What is Sustainable Agriculture?

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Alternative Farming Systems Information Center (AFSIC) Newsletter

Image of Dr. JE Staub in field, red barn, and bison

March 2022

Defining Sustainable Agriculture...

"Sustainable agriculture" is legally defined as integrating plant and animal production practices that target several specific long-term objectives. These objectives include increasing economic viability of farm operations, satisfying human food and fiber needs, maximizing the use of renewable resources, and enhancing the natural resource base and environmental quality of the production site…all designed to improve the quality of life for farm families and their communities. 


Many Paths to Sustainability...

Farmers and ranchers integrate multiple sustainability practices – as the methods are typically site-specific and related to the farming operation itself. Practices can include soil conservation (e.g., strip cropping, reduced tillage, no till – all of which help prevent soil loss), cover crops (help with erosion control, weed suppression, and nutrient fixation), nutrient management, and integrated pest management. The USDA's Natural Resources and Sustainable Agricultural Systems (NRSAS) group researches technologies and strategies designed to help farmers, ranchers, and other agricultural practitioners manage their resources.


Did You Know?

The Alternative Farming Systems Information Center (AFSIC), founded in 1985, was one of the first United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) programs to focus on sustainable and organic agriculture. 


~~~ Learn more about the specifics of sustainable agriculture here. ~~~


Selected online resources:

Cabbage field in Thailand

The National Agricultural Library’s Alternative Farming Systems Information Center (AFSIC) specializes in resourcing data, research, training, and other tools pertinent to establishing and maintaining alternative cropping systems and/or sustainable agricultural production across a variety of plant and animal species. AFSIC includes information on production practices, marketing, local and community food systems, and environmental justice in support of the USDA's effort to ensure a sustainable future for agriculture and farmers worldwide.

Contact the AFSIC team: afsic@usda.gov