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Community Essay: Seeking a dialogue: a targeted technology for sustainable agricultural systems in the American Corn Belt

Author(s): Laura Christianson | John Tyndall

Journal: Sustainability : Science, Practice and Policy
ISSN 1548-7733

Volume: 7;
Issue: 2;
Start page: 70;
Date: 2011;
Original page

Keywords: sustainable agriculture | bioreactor | agricultural technology | mitigation | water treatment | denitrification | farms

This Community Essay aims to start a dialogue on the role of targeted environmental technologies in “sustainable agriculture.” Using the new water-quality technology of denitrification bioreactors as a specific example, we focus on the question: are edge-of-field technologies such as bioreactors simply band-aid approaches to sustainable agriculture? Or can they be part of a comprehensive paradigm shift? Denitrification bioreactors are a novel approach for reducing the amount of nitrate in on-farm agricultural drainage, a pollutant that has caused water-quality concerns at both local and national scales. We first address whether or not denitrification bioreactors might qualify singularly as a "sustainable technology" within the conceptual continuum of weak to strong sustainability. Then we introduce a broader perspective on the potential role that targeted technologies might play in multifunctional agricultural landscapes. We suggest that denitrification bioreactors are one technology that can, in a small way, mediate a shift in agrarian paradigms. A transition toward sustainability is a long and gradual process requiring the incorporation of a wide range of approaches including targeted technologies and multifunctional landscapes. While the issues presented here are hardly exhaustive, it is our hope that this commentary spurs broader dialogue within the sustainable agriculture community about the role of technology in the future of agriculture. We are seeking to encourage broader philosophical reflection on work being done in the name of a sustainable agriculture.
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