*modified by Jim Serfass, 4-H FEA Environmental Sciences,
University of Maryland Extension – Carroll County
Originally created by Becky Yost
Agriculture and Natural Resources Educator & Master
Gardener Coordinator
University of Maryland Extension-Allegany County
The University of Maryland Extension programs are open to any person and will not discriminate against anyone because of
race, age, sex, color, sexual orientation, physical or mental disability, religion, ancestry, national origin,
marital status, genetic information, political affiliation, and gender identity or expression.
 Understanding
the 3 Pillars of sustainable
 Understanding ecosystem functions and services:
good soil health is the foundation of a healthy
 How sustainable farming practices enhance and
protect soil health, water, and biodiversity
 The importance of local and regional foods systems
to sustainable agriculture
Define sustainable agriculture. Understand the importance of moving
toward these farming systems to conserve natural resources, mitigate
climate change, reduce erosion and protect water quality and quantity
and promote pollination.
Basic knowledge of soil science including its physical, chemical and
biological processes and its vital role in sustainable farming.
Comprehension of farming practices that build soil organic matter such
as composting, crop rotations, cover crops, conservation tillage, and
management intensive grazing systems.
Understand irrigation best management practices that reduce water
use such as conservation tillage, cover crops, plant selection, precision
agriculture, water re-use, and sub-surface drip irrigation.
Knowledge of the role pollinators play in farming and ways to attract
Understand integrated pest management and biological pest
control techniques used to prevent insect pest, disease, and
weed problems.
Define organic agriculture as an example of a sustainable
agriculture system. Give specifics on why it is sustainable and
how it might not be. Describe the growth in organic production
since the late 1990’s.
Describe ways farmers can reduce their reliance on fossils fuels
by increasing farm efficiency and using alternative fuels.
Describe the economic, social, and environmental benefits of
sustainable agriculture to local communities.
Learn the ways farmers market their food locally and regionally.
Understand the meaning of CSAs, food hubs, farmers markets
and farm to school.
adjective \sə-ˈstā-nə-bəl\ : able to be used without being
completely used up or destroyed
able to last or continue for a long time
According to ATTRA: produces abundant food without
depleting the earth’s resources or polluting the environment
NOTE: Organic is sustainable, but sustainable is not always
Diversity of plants &
Higher Quantity
Higher Quality
Passive Marketing
Active Marketing
Energy Intensive
Information Intensive
 Oatmeal
– Batavia, IL 699 miles
 Orange Juice – Pleasanton, CA – 2,782 miles
 Banana – Colombia – 2,385 miles
Total: 5,866 miles!
Hawaii: 4,781 miles
Pillar 1: Profitability
• Generates profits over the long-term
• Maximizes farmer/rancher control over crops and
• Supports a family at a standard of living that
includes health care, education, and vacations
• Minimizes reliance on government subsidies
Pillar 2: Environmental Stewardship
• Builds and maintains soil, prevents soil erosion, protects and
renews soil fertility
• Balances nutrient inputs and outputs
• Maintains clean water, and maximizes water conservation
• Minimizes dependence on non-renewable resource fuels and
purchased production inputs
• Minimizes use of toxic substances
• Uses integrated pest management practices
• Maximizes crop rotation
• Encourages diversity of plants and animals within the landscape
• Minimizes air pollution
Pillar 3: Quality of life (for farmers, ranchers, farm workers,
and their communities)
• Allows time for family, hobbies, and/or community
• Provides safe, nutritious food, fiber, and/or biomass energy
• Treats farm workers well
• Treats animals humanely
• Contributes to the scenic beauty of community
• Contributes to farming/ranching being seen as respected
• Encourages involvement of the next generation
Diversify: produce a wide variety of cash crops and/or
Adjust to the market to match trends
Ensure efficiency: calculate costs of production per crop
using labor hours
“3-Legged stool” approach: use multiple markets
o Community Supported Agriculture (CSA)
• Source of Capital
o Farmers’ Markets
o Restaurant Sales
o * Farm to school programs
Grass clippings
Using the natural process of decay to
change organic wastes into a valuable
humus-like material called compost
Food scraps
Composting Speeding up the natural decay process
A compost pile or bin
allows you to control
• Air (oxygen)
• Water
• Food, and
• Temperature
By managing these factors you can speed up the
otherwise slow natural decay process
Supplies organic matter
to soil
 Attracts earthworms
 Stimulates beneficial soil
 Increases soil water
holding capacity
 Increases soil nutrient
Compost is not a fertilizer, but
does contain plant nutrients
 Nitrogen and phosphorus
are mostly in organic forms
o Released slowly to plants
o Not readily leached from the
Compost contains over 40
trace nutrients that are
essential for plant growth
Establishing a rotation of crops between fields over a given
period of time.
Rotations help to improve or maintain:
soil fertility
reduce erosion
reduce the build-up of pests
spread the workload
reduce risk of weather damage
reduce reliance on agricultural chemicals
and increase net profits.
Rotations offer an opportunity to increase production, either
through direct yield increases or through reductions in some of
the inputs required for the present or next crop.
*See Examples*
Cover crops are an alternative way to manage soil fertility in
agricultural systems; they can be a living mulch or incorporated
into the soil as a green manure. Sometimes one crop can cover
multiple needs.
Cover crops are sown to:
o Control weeds through competition for available space, light, water, and
Prevent soil erosion caused by heavy rainfall or winds
Protect crops (such as watermelon) from sand blasting damage
Retain and harvest residual nutrients that would be leached in the offseason
Recycle and restore nutrients in a crop system
Reduce select harmful nematode populations
Create additional income (such as hay production)
Provide mulch cover for row middles and/or mulched beds
Provide habitat for beneficial insects and birds
 Conservation
tillage conserves soil by
reducing soil erosion.
