Modern farming systems are 70 years old. They have been very successful at meeting their key aim; maximising food production. However, society is asking farmers to take on new aims including providing ecosystem services to protect and enhance the environment.
Four key technologies created modern farming: fossil fuels, synthetic nitrogen fertilisers, soluble lithospheric fertilisers and agrichemical pesticides. There are increasing issues with each of these both from the input (e.g. cost, resistance) and outcome (e.g. pollution) sides.
Sustainable agriculture is smart agriculture that uses all available tools to find long lasting alternatives. A key to developing and analysing farm systems is overlapping the sciences of physics, chemistry, biology and ecology. Sustainable farming can be viewed as a martial art, probing and testing the opponent’s strengths and weaknesses then using smarts, not brute force, to win the contest.
Viewing farming through the eye of Darwin’s Law of Evolution will allow more sustainable and durable solutions to be developed.
Dr Charles Merfield is the founding head of the BHU Future Farming Centre which focuses on ‘old school’ agri/horticultural science and extension.
Charles studied commercial horticulture in the UK and then spent seven years managing organic vegetable farms in the UK and NZ.
In the mid 1990s he moved into research, focusing on sustainable agriculture including soil management, pest, disease and weed management general crop and pasture production.
He has been fortunate to work and experience agriculture in diverse range of countries including NZ, UK, Ireland, USA and Uruguay. He therefore has a broad knowledge of real-world farming as well as science as well a deep understanding of the history of agriculture and science, which enables him to paint the big-picture of where modern farming has come from and where it is going.
Thanks to the Foundation for Arable Research, Charles Merfield will also be offering one day workshops for farmers and industry. For details see the FAR website>