Letter from the Director
Since 1988, USDA's Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program has made great strides toward increasing scientific understanding and promoting practical uses to manage sustainable agriculture systems.
In the past decade, SARE has funded close to 1,200 projects that examine how to improve profitability, protect natural resources and foster more viable communities across the nation and U.S. Island Protectorates. Most of the projects were led by university-based researchers -- working in concert with farmers, ranchers and Extension educators -- who added an "on-the-ground" pragmatism to the science. As the program matured, producers, Extension educators and nonprofit organizations began leading their own projects.
We wish we had more space to devote to the many successes of the SARE program that have directly impacted farmers and ranchers. SARE's work in soil management, cover crops, integrated crop and livestock systems, management-intensive grazing, pest management and innovative horticultural practices truly has made a difference on the agricultural landscape. Here is just a sampling:
An Oregon vegetable farmer found better sweet corn yields after using a variety of cover crops, then strip-tilling corn into the cover residue the following spring, a set of practices he learned by working with a SARE researcher.
In Indiana, an Extension agent and former conventional corn-and-soybean farmer is converting to an organic vegetable operation to realize more profits and a better relationship with the community after attending a SARE-funded professional development workshop.
A Vermont couple replaced synthetic herbicides with weed cultivation in their field corn after learning about profitable dairying strategies from a SARE project creating case studies of successful, sustainable dairy farms.
Researchers in Virginia dramatically decreased nutrient loading and sedimentation entering a New River tributary by setting up spring-fed watering troughs as part of a SARE study on management-intensive grazing for cattle.
SARE operates on principles of inclusion, partnership and participation. Not only does each project include farmer input, but farmers and ranchers participate on technical review committees and administrative councils made up of a diverse group of ag professionals in each region. Those committees and councils assume responsibility for recommending a slate of projects each year that best meet the needs of each SARE region.
Partners in the sustainable agriculture movement, from representatives of nonprofit conservation organizations to colleagues at federal and state agencies, have lent their expertise to this process. And a participatory approach that began as an innovation in 1988 has become a proven -- and emulated -- model 10 years later.
While this 10-year anniversary is a time for some well-deserved praise to the hundreds of people who have been involved with SARE, many challenges remain on the path toward agricultural sustainability.
How should SARE undertake research and education in the context of whole-farm systems?
How can SARE incorporate appropriate uses of new technology, such as precision agriculture?
In what ways can SARE enhance and build new partnerships to enhance sustainable agriculture?
Can SARE have an impact beyond the farm gate to address watersheds, community food systems and other issues of importance to the public at large?
And finally, how can SARE continue to influence conventional agriculture to become more sustainable?
Answering some of those difficult questions will certainly keep SARE and its many collaborators challenged through the next decade and beyond.