Ecological sustainability increases as the quantity of biomass in a system increases. Biomass is defined as the living and dead organic matter on a farm. It is made largely of carbon. Plant biomass in the soil is known as below-ground biomass. An increase in it quickens water infiltration and increases the soil’s water-holding capacity. Soil microlife turn soil carbon into nutrients that plants can use. Aboveground biomass in the form of grasses, shrubs, and trees also stores vast amounts of carbon, and stabilizes the earth’s surface temperature. Both the physical distribution of biomass, above and below ground, and its temporal distribution throughout the year effect the sustainability of a farming enterprise. A cornfield has a large amount of aboveground biomass for five months out of the year, but remains uncovered during the winter months.
Social sustainability in a farming enterprise varies in relation to the amount and distribution of profit throughout an enterprise and over time. Humans interact by exchanging value through trade: creating and accumulating economic value with an enterprise is necessary for its survival.
As with biomass, profit should be sufficiently distributed. If it is disproportionately concentrated in one entity or person, those with the short end of the stick will burn out or become disillusioned with their work, and the system will fail. In terms of time, cash flow that is concentrated in the summer months requires impeccable planning and discipline to sustain the enterprise. Likewise, profit distributed over the lifespan of a farm (30-60 years) is good for the health and wealth of the people and the land.
We propose that the sustainability and stability of an agricultural enterprise are a function of the amount and distribution of both profit and biomass over space and time.
The word “sustainable” infers a static state. Simply, sustainability isn’t good enough. If you are married, would you describe your marriage as “sustainable?” In that context, the word doesn’t sound good. Regenerative agriculture infers that the system is improving. In line with our definition of sustainability, are we profitably increasing the amount of biomass in the system? If so, what does the distribution of profit look like? Where and when on the farm is the biomass?
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