University of Manitoba: Natural Systems Agriculture: What is Natural Systems Agriculture?
University of Manitoba Faculty of Agricultural and Food Sciences Department of Plant Science

What is
Natural Systems Agriculture?

About Natural Systems Agriculture

"If the world is a mine, then 'smart resource management' is a logical answer. If the world is a source of hope, as the ancients believed, then a research agenda based on the way the world has worked for millions of years becomes logical."

Wes Jackson
(Foreword in Farming in Nature's Image,
Soule and Piper, 1992)

The notion of "Farming in Nature's Image" has been around for thousands of years. Poet Wendell Berry has traced the literary and scientific history of this work. He begins by citing the book of Job. Others have followed...

"Nature is the norm."

Hyde Bailey, Dean of Agriculture, Cornell University (1905).

"Nature is the supreme farmer."

Sir Albert Howard (1940).

"We naturally suppose, having grown up with this particular farming system, that it will go on, forever."

Stan Rowe, in Homeplace: Essays on ecology (1990).

In prairie Canada, natural systems agriculture remains a goal rather than a reality. Currently, inputs are at the centre rather than having the farming system as the centre. All is built on the system – the possibilities are ultimately determined by the nature of the farming system.

Most of our current efforts to make agriculture more sustainable focus on "accumulating the best from tradition" (Wes Jackson, Land Institute). Jackson states that "Natural systems agriculture is 'profoundly different' from what usually passes for sustainable agriculture, which means reducing use of agrochemicals."

Why then do we use the term "Natural systems agriculture" to describe our work? First, we are committed to a fundamental change in the way agriculture is practiced. Second, we believe that using nature as the standard is the best approach for building this new agricultural system. Finally, Canadian prairie farmers have a strong conservation ethic, and have repeatedly demonstrated their commitment to the land and to "farming in nature’s image". Farmers are active partners in our research.

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This page created April 2008.
Last updated May 2011.