Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education (SARE) is a U.S. Department of Agriculture National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) grants and outreach program. The overall objective of SARE is to position agricultural communities so the most sustainable approaches available permeate U.S. agriculture.
Every day, farmers and ranchers around the world develop new, innovative strategies to produce and distribute food, fuel and fiber sustainably. While these strategies vary greatly, they all embrace the following broad, long-term goals:
- Productivity: Grow enough food and fiber to meet humanity’s needs
- Stewardship: Enhance the quality of the land, water and air; and make the most efficient use of nonrenewable resources
- Profitability: Maintain the economic viability of farms and ranches
- Quality of Life: Promote the resilience and well-being of producers, their families and society as a whole
There are almost as many ways to reach these goals as there are farms and ranches in America. One thing sustainable producers have in common is they look at their farm or ranch from a holistic perspective and develop an integrated management plan that uses principles from nature.
Here are some of the ways farmers and ranchers make their operations more sustainable
- Marketing. A diversity of marketing techniques can make a farm more resilient to market fluctuations or unexpected production challenges. Consider creating a strong brand identity, studying your potential markets, processing value-added products, and using a variety of sales channels, such as direct marketing, sales to retail and institutions, and aggregators.
- Social resilience. Agriculture is both hard work and a way of life, and it’s critical that our farmers, farm workers and farm families are thriving. Health and well-being, the next generation of producers, community engagement, innovative business management, and equity and social justice are all examples of important social topics.
- Ecological pest management. There’s not much that troubles farmers and ranchers more than weeds, insect pests and diseases. The ecological strategies producers use to limit pest damage include enhancing the biodiversity of the farm, using practices that create a healthy crop habitat, applying pesticides carefully and as a last resort, and reducing off-farm inputs.
- Rotational grazing and pasture management. Sustainable livestock operations come in many shapes and sizes, but they have one thing in common: They carefully manage their livestock on rangelands and pastures in order to simultaneously maintain the health of the land, enhance the quality of their forages and meet their business goals.
- Conservation tillage and soil health. Soil conservation practices, such as strip-till and no-till, help prevent soil loss from wind and water erosion. Conservation tillage systems also help minimize soil compaction, conserve water and store carbon to help offset greenhouse gas emissions.
- Cover crops and soil health. Growing plants such as rye, clover or vetch after harvesting a cash crop can provide multiple benefits, including weed and insect suppression, erosion control, carbon storage and improved soil health. Because these benefits usually result in a cost saving in a few years or less, cover crops are now grown on millions of acres across the country.
- Nutrient management. Well-managed and properly applied on-farm nutrient sources—such as manure and leguminous cover crops—build soil, protect water quality and reduce purchased fertilizer costs.
- On-farm energy conservation and production. Farmers and ranchers are using energy-saving devices, wind turbines and solar power, while also learning how to grow and process their own fuel. These practices not only make farm operations more profitable, clean and efficient, they help reduce dependence on foreign oil and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
- Climate resilience. In many ways, the principles of sustainability work as strategies for managing the risks associated with erratic weather and climate change. An emphasis on soil health in both crop and livestock operations, crop rotations and increased biodiversity, strong community ties, and diversified products and sales channels are all examples of how we can make farms and ranches more resilient in a changing climate.
Southern SARE Vision and Mission
SARE seeks out innovations in sustainable agriculture, and rewards grant applicants who offer interesting and potentially workable ideas. SARE also emphasizes outreach and the dissemination of project results so the grant programs will have the widest possible benefits.
Southern SARE’s vision is an enduring American agriculture of the highest quality. This agriculture is profitable, protects the nation’s land and water, and is a force for a rewarding way of life for farmers and ranchers whose quality products and operations sustain their communities and society.
Southern SARE’s mission is to advance—to the whole of American agriculture—innovations that improve profitability, stewardship and quality of life by investing in groundbreaking
Southern SARE Program Objectives
- Strengthen the family farm system, regardless of size, to position farmers and ranchers and their future generations for long-term profitability and stability.
- Promote effective stewardship of the nation’s natural resources by providing site-specific, replicable, and profitable sustainable farming and ranching methods that strengthen agricultural competitiveness; satisfy human food and fiber needs; maintain and enhance the quality and productivity of the soil; conserve and protect wildlife habitats; and improve the quality of surface and groundwater.
- Improve quality of life through efforts that strengthen rural communities and further urban agricultural endeavors by fostering partnerships, long-term economic stability, new technological innovations and business enhancement and advancements.
- Protect the environment through conservation strategies that advocate resilient agriculture, as well as stimulate development of climate and weather-related risk management strategies through innovative, ecologically sound, mitigative, holistic, and sustainable methods for short-term and long-term farmer profitability.
- Address the needs and promote the successes of all farm audiences, including limited-resource, minority, young and beginning farmers, and women farmers while advancing agricultural sustainability.
- Promote long-term, whole systems approaches to farming strategies that support crop, livestock and enterprise diversification, and the well-being of animals.