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It is apparent that throughout history farmers have slowly learnt to develop 'manuring' or 'tending' practices to grow plants and manipulate their agricultural systems and at one time the 'organic' approach using crop rotation, manures and some mineral fertilisers, appeared to be the only dominant method. However, during the last two hundred years a number of other approaches to assist in growing and fertilising plants have emerged. This author has chosen to use the umbrella term of 'agricultural production systems' to describe the different approaches that farmers can use to actuate the production of plants and manipulate agricultural systems. The choice of the term 'agricultural production systems' has been used by Hampson [1989] and Mallen-Cooper [1992] and would appear to best match the different definable approaches that could be used or overlaid on different farming systems. Part of the problem in using this term is defining its meaning. Spedding [1977] defined an agricultural system, as a system with an agricultural purpose and output. Haines [1982] considers agricultural systems as food production systems. It appears that there is a broad interpretation between the words and terms; agriculture and farming, agricultural production, a farming system and an agricultural production system. The words 'agriculture' and 'farming' are often inter-changeable. For example, Spedding [1988] concurred with Lampkin [1992] that Organic farming is a production system and yet two major organisations representing both the Organic and the Bio-dynamic movements use the term agriculture[al] in their names, I.F.O.A.M [International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements] and the Bio-dynamic Agricultural Association of Australia. In short, despite the ambiguity of this term, this author aims to understand the production methods of sustaining plant growth, that include the practical management tools, husbandry practices and management philosophies.

The commonality between all the five identified systems is that they are all management tools that are involved with the soil and the growing of plants, which are the fundamental production units of agricultural systems. Plants are the producers in an integrated agroecosystem and Albrechts' [1975] Biotic Pyramid. Plant life directly or indirectly creates the basic wealth of agriculture.

It is therefore logical to assume that the five agricultural production systems can be related to different farming systems. Therefore it is possible to have an "organic" rice farm next door to a "conventional" rice farm. Both properties and their respective farmers have familiar common denominators in farming rice, but both have selected different agricultural production systems and use some different specific management practices and philosophies that reflect their chosen system. It could be argued also that the specific management practices and philosophies a farmer adopts, reflects a method of agriculture that modern philosophies have chosen to name, such as organic or conventional. The latter would have been the case prior to the specific naming of systems. Farmers have had a free choice of farming the way they wanted and their management practices reflected the philosophies that they held. Today with alternative certification schemes farmers are choosing to change their practical methods to be in line with a named form of agriculture. This decision may be financially and not ethically driven. Thus farmers are compelled to often use restricted practices, but they may not have to ethically agree with the philosophies of the named agricultural system.

Figure 1.1 illustrates the inter-relationships between the different farming systems and how in theory any of the five identified production systems, which all have specific management practices, can be used on those farming systems, such as dairy, cereal and sheep. The different agricultural production systems used as tools on the farming systems and yet all these systems rely on plants which in turn depend on the soil. In effect a dynamic hierarchy can function which can be influenced by what farming system is chosen and the agricultural production system that is selected.

Figure 1.1 The inter-relationships between the different farming systems and
identified agricultural production systems can be flexible but ultimately the
farming systems are in turn dependent on the plants and ultimately the soil
[Albrecht, 1975; Podolinsky, 1985].

Each agricultural production system is unique and can be related to numerous inherent assumptions and basic limitations. There could be a danger in polarising these views however, as it is convenient to employ the labels conventional, conservation, Organic, Biological, Bio-dynamic and Permaculture. Of course it must not be supposed that any of these schools of thought are homogenous in their opinions, or indeed that every writer on agriculture can be fitted into either the conventional school or alternative school, for they inevitably have more in common than otherwise, such as the direct or indirect use of electricity and fossil fuels in tractors and vehicles. It is quite clear that all five approaches or 'models' could be considered as correct in accordance with the assumptions on which each approach is based.

In effect all the approaches are the same, in that they are just conceptual or theoretical 'models' and they offer different choices as to how to answer the question - how sustainable are current agricultural production systems? These approaches will act as filters from which this important question can be further answered. Each approach has been tested and proven by its respective theorists and have formed established schools of thought. The views and assumptions of the schools may be characterised as in the proceeding section, commencing with an overview of the conventional approach and this will be followed by conventional, Organic, Biological, Bio-dynamic and Permaculture.

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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