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'Alternative agriculture' is a collective term that represents a tremendously diverse group that share underlying philosophies that focus on organic or near organic practices to sustain plant production and favour the reduced use of synthetic farm chemicals [Beus et al. 1990].

Several principal assumptions about alternative systems include:

  • existing topsoil can be conserved and new topsoil built;
  • weeds, insects, diseases, and other pests can be controlled without frequent applications of highly toxic chemicals;
  • yield levels can be maintained.
  • large quantities of fossil fuel inputs are not required;
  • there is a connection between healthy soils, healthy food and healthy people; balance is better not bigger is better. [Merrill, 1983; eds Acton, Gregorich, 1995] Reeve [1991] recognises that "alternative suffers the disadvantage of being the opposite to conventional which is itself changing with time. Today's alternative may well be tomorrow's conventional practice" [Reeve, 1990, p.viii]. The terms conventional and alternative agriculture are often presented as two mutually antagonistic systems, such as chemical or organic and yet in reality in regard to livestock and crop production they have more in common than they do in differences [CAST, 1980]. The use of the terms like 'organic', 'alternative' and 'conventional' farming are descriptive names that in our living language can have various meanings and can be fraught with emotional overtones [Merrill, 1983]. The word 'chemical' is often used as a name for conventional agriculture, mainly because in the last few decades conventional farming is so strongly associated with the accepted use of synthetic chemicals. The use of these often highly emotive terms has added to the division that has occurred between 'chemical' and 'organic' farmers. The word 'organic' was the earliest name given to the alternative agricultural movement and yet conventional farming two hundred years ago was what we now would describe as Organic farming [Merrill, 1983].

    The term 'chemical' agriculture or farming has possibly been avoided in an attempt to minimise the emotional paradigm that can surface with the word. In this report the term 'organic' will be used as it has established its own philosophies and practices. In a similar fashion a limited emphasis has been placed on the umbrella term of alternative agriculture and greater emphasis is placed on the individual so called 'alternative' systems.

    Between the extreme of alternative and conventional approaches is what Cornish and Pratley [eds 1987] describe as conservation farming/agriculture. An interesting point in regard to the practice of conservation farming is that it may or may not qualify as sustainable agriculture overseas for although it aims to prevent the physical soil loss and uses other desirable conservation methods, the continued reliance and intensive use of chemicals, and cropping of monocultures may prevent its qualification [Reeve, 1990]. Conservation farming is an identifiable production system and it falls between the two opposing philosophies and practices.

    The information contained in this publication has been formulated in good faith, the contents do not take into account all the factors which need to be considered before putting that information into practice. Accordingly, no person should rely on anything contained herein as a substitute for specific professional advice.
    S.O.S. Rev 9.2 All rights reserved. Contact: www.healthyag.com © Gwyn Jones 2001

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