 Negative effects of soil erosion:
- Removes productive topsoil
- Reduces crop yields & land value
- Increases sediment in waterways
- Carries nutrients and pesticides into the
No-till leaves the soil undisturbed from
harvest to planting. Planting is done in a
narrow (usually 6 inches or less) seedbed
or slot created by coulters, row cleaners,
disk openers, in-row chisels, or roto-tillers.
A press-wheel follows to provide firm soilseed contact.
No-till planting can be done successfully in
chemically-killed sod, in crop residues from
the previous year, or when double-cropping
after a small grain. Herbicides are the
primary method of weed control, although
cultivation may be used for emergency
weed control.
Soil conservation results from the high
percentage of surface covered by crop
Ridge-till involves planting into a seedbed
prepared on ridges with sweeps, disk
openers, coulters, or row cleaners. The
ridges are rebuilt during cultivation. Except
for nutrient injection, the soil is left
undisturbed from harvest to planting.
Ridge-till works best on nearly level, poorly
drained soils. The ridges speed up drainage
and soil warm-up. Cultivation controls
weeds along with some herbicides.
Ridge-till systems leave residues on the
surface between ridges. Soil conservation
depends on the amount of residue and the
row direction. Planting on the contour and
increased surface coverage greatly reduce
soil loss.
Minimize soil erosion, runoff and loss of essential nutrients
Sustainability and increased profits
Healthier for the ecosystem
o Retention of topsoil
o Filter for water sources
o Requires less feed additives
o Helps to maintain lands that would otherwise grow up into
brush/weeds with no use
o Provides a place for recreation
controlled harvest of vegetation with
grazing animals.
Rotational grazing- moving livestock to a new
area before grazing plant re-growth
Stocking Rate- 1 cow/calf pair per 2 acres
1. Maintain or improve the health and vigor of
plant communities and meet the basic
needs of livestock;
2. Reduce soil erosion, and maintain or improve
soil condition;
3. Maintain or improve water quality and
4. Improve quantity and quality of forage for
livestock health and productivity;
5. Maintain or improve the quantity and quality
of food and/or cover for wildlife habitat;
6 Promote economic stability through grazing
land sustainability.
Irrigation best management practices that reduce water
conservation tillage
o cover crops
o plant selection
• Varieties that are drought tolerant
o precision agriculture
• Use of technology to irrigate what needs water
o water re-use
• cisterns, rain barrels
o sub-surface drip irrigation.
Pollinators are responsible for pollinating 90% of agriculture
products, fruits, vegetables, nuts, flowers etc…
Common Pollinators
o Bees
o Butterflies
o Bats
o Small Birds
o Many Insects
Ways to attract them
o Grass ways and natural buffers
o Wildflower plantings
o Crop rotation
o Bee Boxes
IPM is a combination of practices. IPM can be applied to both agricultural and non-agricultural settings. IPM
takes advantage of all pest management options including, the use of pesticides. Organic food production also
applies IPM but limits the use of pesticides to those that are produced from natural sources, as opposed to
synthetic chemicals.
Set Action Thresholds- a point at which pest control action must be taken. Sighting a single pest does not
always mean control is needed. The level at which pests become an economic threat is critical to guide future
pest control decisions.
Monitor and Identify Pests- Not all pests require control. Many are beneficial. IPM programs monitor pests and
identify them accurately, so that control decisions can be made in conjunction with action thresholds. This
removes the possibility that pesticides will be used when they are not really needed or that the wrong kind of
pesticide will be used.
Prevention- IPM programs work to manage the crop, lawn, or indoor space to prevent pests from becoming a
threat. In an agricultural crop, this may mean using cultural methods, such as rotating between different crops,
selecting pest-resistant varieties, and planting pest-free rootstock.
Control- Once monitoring, identification, and action thresholds indicate that pest control is required, and
preventive methods are no longer effective or available, IPM programs then determine the proper control
method. Less risky pest controls are chosen first, including highly targeted chemicals, such as pheromones to
disrupt pest mating, or mechanical control, such as trapping or weeding. If further monitoring, identifications
and action thresholds indicate that less risky controls are not working, then additional pest control methods
would be employed, such as targeted spraying of pesticides. Broadcast spraying of non-specific pesticides is a
last resort.
Number of certified organic acres in 1992?: 935,450
In 2011?
Why was there such an increase?
Since the 1990’s organic agriculture has increased for
many reasons
o Consumers want to know where their food comes from and how it is
o Many consumers do not like conventional farming methods and
organic is an alternative
o Premium market price for the farmer
Direct Farmer to consumer relationship – information transfer
Products are produced in a natural way without the use of
pesticides, synthetic fertilizers etc…
Small farmers have an avenue to make full time living off of
their farms as a result of the premium price
Very sustainable operations
Is a more challenging industry to work in
o Limited and regulated on what products you can use on your farm
o Sometimes products that are allowed to be used are not always the
most effective product
o Often times requires more manual labor
o In the case of extreme circumstances losses could be potentially
higher than conventional producer
Initial cost of certification is high
Farm is under inspection to maintain organic certification
Solar Panels
Methane Digesters
Work animals Ex: Horses, Oxen
The overall adoption of sustainable practices can minimize
fuel used in an operation
Learn the ways farmers market their food locally and
regionally. Understand the meaning of CSAs, food hubs,
farmers markets and farm to school.
Food Hubs- Businesses or locations that help to distribute
local products to consumers in the region and coordinate
demands with supply
Farm to school- National Initiative to supply local foods to
public and private school systems.
Penn State Extension Service
University of Maryland Extension
Montana State University
University of Florida Extension
Purdue Extension

Envirothon Competition Overview - University of Maryland Extension