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Crisis and Opportunity

Sustainability in American Agriculture

John E. Ikerd

Publication Year: 2008

With the decline of family farms and rural communities and the rise of corporate farming and the resulting environmental degradation, American agriculture is in crisis. But this crisis offers the opportunity to rethink agriculture in sustainable terms. Here one of the most eloquent and influential proponents of sustainable agriculture explains what this means. These engaging essays describe what sustainable agriculture is, why it began, and how it can succeed. Together they constitute a clear and compelling vision for rebalancing the ecological, economic, and social dimensions of agriculture to meet the needs of the present without compromising the future.
In Crisis and Opportunity, John E. Ikerd outlines the consequences of agricultural industrialization, then details the methods that can restore economic viability, ecological soundness, and social responsibility to our agricultural system and thus ensure sustainable agriculture as the foundation of a sustainable food system and a sustainable society.

Published by: University of Nebraska Press

Series: Our Sustainable Future


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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-x

The essays in this collection have been written over the span of more than a decade. The various topics were suggested by the people who organized the sustainable agriculture conferences where they were presented. The essays address some of the most important questions of the sustainable agriculture ...

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pp. xi

Credit for the ideas expressed in this book must be shared with the many farmers and other participants at the conferences where I have spoken over the years. I sometimes tell people that all I do is share what I have learned from farmers with other farmers, learning as much as I teach as I go from place to place. ...

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1. Crisis and Opportunity in American Agriculture

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pp. 1-20

North American agriculture is in crisis. Until recently, the crisis had been a quiet one. No one wanted to talk about it. Thousands of farm families were being forced off the land each year, but we were being told by the agricultural establishment that their exodus was inevitable — in fact, it was a sign of progress.1 ...

Part One: The Industrialization of American Agriculture

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2. Why We Should Stop Promoting Industrial Agriculture

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pp. 23-32

I always appreciate an opportunity to speak at the Breimyer Seminar, regardless of my topic. I told the conference organizers they could give my presentation any name they wanted this year and I would try to deal with it. The title they chose was "Why I Don't Like Industrialization and Want It Stopped." I'm ...

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3. Corporate Agriculture and Family Farms

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pp. 33-44

At the turn of the twentieth century, America was still an agrarian nation. In 1900 over 40 percent of the people in the United States were still farmers and well over half still lived in rural areas.1 A hundred years later, at the turn of the twenty-first century, less than 2 percent of Americans called themselves farmers ...

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4. The Corporatization of America

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pp. 45-60

We Americans are a fiercely independent people, right? We truly value our freedoms of speech, religion, and privacy, and our freedom to use our personal property as we see fit. We are fiercely independent about personal things. We don't want the government or anyone else telling us what we can or can't do. ...

Part Two: New Hope for the Future of Farming

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5. Rediscovering Agriculture and New Hope for Farming

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pp. 63-72

Things are not going well in agriculture. In fact, farming is in crisis. People will continue to eat and someone will continue to produce their food, but farming, at least as we have known it, is coming to an end. As agricultural production becomes increasingly specialized and standardized, decision making is ...

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6. Farming in Harmony with Nature and Society

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pp. 73-80

Much of human history has been written in terms of an ongoing struggle of "man against nature." The forces of nature — wild beasts, floods, pestilence, and disease — have been cast in the role of the enemy of humankind. To survive and prosper, we must conquer nature — kill the wild beasts, build dams to stop ...

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7. Reclaiming the Sacred in Food and Farming

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pp. 81-92

Farming is fundamentally biological. The essence of agriculture is the living process of photosynthesis — the collection, conversion, and storage of solar energy. All living things are sustained by other living things. If life is sacred, then the food and farms that sustain life must be sacred as well. In fact, ...

Part Three: Principles of Sustainable Agriculture

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8. Do We Really Need to Define Sustainable Agriculture?

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pp. 95-102

A lot of time and intellectual energy has been spent attempting to define sustainable agriculture. A consensus seems to be emerging in the movement that we need to spend less time trying to define it and more time working to achieve it. But how can we work to achieve something without first defining it? We ...

