Integrated Cropping Systems
The environment is a holistic system that depends on interactions and symbiotic relationships among its many components. Photosynthesis is the engine of life powered by the sun. The physical environment influences the evolution of life, and the presence of living organisms impacts the physical environment. In a balanced ecological system everything is recycled with no net resource consumption or waste generation. The system is dynamic with every component constantly interacting to make the whole greater that the sum of its parts resulting in a net ecological gain (sustainability).By understanding and respecting these complex interrelationships, we can minimize our contribution to the imbalances that result in non-renewable resource consumption and environmental pollutants (un-sustainability). Along with the knowledge and power to change the environment comes the responsibility to protect it.
Biodiversity is key to a strong and resilient ecosystem. Reducing diversity creates imbalance, disrupts the recycling process and results in a need for unsustainable inputs and the creation of contaminating waste products. Unfortunately, the current predominate food supply system is based on a reductionist approach that discourages diversity and disregards the important ecological functions of a healthy, balanced ecosystem that includes fertilization, pollination, pest control and the purification of air and water.
Biodiversity is also important at the microscopic level and promoted by the perennialization of agriculture. A healthy soil contains hundreds of millions of microscopic organisms that recycle waste, re-mineralize soils, form symbiotic relationships with plants (nitrogen fixation is only one of many such relationships), and suppress disease causing organisms. These organism thrive in an undisturbed soil. Tillage starts a succession of events that reduces microscopic diversity resulting in a gradual loss of disease suppressive organisms, nutrient recyclers, decomposers, and organisms that rebuild soil structure. With continued tillage, organic matter is depleted and essential minerals are lost. For more information about soil health and ecological pest management refer to ATTRA news, vol. 14, Number 4, July-August 2006.
The mono-cultural systems approach is based on a narrow definition of economic efficiency that conveniently dismisses associated environmental and health cost as being separate economic considerations. The driving force for unsustainable mono-cultural systems is economics of scale based on spreading investment cost over a large amount of output. From a purely economics of production point of view, this makes sense: with basic infrastructure in place, the cost of each additional unit of output decreases. There are political and economic reasons why it will be difficult to wean society off of unsustainable mono-cultural systems, but it is only a matter of time before society will be forced to accept responsibility for its contribution to ecologically destabilizing activities and use its knowledge and tools to protect it.
Choices for the Future
There does not have to be a choice between “feeding the world” and protecting the environment. Both can be done simultaneously. Ecologically based agricultural production using new technological tools has the potential of increasing production and new employment opportunities. This website provides the groundwork and rationale for an alternative food supply system that can incorporate the economics of scale of the predominate globalized system and the ecological benefits of the diversified direct marketing system.
The concept of an integrated cropping system is based on incorporating a variety of plant species that have complementary ecological functions that contribute to a balanced system, but also have similar characteristics for management, equipment sharing, processing and marketing which provide economics of scale.
The purpose of this website is to share information about the many perennial fruiting plants that could be considered as components of an ecologically and economically sustainable cropping system where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.