Aug. 15 2012 09:13 AM

Help us compile dairy producers' thoughts by taking our short sustainability survey. See the link at the bottom of this article.

The author is a dairy extension educator, University of Minnesota.

With the world population recently passing the 7 billion mark, many questions have been asked concerning the ability of our planet to feed this growing population. It is predicted that, in the next 40 years, 2 billion more people will be eating on Earth. Can the U.S. and global agriculture produce enough food to feed the people of the world? Will we count on technology to achieve this? Will we have to sacrifice the environment? Or can we?

Sustainability comes from the Latin word sustinere (tenere, to hold; sus, up). Sustainability tends to value diversity in order to spread risk of failure and add chances of success. That is why we had diversified farms in the past. Survivability depended on it. On individual farms, this may have been crucial to survivability and, thus, sustainability. Economic sustainability is the most critical aspect of any business. But to a food supply it is the bigger picture that is most important; no matter where in the world it comes from. The picture of larger farms that are more labor and equipment efficient clashes with ideas of what a farm should look like.

What should a family farm look like?
Does it matter? This brings up the social leg of the sustainability stool. The shrinking rural population has forever changed towns, schools and churches. Rural sociologists ask if this is good for your country. Does it matter if we can feed the world?

Is feeding the world the highest priority of agriculture and rural America? Is there an allowable environmental cost? Is there an allowable social cost? These questions and many more are being debated in many circles. Whose role is it to decide the answers?

The following questions are created to help you formulate a thought process on the issue of sustainability and your farm operation.

Click here to take survey