Small Farmers Are Important for Future Food Security and Sustainable Food Production

Small Farmers Are Important for Future Food Security and Sustainable Food Production
By Ali Withers

It is generally assumed that “big is best” because of the financial savings that can be made from economies of scale, and this has been one of the drivers of the trend to large-scale farming.

There is, however, a growing body of opinion that the reverse is true and that food security, diversity and sustainable agriculture may be better achieved by supporting the world’s small and family farmers.

According to the US campaigning organisation large-scale agriculture tends to focus on monocultures because they are the simplest to manage with heavy machinery.

The UK’s Foresight Project and both argue that small-scale farming is likely to be more diverse, more flexible and more environmentally friendly.

It is probably no coincidence that large-scale operations are referred to as agribusiness, with all this implies about the importance about making a profit for shareholders and also growing what is likely to produce the highest returns, such as the current shift in agriculture to producing biofuels.

The UK farming periodical Farmers Weekly recently published an article arguing that large-scale agriculture represented a threat to small farmers who are already struggling to make a living. Smallholder and family farming is the dominant form of food production throughout the major developing regions of the world, particularly in Africa and Asia. It is also widespread throughout the developed world.

According to the most recent World Bank report, more and more people are being pushed into extreme poverty by rising food prices. It said that food prices had risen by 36% since April 2010 and predicted that up to ten million more people could fall below the extreme poverty threshold of less than 76p per day in the next few months. That is in addition to the extra 44 million people who have been pushed into food poverty during the last year.

The pressure on farmers to produce more to meet the needs of a growing global population is therefore intensifying and it makes sense to make the best use of all the sources of food production on the planet, large and small.

While small farms are likely to plant mixtures of crops, to use techniques like intercropping and to rotate crops and livestock, with manure serving to replenish soil fertility, they will nevertheless need some support if they are to increase their production.

It is in the areas of access to new agricultural technology, such as low-chem biopesticides, biofungicides and yield enhancers, and to training in their use, where small farmers could most benefit.

Such products are derived largely from naturally occurring sources and would fit well into the mix of existing sustainable small farming methods and techniques to enhance yield and reduce crop loss from disease and damage.

But they are expensive to research, trial and license and therefore need strong support from governments, including perhaps financial subsidies, if they are to be affordable for the smaller producers.

Each small increase in production can only help towards ensuring that there are adequate food supplies for the future, but also there is evidence that small farms producing for local markets increase local prosperity, food security and promote better social cohesion.

Copyright (c) 2011 Alison Withers

Small farming may be more sustainable and efficient than large-scale agribusiness, as well as being essential to safeguard food security but they need support to access training and to buying the new biopesticides that could increase production. By Ali Withers.

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Sustainable Living Education Center

Matheson Farms of Bellingham, WA is proud to announce the development of an
education program to support eco-friendly agriculture practices and help people
create a more sustainable future for themselves.

In Phase One, our Sustainable Living Education Center will Another Peaceful Sunset at Matheson Farms
focus on three areas: 1) Sustainable Agriculture 2) Sustainable Living
(including personal development, group facilitation, and sustainable
communities) and 3) a special program entitled “Ag, Arts, and the Environment”
which will use film, art, and story-telling to explore the environment, educate
the public, and document innovative and sustainable practices. Phase One will be
accomplished by seminars, events, classes – online and on site, and tours.

In Phase Two, physical infrastructure will be developed for events,
internships, and more on the ground teaching (livestock and gardens). Additional
information and event schedules will be coming soon!

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Holistic Management for the People

Paul Mobley

Raincrow Film, filmmakers focusing on sustainability, agriculture, the environment, and culture, is featuring nationally acclaimed photographer Paul Mobley in their recent educational video, “Holistic Management for the People“.

We have had many exceptional interviews with dedicated folks trying to make a positive difference on their land and in the world. Last spring we interviewed Brian Marshall, a rancher and Holistic Management educator from Guyra, Australia. He gave such a wonderful interview (and we love his accent) that we’ve been working on short clips to help educate the public on what exactly Holistic Management is. In this segment, we wanted to focus on a primary facet of this system—people and community. Brian’s words reveal the both global and community oriented nature of Holistic Management perfectly. We needed images that could convey that same essence, and we found it in spades in Paul Mobley’s book, American Farmer.

Paul captures perfectly both the resolve and empathy we have come to appreciate in those farmers and neighbors that we have worked with so closely.  Please enjoy these stunning photographs and Brian’s comments on people, their land and Holistic Management.


