Agricultural sustainability considers the effects of farm activities on social, economic, and environmental conditions at local and regional scales. Adoption of more sustainable agricultural practices entails defining sustainability, developing easily measured indicators of sustainability, moving toward integrated agricultural systems, and offering incentives or imposing regulations to affect farmer behavior. Landscape ecology is an informative discipline in considering sustainability because it provides theory and methods for dealing with spatial heterogeneity, scaling, integration, and complexity. To move toward more sustainable agriculture, we propose adopting a systems perspective, recognizing spatial heterogeneity, integrating landscape-design principles and addressing the influences of context, such as the particular products and their distribution, policy background, stakeholder values, location, temporal influences, spatial scale, and baseline conditions. Topics that need further attention at local and regional scales include (1) protocols for quantifying material and energy flows; (2) standard specifications for management practices and corresponding effects; (3) incentives and disincentives for enhancing economic, environmental, and social conditions (including financial, regulatory and other behavioral motivations); (4) integrated landscape planning and management; (5) monitoring and assessment; (6) effects of societal demand; and (7) integrative policies for promoting agricultural sustainability.
Center for BioEnergy Sustainability, Oak Ridge National Laboratory