To define sustainable agriculture is quite the task, as many organizations and individuals view what is defined as “sustainable” in different ways. For the purpose of this column, I’ll use the definition that was addressed by Congress in the 1990 “Farm Bill” by USDA. Under that law, “the term sustainable agriculture means an integrated system of plant and animal production practices having a site-specific application that will, over the long term:
- Satisfy human food and fiber needs;
- Enhance environmental quality and the natural resource base upon which the agricultural economy depends;
- Make the most efficient use of nonrenewable resources and on-farm resources and integrate, where appropriate, natural biological cycles and controls;
- Sustain the economic viability of farm operations; and
- Enhance the quality of life for farmers and society as a whole.”
This week, Fillmore County was the stop for an annual Sustainable Agriculture tour my colleague Gary Lesoing coordinates so I participated in the Fillmore County stops and decided to share some of what I learned in this week’s column. First the tour went to Lazy Horse Vineyard and Brewing near Ohiowa. For those unfamiliar with Lazy Horse, they grow their own grapes and have a large outdoor porch where guest can enjoy being outside and watch the horses graze the pasture or sit in the gorgeous tasting room, watching the wood fired oven bake delicious pizzas. It’s safe to say, the participants enjoyed their time here.
The second and final stop of the tour was Slezak Ag & Natural Resources. They provide “Trees2Products” and sawmill services in addition to creating biochar. Their philosophy is that if someone has a tree coming down, why not utilize it by turning it into somethings useful? For example, rather than burning or burying trees coming down, one can take the logs to Slezak Ag and have it milled and turned into lumber which can create amazing furniture or other creations. One of the other products they are working to produce is biochar. If you haven’t heard of biochar, the USDA’s definition is as follows, “black carbon produced from biomass sources (i.e. woodchips, plant residues, manure or other agricultural waste products) for the purpose of transforming the biomass carbon into a more stable form (carbon sequestration).” Biochar can be used as a soil amendment that builds soil quality, increases crop yields and sequesters carbon in soils for years to come.
For more information on sustainable agriculture projects or to apply for funding on a project, go to https://www.sare.org which is the Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education website. Nebraska’s coordinator, Gary Lesoing is very helpful in helping others learn more about sustainable agriculture practices or opportunities.