Other clips and videos may be found on Raincrow Film’s Vimeo  site.

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The Art and Science of Success Book

Book cover for the Art and Science of Success, by Sandra M. Matheson, Matt Morris and othersThe Art and Science of Success, a new book co-authored by Dr. Sandra M. Matheson,  Matt Morris, Johnny Wimbrey, and Marc Accetta and top professionals from around the world is now available. The book is filled with accounts of triumph over adversity, inspirational stories, steps to achieving your goals and dreams, and good practical everyday lessons on living the rewarding, sustainable life you desire.

Dr. Matheson’s section includes steps for achieving one’s “holisticgoal” – the blueprint for the future you wish to create and sustain. It is based on her experience, many lessons learned over the years, and the principles of Holistic Management, a decision-making framework that has been life-changing for her. Whether you own a farm or live in the city, this book has something to help you succeed – whatever your definition of success is!

The book normally retails for $21.95 plus S&H, but for a limited time may be purchased for $19.95 plus S&H on this website.  270 pages

For more information visit or click below to purchase.

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Developing HR in Agriculture and How it Can Be Beneficial


By Sam Miller

HR development is a key factor in improving the overall functions and efficiency involved in monitoring, implementation, evaluation, extension programs, and even evaluation. One of the biggest components to HR in agriculture is simply training. Making sure you utilize training, planning, and managing your HR department, you will better be able to improve the way your agriculture business is ran. The training program has been created to meet agriculture requirements and be fitting for men, women and children on the farm.

Farm owners should have help when it comes to evaluating and analyzing job opportunities that are nonfarm related. They should also have the resources available to tell them about loan opportunities and education goals for children on farms. The benefits of implementing Human Resources can increase the incomes for farming and nonfarm families. Human Resources is responsible for recruiting and training new employees, motivating them and most importantly, educating them about what is important to and for the agriculture company. Of those duties, the most important would have to be the recruiting and training. The managers in Human Resources have specific strategies and plans to ensure they hire the right kind of people. They are actually the people who design the employee criteria for each specific job description in the agriculture field.

You may be more familiar with Human Resources as the people who handle disputes in the work place, which is also true. Whatever the issue is, the HR department acts as a mediator or even a counselor to help try and resolve the issue at hand. Even though the agriculture world isn’t known for its disputes, they can still occur like any other work place. One of the biggest benefits that implementing HR in agriculture is the public relations it can bring. HR will organize meetings, events and other official gatherings for, or on behalf, the company. This will allow the company to meet and make friends with other people in the agriculture field. An agriculture human resource department can also be responsible for preparing the marketing and business plans as well.

Any company, especially in agriculture, that doesn’t have a human resource management department is inevitably going to run into some problems when managing any business activities. Because there is so much into creating a workable HR department, many people are opted to go without the department instead. It can be a lot of stress and if you are not good at it, it could prove to be even more challenging. What you should remember is that every single organization should have some type of human resources department on hand. It can make handling disputes, hiring or firing, and business events so much easier than without one. While you might say that an HR department is too formal for the agriculture business, it can actually gain you more business in this troubling farming economy. Make a difference in how to world sees home grown products again and get your HR department up and running for an efficient business plan. For more information on the benefits on HR departments, check us out online.

If you are interested in HR in agriculture, check this web-site to learn more about HR in IT technologies.

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Organic Farmers: Can They Be Tech Savvy?

This is a guest post from Hunter Richards of Software Advice. You can find the original post on his blog, at Organic Farmers: Can They Be Tech Savvy?

Demand is on the rise for organic produce. A survey by the Organic Trade Association found that sales revenue from organic food in the U.S. had exploded to $25 billion by 2009 – twenty-five times that of 1990.

High demand requires high efficiency. But organic farmers can’t use the technologies common to conventional agriculture – like pesticides and genetic engineering – to increase yields. As such, there’s a misconception that they stubbornly shun technology, preferring age-old tradition over modern methods. But that’s not the case. Through recent technological developments, these farmers can use their understanding of natural processes – the mating habits of pests, for example – to optimize yields. The surprising results can make you wonder where to draw the line between technology and nature.

Organic Solutions: Software and Beyond

Jeff Birkby, Outreach Director for the National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service, recognizes the broad potential of technology: “To me, technology is neutral; it’s neither good nor bad. It’s how it’s applied that makes the difference.”

