Agriculture has consistently changed over time in part because of increased understanding and in part because technology has continued to improve. Where one used to require an ox to till a farm, now there are tractors and combines that can do a great deal of the work. In addition to this, crop rotations allow planting that does not sap the ground of all of its nutrients. By ensuring that different plants go in the soil in different years, farmers can ensure that their soil will remain effective forever instead of just a few good years. In past centuries, such as the agrarian cultures of the Ottoman empire, many did not know that soil contained nutrients. They believed that the nutrients mostly came from the rain (water) and that any remaining nutrients existed within the plant. As a result of this, they did not pay attention to sediment and soil quality, which led to myriad problems as a result.
By contrast, in contemporary farming, soil is given precedent. What this generally means is that the farmers will work to produce compost that can help to establish the soil in a meaningful way. By recycling things that have key nutrients, the farmer can ensure that in future years the soil will be able to be even more plentiful in the nutrients that are most important. An example of this would be banana peels, which when composted can deposit potassium and magnesium back into the soil, which allows the green plants like lettuce to absorb it. As these plants greatly desire these nutrients, this is what many agricultural specialists call a win-win situation. These processes help to create a healthier environment for future agricultural endeavors. It is because of the improved quality of the soil, in combination with efforts such as GMOs (genetically modified) foods that can make farming much more sophisticated. While there are risks with some of these efforts, like GMOs, they can also allow farmers to eradicate disease while providing foods that are more nutritious and fulfilling.
What is Sustainable Agriculture?
Sustainable agriculture is the act of working to make farming something that can work without external help. As farming has become more sophisticated it has become necessary to ensure that resources are being used as effectively as possible. In some cases this simply means that the nutrients that go into the plants are not harmful to the soil. This is why pesticides have become far less popular in recent years and more and more farms are eliminating their use because the risks are higher than the rewards (especially for the farmers). If farmers kill themselves from pesticide use, they are not using sustainable techniques. Instead it is paramount that the systems being implemented are working to create a farm that can continue to produce results.
Results-driven agricultural methodologies require that all of the efforts going into the farm can go into it repeatedly. This means that everything from nutritional information to labor efforts must be affordable and realistic. In previous generations, farming was often seen as simply an acceptable practice irrespective of its efficacy in being sustainable. However, in the 21st century it is widely regarded as a necessity that practices coordinate with weather patterns, with microeconomic fluctuations in supply and demand, and with the needs of local farmers and their cultures. All of these efforts are about sustainability and help to ensure that farmers are treated fairly and are able to provide a product that is sustainable. Sustainable agriculture leans heavily towards organic produce, as this is by definition sustainable. It is the natural byproduct of a world without pesticides and it is what most customers want. The demand for organic food has allowed many farmers to work towards planting organic fruits and vegetables and reaping a more effective (and sustainable) reward.
There are a myriad of ways in which corporate farming is different from local farming. In the event of a local farm, a single farmer or a family will work to tend their crops until harvest. They will often do this on a plot of land that ranges from the miniscule (ten acres) to the maximum (a hundred and fifty acres). However, corporate farms aim to slim margins to amp up their profits. They do this by going for size and by paying their employees as little as possible. They also maximize profit and efficacy by engaging in extreme cruelty to animals and often by cutting corners in their efforts to produce all sorts of foods. Corporate farms often have strong lobbying arms that can ensure that big government defends their right to mistreat the environment, animals, and their employees.
There is a risk of mad cow disease and many other serious foodborne illnesses from corporate farms, often because they operate in semi-unregulated spaces and learn to navigate within the regulations in a manner that ensures people do not get healthy food and the farms profit amazingly. Corporate farms differ from local farms in essentially everything they do except that they do produce food. However, even the food that they produce is often subpart, is rarely organic, and generally comes at the cost of decent treatment of the animals that they eat. These farms take advantage of the existing system and work to maximize profits through economics of scale. By leveraging their size and their ability to pay employees at a fraction of a fair rate they can keep their prices down, thereby competing effectively against local farmers and simultaneously driving market wages down even further.