Want to keep learning?

This content is taken from the EIT Food, University of Reading & European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT)'s online course, Explore How Farmers Produce Food Sustainably. Join the course to learn more.

Skip to 0 minutes and 7 seconds Many of us consider sustainability in terms of three pillars– economic, environmental, and social. In terms of the farming context, it’s often the economic pillar of sustainability which is the most prevalent. Farmers are businesses. They are often quite small businesses in relation to multinationals. But they have to make money to survive. So that financial sustainability is key, economic and financial sustainability. But at the same time, unlike many other businesses, the landscape, as we see here, is part of the farming system. So it’s also important that they maintain and enhance the environment in which they work.

Skip to 0 minutes and 51 seconds Farms and farmers are highly reliant on the environment to provide services like pollination, the delivery of water, the light needed for crops to grow, the soil in which crops grow, et cetera. So farming is highly reliant on a good, working environment. We often think about climate change and the impacts that is having in terms of both water availability and heat. We have a number of tunnels set up here. This work is looking at wheat in particular. It’s looking at excluding rainfall during a critical phase, what’s known as the grain filling phase. And what we’re looking at is how different varieties respond to different amounts of drought stress.

Skip to 1 minute and 34 seconds We’re trying to work out and try to predict for the future which varieties may survive if the climate gets hotter or if there is more extreme heat events or, in particular, if there’s a different distribution of rainfall. As the climate is changing, as both farmers and researchers, we’re having to redouble our efforts in terms of the mechanisms in which we can adapt to mitigate to that climate change.

Skip to 2 minutes and 9 seconds As many economies develop, the number of farms reduces, they become bigger. Therefore, less people are involved in farming. There’s greater mechanisation, greater use of technology. So the people that are actually involved in the primary production of food is much reduced. And that has led to some disconnect between the– if you like– the people that are directly involved in farming and the consumers that eat the food. There’s a real question, I think, that is about the connectivity between farms and farmers and the local rural environments, but also, more importantly, the wider environments, the urban environments into which those food products are being sold and eventually consumed.

Skip to 2 minutes and 59 seconds And a huge amount of social science research as well going on both here at Reading and elsewhere to look at how we can produce more integrated systems, how we can bring consumers into the food chain, how we can listen more closely to what consumers have to say, and how they can influence the types of things we grow and the ways in which we grow them.

Skip to 3 minutes and 28 seconds Sustainability isn’t an end state. We constantly need to evolve in terms of becoming more and more sustainable incrementally. We’ll always be trying to improve to reduce the amount of nutrients we put onto the land for each kilogram of crop we harvest. We’ll be trying to reduce the amount of feed in terms of every harvested kilogram of beef. We’ll be constantly looking at ways we can grow crops that are more environmentally sustainable. We’re trying to look at ways of including consumers more holistically in the food chain and therefore taking account of that kind of social dimension of sustainability. We’ve got to make farming financially sustainable.

Skip to 4 minutes and 16 seconds But we’ve got to do that in the context of maintaining and improving the kind of landscape and the environment in which farming takes place.

Challenges of sustainable farming

In this video, Professor Julian Park, Head of the School of Agriculture, Policy and Development at the University of Reading, looks at economic, environmental and social sustainability in more detail, and discusses the work that farmers and researchers are conducting to make farming practices more sustainable in all three areas.

Professor Park discusses getting consumers more involved in sustainability practices. From the point of view of a consumer, in the comments section below, discuss:

  • Which of the three pillars do you feel you have most influence over?
  • How do you think you could be more involved in these sustainability practices?
  • How do your thoughts compare to those of other Learners?

Have a look at the comments from other Learners. If you can relate to a comment someone else has made, why not ‘Like’ it or ‘Reply’? You can also filter comments to see those that are ‘Most liked’ and find your own by selecting ‘Your comments’.

Share this video:

This video is from the free online course:

Explore How Farmers Produce Food Sustainably

EIT Food