during the green revolution and to ensure the sustainability of the industries and importantly the global food supply, sustainable agriculture practices have to be at the forefront of everything the food industry does. In Australia research and development corporations, that represent farmers, invest in research and development to improve the sustainable agricultural practices. Often this is jointly funded with the federal government.
There are also plenty of agriculture schools, primary and secondary as well as sustainable agriculture courses that equip people for careers agriculture. Agricultural jobs are a lot more varied than often thought, with fields in science, engineering, exporting, international relations and e-commerce.
Sustainable agriculture is not just a buzz phrase in countries like Australia, but rather is essential business. With limited arable land, limited water and increasing climatic variability and extreme weather events improving sustainable agricultural practices is fundamental to the future success of the industry and to the worlds food supply.
Without an increase in investment in research and development the advances of the green revolution might not be enough to ensure that people continue to enjoy food security.
A sustainable farm has to be able to produce food without depleting the natural resources required to grow more produce in the future. As practices have evolved and knowledge about sustainable farming practices have expanded farmers have become aware that they are responsible for much more than their crops and animals. Where once farmers grazed animals, today sustainable livestock farmers think about themselves as managing three living ecosystems: their animals; the grass and groundcover that animals need to eat to survive and the soils which ultimately is the most important element to manage. Without good soil health sustainable farming can not exist. If soil health is depleted the grass or crops won't grow as well. Environmental degradation on the farm and in the surrounding areas is also a reality if soil health is not a focus of sustainable farming. Without good soil health the structure of the soil can be compromised leading to dust storms and also run off of top soil in heavy rains into waterways.
Some sectors of agriculture rely heavily on irrigation, such as rice and cotton. Other industries like soy, horticulture, grains and cattle grazing also use some irrigation. Modern irrigation spread widely with the green revolution as a way to produce food in areas that didn't have natural or adequate rain flow to support crops, although irrigation can be traced back to early Egyptian times.
Irrigation is somewhat of a polarising subject, particularly in areas of water scarcity. There are concerns that water is being diverted from its natural course, which has environmental impacts downstream. However others argue that without irrigation in some parts of the world that sustainable agriculture would not be possible. The debate is slowly moving towards finding a point where both objectives can be met to deliver sustainable agriculture and sustainable river and water systems downstream from where the agriculture irrigation is occurring.