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Source: AgPR--the news distribution service for agriculture

by Mikaela Wieland of Princeville, Ill., the Illinois state winner of the 2014 GROWMARK essay contest for FFA members:

At the start of every school day, students across America say the Pledge of Allegiance. Before most sporting events, the Star Spangled Banner is sung. These are American traditions.

Just like students know they will say the Pledge every day, most Americans take comfort in the fact that there will be dinner on the table every night. That dinner is thanks to the long tradition of American agriculture.

It is thanks to an industry that continuously utilizes research and innovative technology to ensure a sustainable future and to ensure that Americans can continue to have a nutritious dinner on the table every night.

Sustainable agriculture is a big topic in the news right now. There is a push for farmers to develop a greater efficiency to feed the world with a smaller impact on the environment. The word sustainability takes on a different definition for each farmer, because each utilizes different techniques to practice sustainability.

To put it simply, it means improving past traditions to promote a profitable and successful future. Sustainability is not a short-term fix, but a lasting implementation. In a country whose traditions surround the industry of agriculture, it is critical that farmers create a future wherein they can continue to provide food for the world.

Each year, the global population grows and the land suitable for farming shrinks. This creates a need for change. Farmers must learn how to utilize less land to produce more goods, but they also must continue to care for the current land to ensure a viable future. This is the basis of sustainable farming.

Crop rotation has been used for decades as a cultural practice that has many benefits. This is just one small example of sustainability that is already in practice. As new farming techniques develop, agriculturists must learn to implement new research. However, there is a wide gap between the science lab and the farmer's field that is bridged by many agricultural research companies. One of the most important "bridges" in the agricultural industry is the agriculture cooperative.

Going into the unknown, into darkness, is scary. The same principle applies in farming. Producers do not want to take the risk of trying out new techniques because they are unsure of the results. Their livelihoods and farm profitability is at stake. In addition, new techniques to implement sustainable farming often require new input costs. According to the Director-General of the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), Jose Graziano da Silva, "cooperatives help small farmers access the global market by making input costs for production more affordable."

Cooperatives are the hand guiding the farmer in the darkness of the unknown. They provide affordability and a trusting community that the farmer can be a part of. The seventh cooperative principle states, "While focusing on member needs, cooperatives work for the sustainable development of communities through policies and programs accepted by the members." That sustainable development is exactly what agriculture cooperatives are doing to bridge the gap and feed the world.

Sometimes traditions are good. But sometimes, they can be improved on. They can be reinvented. America was built on the tradition of farming. But what would happen if we were still farming with Eli Whitney's cotton gin? American agriculture has come a long way and has paved the future for global food production.

If there is to be a continuation of success in American agriculture, improvements must continue to be made. Sustainability must be implemented and the American agriculture traditions must be reinvented.

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