The Green Revolution was a period of extreme innovation that occurred in agriculture predominantly in the 1960s and 1970s, although it began in the 1940s. During this period, large amounts of research and development were carried out that significantly increased agricultural productivity. Initiatives included the development of higher-yielding crop varieties, the introduction of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, as well as the improvement and modernization of agricultural management.

It was these innovations that enabled greater food security in the developed world than was previously possible. Large yields were obtained on relatively small areas of land, making food readily available in the developed world for most people. As modern agricultural practices developed the need for sustainable agriculture expanded from economic and food sustainability to environmental and social sustainability. While the level of investment in agricultural research and development has declined substantially since the green revolution, knowledge within the sector agricultural appointments has increased considerably and agricultural companies have adjusted their practices to achieve the sustainability of agriculture.

Sustainable Agriculture Program

Today, all agricultural industries, including those of cereals, horticulture, fishing, sugar and meat, are concerned with sustainable agriculture. Agricultural land is not as abundant as it was during the green revolution and to ensure the sustainability of industries and most importantly the world’s food supply, sustainable agriculture practices must be at the forefront of everything that does the food industry. In Australia, research and development corporations, representing farmers, invest in research and development to improve sustainable agricultural practices. This is often funded jointly with the federal government.

There are also many agriculture schools, primary and secondary, as well as sustainable agriculture courses that prepare people for agriculture careers. Agricultural jobs are much more varied than is often thought, with fields in science, engineering, export, international relations, and e-commerce.

Sustainable agriculture is not just a buzzword in countries like Australia, it is an essential business. With limited arable land, limited water, and increasing climate variability and extreme weather events, improving sustainable agricultural practices is critical to the future success of the industry and to the global food supply.

Without increased investment in research and development, the advances of the green revolution may not be enough to ensure that people continue to enjoy food security.

Sustainable Farm

A sustainable farm must be able to produce food without depleting the natural resources needed to produce more products in the future. As practices have evolved and knowledge about sustainable agricultural practices has expanded, farmers have realized that they are responsible for much more than just their crops and animals. Where once farmers grazed animals, today sustainable ranchers see themselves as stewards of three living ecosystems: their animals; grass and ground cover that animals need to eat to survive; and soil, which is ultimately the most important element to manage. Without good soil health, sustainable agriculture cannot exist. If the health of the soil is depleted, the grass or crops will not 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 agriculture. Without good soil health, the soil structure can be compromised and lead to dust storms and also run off the topsoil in heavy rains into waterways.

Agricultural Irrigation

Some sectors of agriculture are highly dependent on irrigation, such as rice and cotton. Other industries such as soybeans, horticulture, cereals, and cattle grazing also use some irrigation. Modern irrigation became widely spread with the green revolution as a way to produce food in areas that did not have adequate or natural rainfall flow to sustain crops, although irrigation dates back to early Egypt.

Irrigation is a polarizing issue, particularly in areas of water scarcity. There is concern that the water is being diverted from its natural course, which has downstream environmental impacts. However, others argue that without irrigation in some parts of the world sustainable agriculture would not be possible. The debate is moving slowly towards finding a point where both goals can be met to achieve sustainable agriculture and sustainable river and water systems downstream from where agricultural irrigation is occurring.