Jeff’s got a point – there must be a way for technology to help organic farmers. I began researching this article with software in mind because, unlike pest removal chemicals and other conventional farming technologies, data management tools don’t affect the crops directly. Clearly, organic farmers are free to use them. And the systems are certainly there – Farmigo for business data management is one example. The Georgia Institute of Technology is even developing a new user interface for soil moisture data software.

But as I researched, I became fascinated at how organic farmers can apply specialized technology in their fields rather than just in the office. Unlike their conventional counterparts, organic farming technologies cooperate with ecosystems to benefit crops. Blurring the line between natural processes and human intervention, the concept made me question the very definition of technology.

Can Technology and Nature Cooperate?

Ted Quaday, Communications Director of the Organic Farming Research Foundation, clarified the issue when I spoke to him. “We’re taking new knowledge, new information, and transferring that into real practical solutions in the farm field . . . is that new, innovative technology? I would argue that it is.”

According to the definition that I found on Merriam-Webster’s website, Ted’s right:

tech·nol·o·gy (noun, \tek-ˈnä-lə-jē\) – the practical application of knowledge, especially in a particular area.

Who said technology had to involve spinning blades and steel? Organic farmers use new research in their approaches to the field, and that qualifies their methods as technology.

The Trade-offs of Technology

Pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers save time and labor in conventional farming practices. But the resulting efficiency comes at a cost. The production, transport, and use of these substances threatens water quality and leaves a sinister carbon footprint. They produce runoff that causes algal blooms in the Gulf of Mexico, draining oxygen from the surrounding area and killing nearby fish.

Through more natural farming methods, organic farms avoid damaging the environment. These examples reveal how technology can help, even while adapting to natural processes:

Fertilization and Yield
To increase yields, conventional farmers use chemical fertilizers. But mechanical tools can be suitable alternatives. The roller crimper, a device dragged by a tractor through alfalfa and hay fields during harvest, breaks down the cell walls of plant stems to accelerate decomposition. This man-made tool increases soil fertility by speeding up the natural decomposition process – without artificial chemicals.

Another simple innovation that can increase yield quantity in organic farms is the hoop house, which is very much like a greenhouse – only easier, faster, and cheaper to build. Consisting of raised beds in a walled-off piece of land, it extends the growing season by protecting crops from bad weather and keeping them warm. More crops can then be produced for the local market, avoiding the need to import them from another location (which cuts down on potential carbon emissions). This research-oriented improvement helps farmers increase yields and benefit financially in a clean way.

Pest and Weed Control
Pesticides and herbicides are notorious in conventional farming, and apples are especially vulnerable. Conventional farmers use potent substances in apple orchards to get rid of codling moths, tent caterpillars and other destructive pests. Organic farmers can’t use these chemicals because of their side effects, but they’ve found alternatives. Surround, a type of biodegradable clay, can be sprayed on apples to confuse insects. Once affected, pests no longer recognize them as food. The clay washes off and dissolves in rain, so it has none of the harmful effects of the more conventional methods.

Thanks to a better understanding of insect mating habits and chemistry, farmers can also strategically destroy pest populations without even touching crops or soil. They can set up sticky traps coated with female pheromones, attracting male flies and maggots that typically harm the crops. They come in to mate, become trapped, and eventually die. Understanding the chemistry and deploying these traps required new research and designs, so it’s clearly a form of technology. It’s just not the giant robot with chainsaw hands that we all tend to imagine.

A Delicate Balance

Pure technology or not, organic farmers can merge nature and human creation to improve efficiency and protect produce. Adhering to strict standards has forced organic farming into creative action. Nature and technology, two apparently polar opposites, have seldom shared such a symbiotic relationship

Accounting Market Analyst at SoftwareAdvice  

Hunter graduated in 2010 from Washington University in St. Louis with degrees in economics and film studies. He writes about accounting software, with particular interests in “green” innovations and compliance. Accounting Market Analyst, Software Advice
on 2/21/2011

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The Need of the Hour – Sustainable Agriculture

By []Christopher Schwebius

The world population is growing by leaps and bounds. There are probably more mouths to feed than the food that is produced. The researches carried out in agriculture indicate that we need more than just crops to feed the ever-growing population. We need agriculture, which is sustainable. It is not something just about the present; it’s about the future as well. Many world areas, which yielded great harvests in the pasts, have now become deserts due to the incorrect practices of agriculture.  Hence, what we really need is sustainable agriculture that can not only feed the present population but also provide for the future as well.

