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Sustainable agriculture and land use management is affected by farmers attitudes, which have changed in Australia over the two hundred years of European settlement [Roberts, 1995]. Although agricultural systems are predominantly controlled by the climate, other forces such as the market, farmers' attitudes and management skills have played an important part in shaping what has been described as 'conventional agriculture' and the development and increasing acceptance of the 'alternative' agricultural movement in Australia. Both these schools of thoughts can be partially traced back through three recognisable stages of development:

  • settlement and survival [subsistence farming];
  • settlement and exploitation;
    [Roberts, 1995]
Settlement and survival [subsistence farming]

All settlement farmers had to firstly secure their physiological needs for fresh water, food and shelter in order to survive [Megginson, Mosley, Pietri, 1992]. Gradually there was a change from subsistence farming for food to having surplus product for sale and profit. The goal of increased profits altered the farmers' attitudes towards the land changing from providing purely for their basic needs to being an economic resource suitable for exploitation.

Settlement and exploitation

Roberts [1995] records that Australia has an established record of robbing nature's treasure store and, as is the common practice for newly developed countries, Australia has exploited its existing reserves of natural resources, which includes soil nutrients [Aitken, Tribe, Tulloh, Wilson, 1966]. Exploitation has occurred in agriculture where land has been degraded and soils 'mined' of carbon [Hampson, 1989]. The development of "systems of exploitation" [Symons, 1972] emphasises short term economic planning due to economic pressures, though long term ecological considerations have significantly impacted on many systems. For example, Duruz [1974] documents the clearing of the Heytesbury forest prior to the establishment of settlement farms. Intensive farming practices on these properties have resulted in short term economic sustainability though now salinity, in properties less than forty years old, is apparent thus threatening the long term ecological sustainability of the area. The development of the above project took place when conventional agriculture was responsible for spectacular productivity gains through increasing input intensiveness. This success reinforced modern agriculture's commitment to industrialisation and heightened, almost to a point of unshakeable confidence, a belief in agricultural science and technology. This attitude greatly influenced the outlook of 'alternative' sustainable production systems. As a result, organic and more particularly biodynamic farmers were considered as being on the lunatic fringe [Reeve, 1990].

Settlement and sustainability

It would appear that the exploitation phase of agriculture is changing, as the attitudes of some farmers move towards the third stage of deliberately including sustainability as a goal. Campbell states that "most of our current farming systems are unsustainable by any definition" [Campbell, 1991, p.4]. This extreme viewpoint is dependent upon the writer's definition of sustainability and this is the focus of the following section.

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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