Sustainability in food production must incorporate economics as well as environmental considerations, says Dave Daley, associate dean of the College of Agriculture at ChicoStateUniversity.  

“We define sustainability as a three-legged stool that must be balanced.  

  • Without long term economic sustainability (profit), producers cannot stay in business.
  • We must consider the environment in our management decisions, and most of us do.
  • We need to consider the social ramifications of our management decisions.  In other words, if we do something that harms the community in which we live – destroys jobs for example – then the practice isn't sustainable.

    “All agricultural producers intend to be sustainable. Most have the dream of their children returning to the land that they love.  It is important to people to realize that those who grow food also live on the land, their children eat the food and drink the water and are part of the community.  There is every reason for agricultural producers to practice sustainability.  Most of them do – if they don't, they will not be in business for the long term.

“This is not to say that agriculture is perfect.  We have, and will continue to make mistakes.  There are always examples of bad management, but those producers are the exception not the norm.  And, we will continue to learn as we move forward. Agriculture, by its very uncertain nature, is a matter of trial and error.

“I think one of the big mistakes made by those who view sustainability as a religious calling is to assume that to be sustainable you must be a "small farmer".  There are both small and large sustainable operations and non-sustainable operations.  It is not a matter of the size of the operation but is based on the type of practices employed.  I see more over-grazed, poorly managed livestock on small ranchettes" then I ever have on a large scale operation.

Part of that is generally associated with a lack of knowledge.  The second mistake is that there is an absolute anti-technology bias. Technology can be good or bad and needs to be considered in the long term context of the three legged stool (economics, environment and social).  We can all point to examples of where technology has improved sustainability and our practices (vaccine technology for example); and we can all point to technology that may have had unintended consequences.

“Finally, it shouldn't be a crime to make a profit!  There is a group within the sustainability circle, at the fringe, that uses sustainability as a euphemism for anti-capitalism."