Sustainable agriculture is a new branch of science, which has recently come up owing to the growing need for continual production of food. Sustainable agriculture deals with building up a well-organized bio friendly system that can yield a high food production every year without wasting the natural resources and harming the fertility of the land. No doubt it is important to produce food today, however, it is also important to see that today’s food production does not bring drought tomorrow. The depletion of natural resources like food, water and fresh air can result in great calamities like droughts and famish.

So, what does sustainable agriculture mean? Simply put it deals in three aspects:

1.     Ensuring that the demand for food is met today
2.     Making sure that the next generation is able to meet the demand for food, taking into account the growing problem of depleting natural resources like soil and water
3.     Ensuring that these natural resources like soil and water do not get depleted

However sustainable agriculture is not as easy as it sounds. The theory may be easy but putting it into practice is not. For centuries, farmers have been following a particular way of growing crops. With this branch of agriculture, the entire paradigm takes a new perspective. Hence farmers need to produce food and products, which are safe and popular. While doing that, they also need to stay abreast of competition and also follow the politician and legal norms.

Changing the pattern of agriculture that has been prevalent over the years is not an easy task. However, considering the future implications, it is imperative to develop this b ranch. Every year, the available land for agriculture is either being eaten up by development or becoming arid or a wasteland.

The farmers also need to be supported in this endeavor by the government and other bodies by lowering taxes and lesser duties. They should also be educated about the amount of fertilizers, pesticides to be used and advanced cropping techniques to enhance the fertility of the soil. At the moment, the situation is not ideal; however the governments have begun to realize the importance of sustainable agriculture. All we need to do is carry on the same road and ensure that our future generations have adequate food and natural resources.

Christopher Schwebius is an entrepreneur who seeks out sharply defined, specifically focused topics to research. Upon finishing his research he provides relevant, un-biased information to his readers based on his discoveries and/or personal experiences.

One of his latest ongoing projects can be viewed at

Article Source: [—Sustainable-Agriculture&id=1941219] The Need of the Hour – Sustainable Agriculture

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What Will I Do?

The year 2011 has quickly come upon us. Many of us have great expectations, big plans and new new resolutions in hopes of making this year our best ever. The sad truth is that most of these ideas may not happen. As a result, things don’t change and our frustration grows. But what if our life depended on these actions? What would we do then?

The fact is that our lives do depend on many factors we could change but don’t. They may include simply changing  our eating practices and other habits. It could mean taking steps to improve our business so we can make a living or reduce our environmental impact. Perhaps spending quality time with family or really listening to your spouse might save the marriage. Or there may be simple changes we can make in our everyday lives to curb global climate change.

Whatever it means for you, each new year provides a great opportunity to begin making small but significant changes that will improve the future. After all, our lives depend upon it!

What will I do this year?

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Happy Holidays!


Sustainable Ag Education wishes you a very happy holiday season. We hope you will take time from your busy schedule to spend time with family and friends as well as to pause and enjoy those special moments in life and in nature around us.


Sandra Matheson

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Occam’s Grazer – A Documentary about a Holistic Approach to Ranching

Occam’s Grazer

All Things Being Equal, A Holistic Approach is Best

The DVD cover for Occam's Grazer videoThere is a small but growing group of farmers, ranchers and land managers who are challenging both environmentalists and traditional ranchers to change the debate on overgrazing and land degradation. This documentary highlights four ranch families that have embarked on a new, more holistic strategy to save their farms, heal the land and improve their overall quality of life. They make a compelling case that cattle and other grazers can and do have a positive impact on the environment and provide a sustainable income for farmers and their communities.

Occam’s Grazer visits the Hutton Ranch, Matheson Farms, Mitchell Bay Farm, and Thundering Hooves Ranch. The Special Feature is an interview with Craig Madsen of Healing Hooves about his vegetation management business using goats and his thoughts on multispecies grazing.

This video provides an introduction to Holistic Management and holistic grazing as well as many powerful insights, philosophies, and useful ideas from people who are using the framework and practices every day. This video is a must for anyone who wants to learn more about taking a holistic approach to grazing in their ranch business, how it works, and the potential benefits. It was designed to be a resource for ranchers, potential ranchers, environmentalists, and educators, but is also being well received by the general public.

 The video was produced by Dr. Sandra M. Matheson of Matheson Farms and Raincrow Film LLC. Dr. Matheson is a life-long rancher, consultant, Certified Educator in Holistic Management, and documentary filmmaker.

Please visit the Raincrow Film, LLC website for information on how to obtain a copy of the full length video and learn more about Raincrow Film.   Email:

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