European civilisation developed via Greece because as the Greek civilisation declined the
centre of civilisation moved to Italy and after the dark ages, a new civilisation developed in
Northwest Europe [Carter, Dale, 1974].
In Western European little land was seriously exploited during Roman times and civilisation in this
area is only relatively young. In 1050 A.D. less than twenty percent of England was being farmed and
during the eleventh, twelfth and thirteenth centuries the amount of cultivated land doubled,
tripled and quadrupled. During the fourteenth century a substantial part of the tillable land in
Western Europe was being farmed [Carter, Dale, 1974]. This was in part due to the revolution of
] horse power which was brought about, by the invention of the horse collar, traces and other ancillaries.
In addition horses could be hitched together to form a team, allowing one person to cultivate more ground
at a quicker rate. The Greeks and Romans never learnt to use the horse as a draft animal as they used oxen
which were much slower.
Feudalistic agriculture incorporated a two-field system of crop and fallow that had been developed by the
Greeks two thousand years previously. In many ways the systems were inefficient with lime and wood ash
used as a fertiliser when available, and manure only came from grazing animals. This system accelerated
soil erosion and as serfs were seldom assigned the same piece of land for more than two years they had no
incentive to care for or improve the land [Carter, Dale, 1974].
The climate in Western Europe is conducive to soil conservation and soil building methods such as crop rotation,
manuring and liming which only became common after feudalism disappeared [Carter, Dale, 1974]. The use of modern
crop rotation was likely to have originated in the Low Countries of Western Europe, by the sixteenth century Dutch
and Flemish farmers who were using a system of rotation and alternating crops to protect and build their soils
[Simms, 1970]. The Dutch and Flemish farmers were the first in Western Europe to rid themselves of Feudalism
as the improved system allowed more farmers to own the land they worked. As towns and cities grew rapidly
hedges and fences were used to separate the farms. The prosperity of these farmers led to a wide use and
further development of scientific agriculture, which spread through the rest of Europe [Carter, Dale, 1974].
As previously mentioned, Carter and Dale  attribute the development of contour farming and contour
strip-cropping to German farmers, who also deserve the credit for starting sustainable forestry management.
They were also among the leaders in developing the use of commercial fertilisers and practising scientific
agriculture. Kohnke and Bertrand  note that strip cropping was practiced by Pennsylvanian Germans early
in America's colonisation.
Modern 'Scientific' Farming
Historically agriculturists produced food for themselves and their family group[s] and even today many
poor nations still practise subsistence agriculture. The advent of scientific agriculture [Russell, 1966]
and the use of modern technology has been responsible for large increases in productivity and the production of
surplus food, which is necessary to support urban civilisations. Scientific agriculture has been accepted by
the vast majority of Western farmers and has allowed farmers to enjoy economic sustainability.
Although the origins of modern farming systems can be traced back ten, perhaps twelve thousand years, it is only
during the last half of this century that significant technical and economic changes have occurred. Prior
to A.D. 1600, agricultural productivity was apparently very similar in India, China and Europe. After
this period significant increases in crop yields occurred, due in part to the elimination of medieval institutions,
the reduction of fallow and the introduction of grasses and root crops [Grigg, 1976]. In the nineteenth century a
significant break through occurred with the introduction of the industrial revolution and labour saving machinery.
Furthermore the access to new inputs such as steam and later electricity, the petrol driven tractor and inorganic
fertilisers caused the agricultural revolution of Western agriculture. Since the nineteen forties scientific
knowledge in parallel with technology has caused the rapid increase in more intensive agriculture with greater
volumes of inputs and outputs occurring [Tivy, 1990]. Modern agricultural science has allowed commercial crops
to be grown on a large scale and over a diversity of landscapes. It has also facilitated specialist farming and
industrialised agriculture, also commercial venues involving the use of new technologies, to the point of 'factory'
farms where artificial support systems are in place, such as the system with battery hens. Although these intensive
technocentric systems use more resources than ecocentric systems there is sufficient profit margin to justify their
existence. Modern agricultural science has to a large extent become dominated by chemical science with major
advancements being traced back to a significant event such as the manufacture and patent of
superphosphate by Laws in 1843 [Russell, 1966]. A further milestone was the use of first generation
strong poisons such as copper, mercury, sulphur etc.. This was followed by a second generation of man made
synthesised chemicals which were highly toxic in small amounts, such as chlorinated hydrocarbons [Koepf,
Pettersson, Schaumann, 1979].