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9. Foundational Principles of Soils, Stewardship, and Sustainability

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pp. 103-121

The dictionary defines foundation as "the basis upon which something stands or is supported."1 The basic premises of this discourse on "foundational principles" is that soil is the foundation for all of life, including human life, that stewardship of the soil is the foundation for agricultural sustainability, and that ...

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10. Economics of Sustainable Farming

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pp. 122-139

For more than fifteen years, I taught the conventional principles of farm economics through various on-campus and extension courses at three different land-grant universities. I taught farm management, marketing, finance, farm policy, and other such subjects in an effort to help farmers maximize profits from ...

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11. The Renaissance of Rural America

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pp. 140-156

Most rural communities in America were initially established for the primary purpose of utilizing the natural resources located in rural areas. Natural resources — such as land, minerals, landscapes, and climates — must be utilized, at least initially, in the geographic locations where they exist. So people must ...

Part Four: The New American Farmer

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12. Walking the Talk of Sustainable Agriculture

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pp. 159-176

The sustainable agriculture movement is now at least a decade old. Some may be uncomfortable referring to sustainable agriculture as a movement. However, a social movement is nothing more than a sustained, organized effort by advocates of a common goal or purpose. Surely the organized efforts to develop ...

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13. Survival Strategies for Small Farms

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pp. 177-192

Over the past several decades, U.S. farms have grown larger in size and fewer in number. Farmers have substituted capital and off-farm technology for labor and management, making it possible for each farmer to farm more acres — utilizing more hired labor, equipment, and facilities — thus leading to fewer farmers ...

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14. Marketing in the Niches for Sustainability

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pp. 193-207

Modern industrial farming methods are widely heralded as the world's most productive, but are they sustainable? Admittedly, U.S. food consumers spend little more 10 percent of their disposable income for food, but what are the environmental costs of producing the world's cheapest food? Industrialization has ...

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15. Local Organic Farms Save Farmland and Communities

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pp. 207-223

One thing we all have in common is our dependence on the land and on each other. We are still as dependent on the land for our daily sustenance and survival as when all people were hunters and gatherers. Our dependence is less direct and our connections more complex, but human life, like all life, is still critically ...

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16. The Triple Bottom Line of Farming in the Future

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pp. 224-240

American agriculture is in crisis. Contrary to common belief, a crisis is not necessarily a bad situation. The dictionary defines crisis as "a crucial time or state of affairs whose outcome will make a decisive difference, for either better or worse."1 The crisis in American agriculture today is reflected in the ...

Part Five: Creating Sustainable Food and Farming Systems

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17. The Real Costs of Globalization

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pp. 243-274

During the 1990s globalization became an issue of broad public concern. Most of the controversy has centered on the World Trade Organization (WTO).1 The WTO was established in 1994 to replace the General Agreement on Tariff and Trade (GATT) and was given authority to oversee international trade, ...

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18. Redirecting Government Policies for Agricultural Sustainability

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pp. 260-273

On signing the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002, President George W. Bush said, "The farm bill will strengthen the farm economy over the long term. It helps farmer independence, and preserves the farm way of life for generations. It helps America's farmers, and therefore it helps ...

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19. The New American Food System

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pp. 274-292

The twentieth century was the American Century — as is commonly conceded by historians. During the twentieth century, the United States replaced Great Britain as the dominant global economic power and America's corporate version of capitalism replaced both socialism and classical capitalism as the world's ...

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20. American Agriculture After Fossil Energy

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pp. 293-312

The world is running out of cheap fossil energy. Some dismiss the current energy crunch as nothing more than a short-run phenomenon, arguing that we have used only a small fraction of the earth's total fossil energy reserves. While this argument contains an element of truth, it masks far more than it reveals. ...


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pp. 313-325

E-ISBN-13: 9780803217447
E-ISBN-10: 0803217447

Publication Year: 2008

Series Title: Our Sustainable Future