Ending Soon! Save 33% on All Access

What Is Sustainable Farming and Agriculture? Sustainable farming is the way of the future for agriculture. Discover what sustainable farming and agriculture are in this detailed guide.

By Entrepreneur Staff

Qi Yang | Getty Images

Agriculture is the cornerstone of human civilization. Without it, we couldn't support our vast global population.

However, old agricultural practices have problems, leading to a rise in sustainable farming and agriculture. Keep reading to learn more about sustainable farming, its key goals and its central techniques in detail.

What is sustainable agriculture?

Sustainable agriculture is the practice and science of farming sustainably. "Sustainability" means consuming resources, such as land, healthy soil and animals, so they may be naturally or artificially replenished without emptying or contaminating other resources.

For example, all soil naturally has a certain amount of minerals and elements, such as nitrogen and phosphorus.

Good, sustainable farming practices ensure that plants are rotated through different soil slots or patches so the soil can build up more minerals and elements between harvest cycles. In this way, the soil's resources are not depleted and can be used for much longer than they otherwise might be.

For another example, sustainable logging is the practice and science of harvesting a specific, limited amount of timber from a designated harvesting area, such as a forest.

Rather than eliminating the forest, the logging company harvests some trees from one area and more trees from another, giving the forest a chance to renew and replenish itself before returning for more harvesting.

Sustainable agriculture is integral to modern agricultural philosophies, science and practices. It's also only going to become more critical as time goes on.

Related: The Greening of Napa Valley

Why Is sustainable agriculture important?

Sustainable agriculture is not a fashionable fad or passing fancy. It's vital for the agricultural industry and the world for four primary reasons.

Natural resource depletion

For starters, sustainable agriculture prevents high natural resource depletion. If present-day farmers deplete too many resources related to agriculture, future generations may not have the same ability to produce new crops or enjoy the same prosperity.

For example, California is currently struggling with droughts and other water shortages. That's because previous California farmers did not farm sustainably regarding water table resources. Natural resource depletion also affects air quality, soil erosion and forest resources.

Environmental and climate change

Sustainable farming and agriculture are also essential because of environmental and climate change. The planet continues to heat up gradually but noticeably as time goes on. At the time of this writing, scientists are convinced that global warming, to some extent, is inevitable, which could result in widespread natural disasters, difficulty farming and other long-term effects.

However, by practicing sustainable farming and agriculture, humanity can reduce its overall resource consumption and minimize carbon emissions. This may help curb the adverse effects of climate change and help put the planet back on a path to healing.

Resource distribution and human impact

Sustainable farming systems are also crucial because of the human impact such practices can provide.

Simply put, sustainable farming concerns itself with what future humans will be able to do and enjoy more than non-sustainable farming practices.

For example, if modern-day farmers drain all of the water in crucial water tables in California and the western US, farming in that region (and around the world, for California provides much of the world's food) will suffer, resulting in food shortages, potential starvation and other harmful effects.

Sustainable agriculture can ensure that essential resources, like foodstuffs, can reach people around the globe, helping to minimize food scarcity. By practicing sustainable agriculture, companies and individuals can minimize their human impact and carbon footprint, acting responsibly for future generations.

Ethical concerns

On top of the other factors, sustainable farming is significant because of ethical concerns. Many simply believe that consuming mindlessly and without considering the natural environment or the lives of other humans and animals is unethical at best.

Sustainable farming treats the world and its resources as precious commodities, not treasures to be temporarily exploited. When it comes to land use and water resources, sustainable farming is the only way to farm responsibly, wisely and ethically as a citizen of the planet.

Related: To Help Save the Planet, This Entrepreneur Builds Sustainable Farms in Urban Cities

Critical goals of sustainable agriculture

Different sustainable farminginitiatives and organizations have different stated objectives, but they almost always revolve around the same shared goals. The most important goals of sustainable agriculture include the following:

  • Preventing erosion of soil and other natural resources, like water tables, animal habitats and forest or animal resources.
  • Ensuring wise management of existing resources and organic matter, like smart water management and intelligent soil rotation.
  • Minimizing air and water pollution can negatively impact animal populations, ecosystems and even humans who consume products every day.
  • Storing or otherwise sequestering away carbon on farms. Excess carbon production has led to global warming, but some sustainable farming practices help recapture some excess carbon, minimizing the impacts of global warming.
  • Improving resilience to extreme weather hazards and events, which are likely to become more common in the near future due to climate change and related systems.
  • Promoting biodiversity, which helps to rebuild natural habitats and ecosystems that have been devastated by human development and non-sustainable agricultural practices.

