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Alternative Cropping Systems

Sustainable Production Systems

Organic Cropping Systems

Assignment 6


Sustainable, Organic and Alternative Cropping Systems

Learning Objectives
  • Distinguish between the concepts involved in sustainable, alternative, and organic agriculture
  • Identify and characterize the 3 realms of sustainable systems
  • Define the requirements for food to be labelled "organic"
  • Determine the impact of sustainable, alternative, and organic systems on traditional agriculture.
  • Complete and submit Assignment #6.

Sustainable and Alternative Production Systems
The overriding philosophy of agriculture during the 20th century seemed to be "get bigger, become more specialized, and focus on the large scale markets." Large farms bought out or leased land from smaller farmers, corporations bought out farming families, grower cooperatives formed to take advantage of common marketing strategies, and production focused on specialized cropping systems that offered significant profits. Big business attitudes with a focus toward efficiency replaced the family farming culture. Competition for market windows among the large corporate producers in this country and from foreign markets squeezed all producers so that profit margins became very narrow.

In the early 1990's a movement toward what is believed to be a more "sustainable" cropping system was started with federal government initiatives into LISA (low-input sustainable agriculture) that later became SARE (sustainable agriculture research and extension). These programs focused on economic and sociological as well as environmental consequences of modern production systems. Read the lesson on sustainable production systems including the recommended links in preparation for assignment 8.

Organic Production Systems
Proponents of organic gardening and organic agriculture are often viewed with disdain by traditional agricultural producers, both animal and crop. Science and technology have given producers a very powerful arsenal against diseases and other pests, and high-yield agriculture is viewed to be completely dependent on chemicals to achieve their production efficiency and the profits to stay in business. A growing number of individuals are seeking food and clothing produced "organically." Government regulators have now set down rules that define what "organic" means, so that "organic produce" grown in Maryland, Minnesota, and Mexico has approximately the same freedom from pesticide residues. Because organic generally commands a premium price at the checkout counter, the regulatory and inspection processes have become very important. Labelling and marketing also have become imperative. Read the text and related links in the Organic Cropping Systems unit with attention to issues such as:

  • How is organic different from traditional production?
  • Who inspects and certifies organic production?
  • How can you tell if a tomato is an "organic" tomato?
  • Would a grower make money by switching to organic production?
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