The past year and a half I have served on the Southern Region Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) Professional Development Program (PDP). The Southern Region covers thirteen southeastern states. There are four regions across the United States.
The PDP contributes to and promotes the sustainability of agriculture at the professional level. We award funds to professionals at land-grant universities that promote teaching the concepts of sustainable agriculture.
Sustainable agriculture is defined as maintaining the present without compromising the future. It got its real definition from Congress in the 1990 Farm Bill. It was then identified as an integrated system of plant and animal production practices having site-specific application that will, over the long term,
- satisfy human food and fiber needs,
- enhance environmental quality and the natural resource base upon which the agriculture depends,
- make the most efficient use of nonrenewable resources and on-farm resources and integrate, where appropriate, natural biological cycles and controls,
- sustain the economic feasibility of farm operations, and
- enhance the quality of life for farmers and society as a whole.
The four regions receive federal money each year to train professionals and conduct research at the academic and producer level. Funding for 1999 was about $11,000,000 and is about the same this year. Each state has a coordinator allocated $10,000 to train and promote sustainable agriculture practices. Other funds support producer grants in each state. An agriculture producer can apply for a grant up to $10,000 to conduct research on his farm. There are guidelines and procedures that have to be met in order for one to be awarded a grant.
SARE has existed for ten years and has accomplished much. It has affected the lives of farmers and ranchers across the United States and island protectorates. For example, in Georgia this January we toured farms that were using conservation tillage practices and producing over 900 pounds of cotton lint per acre. A benefit of conservation tillage was eliminating the need for insecticide sprays. You can find out more about the many accomplishments of SARE by visiting their Web page, www.sare.org, which provides free information on sustainable practices and the SARE producers grant program.
Another source of information is ATTRA, Appropriate Technology Transfer for Rural Areas, a sustainable farming information center that also provides resources on organic farming and alternative enterprises. Their Web page is at www.attra.org and their mailing address is ATTRA, P.O. Box 3657, Fayetteville, AR 72702.