Above all else, sustainable farming focuses on creating socially and economically sustainable agricultural systems. Note that this doesn't mean that sustainable farms don't turn profits or can't be expected to be financially viable.

In contrast, sustainable farming always considers the financial bottom line and the other goals above. With sustainable farming, farms of all sizes can be profitable, contribute to local economies and enjoy economic stability for the long term, not just the short term.

Related: Fact or Myth: Organic Farming Ascertains Sustainability

Essential practices of sustainable agriculture

Sustainable farms and agricultural organizations often use many practices to ensure sustainability and meet their objectives. These essential practices include:

  • Crop rotation and crop diversity, where farmers plant various crops with various benefits, such as improving soil health or enjoying effective pest control without using chemical pesticides and herbicides.
  • Planting cover crops or perennials, like rye, clover and hairy vetch. These are planted during off-seasons when soil might be left bare or vulnerable and help to rebuild soil nutrients and prevent weeds from moving in.
  • Eliminating or reducing tillage or traditional plowing. Tillage normally prepares fields for planting but can cause soil loss or erosion if done improperly.
  • Practicing IPM or integrated pest management uses mechanical and biological control methods to keep pest populations under control without using harmful practices like chemical pesticides.
  • Integrating crops and livestock more readily. For instance, allowing animals to move into crop areas to graze could lead to better soil nutrient retention and improve animal health while also allowing farms to be economically viable and profitable (by improving efficiency overall).
  • Using agroforestry processes, such as mixing shrubs and trees into farming operations. These provide shelter and shade to protect plants and animals and offer extra potential income from fruit crops.
  • Practicing system and landscape management. For instance, some farms may allow or encourage natural vegetation to grow alongside streams or provide strips of prairie plants around crop fields to control erosion, support bees and other pollinators and bolster biodiversity under all of their controlled lands.

There are many more elements of sustainable, organic farming than this. Smart food production (and sustainable food systems), land stewardship and soil fertility boost through the use of special fertilizers and food systems enable growers, ranchers and other farmers to improve their production systems and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Each farm may adopt different measures to control its environmental impact and change inputs for a better quality of life. Farm families and farm workers use many agricultural production methods to qualify for incentives from the USDA for pursuing sustainable farming.

Related: How This Mother-Daughter Duo is Reaping the Profits from Organic Farming

Sustainable agriculture scientific developments

Many agricultural science firms and organizations, including universities, have led the charge toward new scientific developments.

For example, crop reading research is a critical agricultural science development that has become more popular and important in recent years.

This gives farmers access to more crop varieties that can be adapted or genetically tailored to different conditions, practices and pests. Crops genetically resistant to bugs, for instance, are much better for the environment than chemical pesticides.

As time goes on, more scientific development will help contribute to sustainable farming and agricultural initiatives and ensure that sustainable farms are profitable and maintainable for decades to come.

Related: Why Revolutionizing Farming Should Be the Next Space Race

What sustainable farming means for the future

Sustainable farming is the way of the future. Modern farms may need to continue to adopt new sustainable agricultural processes and new sustainable farming businesses may find multiple opportunities to grow and expand over the coming decades.

Check out Entrepreneur's other guides and articles for more information on this topic.

Entrepreneur Staff

Entrepreneur Staff


For more than 30 years, Entrepreneur has set the course for success for millions of entrepreneurs and small business owners. We'll teach you the secrets of the winners and give you exactly what you need to lay the groundwork for success.

Want to be an Entrepreneur Leadership Network contributor? Apply now to join.

Business News

TikTok Reportedly Laid Off a 'Large Percentage' of Employees as the App's Fate in the U.S. Remains Unclear

Laid-off TikTok employees were notified Wednesday night through Thursday morning.

Business News

Four Seasons Orlando Responds to Viral TikTok: 'There's Something Here For All Ages'

The video has amassed over 45.4 million views on TikTok.

Business News

More People Are Exploring Entrepreneurship Because of This Unexpected Reason

More new business applications were filed in 2023 than in any other year so far.

Personal Finance

This Investment Bundle Includes a Trading Course and Stock Screener Tool for $150

Approach the stock market with an increased understanding.

Growing a Business

5 Strategies to Know As You Scale Your Business

Scaling a service-based company requires a comprehensive approach that goes beyond simply increasing revenue. It requires careful planning, strategic decision-making and a deep understanding of market dynamics.