Science has aided the increased production of agricultural systems. However, it has limitations especially
in complex situations such as agriculture. Modern agricultural science has been too preoccupied with analysis
and has neglected the need for synthesis and 'interconnectedness' [Roberts, 1995; Reeve, 1990]. Scientific methods
have a limited ability to cope with complexity and as a subject becomes richer and more dynamic some form of a
system approach may therefore be more appropriate [Checkland, 1988]. Science has made enormous contributions
to the total sum of human knowledge and yet when it is applied to biology - the study of living organisms, it
largely has failed [Pfeiffer, 1983]. Reeve  believes that there is an inherent weakness in reductionist
scientific methods that arbitrarily divide nature into subjects and disciplines which in effect sever the study
of the interconnections between parts. Confident prediction about the behaviour of the whole system, cannot be
made from the isolated understanding of the behaviour of the small components of a system [Reeve, 1990].
Despite science's apparent limitations, it has for decades dominated Western culture and has enjoyed great
social prestige. This relatively unquestioned dominance has given science some authenticity. However, a
questioning of science is inhibited by the general acceptance that science can be taken for granted and very
often only philosophy reflects on its findings [Trigg, 1994]. Many philosophers and scientists are only too
willing to take science at face value and yet the work of Trigg  suggests that "a pre-occupation with
a scientific method can result in rejection of any notion of rationality which cannot be fully translated into
physical terms" [Trigg, 1994, p.8]. The development of communications, agri-chemicals, genetic engineering
and veterinary medicine etc.: all testify to the marvels of science [Savory, 1988]. On the other hand, it is
very apparent that there are increasing problems and a lack of understanding in the 'non-mechanical' - management -
strategic management world, that involves complex relationships and what Savory  regards as wholes with
diffused boundaries i.e. economics, human relationships, ecology and especially agriculture [Roberts, 1995].
This author agrees with Carter and Dale  that science will do its best to save our civilisation and our
planet and it is the one edge that we have on all previous cultures. In reality, however, science does not
have all the answers but with ongoing research it is answering more questions.
Changes in agricultural research
Agricultural research is moving away from the old single-disciplined approach and is taking a more integrated
approach [Savory, 1988; Roberts, 1995]. There has been an evolution in thinking, for example in the nineteen
fifties and sixties emphasis was often placed on single issues, such as soil conservation, often at the farm
level [Kohnke, Bertrand, 1959]. As a better understanding of agricultural problems emerged in regard to land
capacity, that is tree decline and salinity, a new trend emerged that treated the farmer's property as a whole.
In Australia in the nineteen eighties this culminated in the subject of Whole Farm Planning, which conceptually
considered the farm as a system that also affected adjoining neighbours. This was followed by the progression
of the development of Landcare in the nineteen nineties, involving the wider community and issues relating to
even broader issues such as water quality and regional salinity which crossed property, regional and even state
man-made boundaries. Currently the advent of a new holistic approach is [Holistic] Resource Management which
is starting to impact in Australia [Roberts, 1995]. Whole Farm Planning, Land Care and [Holistic] Resource
Management are all approaches that have high merit, but do not change the fact that biological activity
and plant growth either directly or indirectly give farmers the ability to feed growing populations and to
make a profit before these holistic approaches can be financed [Campbell, 1994]. Although agricultural research
can benefit from a holistic approach this author asks the question - is current research taking for granted the
fact that modern Western agricultural systems use high inputs of agrochemicals? This author suggests that it does
and challenges this assumption as it would appear that it is possible to produce commercial plants without large
quantities of agrochemicals. But are these 'alternative' agricultural production systems sustainable?
This author is placing an emphasis on these other approaches to answer the question, 'are current production
systems sustainable?' These 'alternative' agricultural production systems are considered in the proceeding
section, but first it would be appropriate to define what this author means by an 'agricultural production system'.