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The term “silver bullet” is often used as a metaphor to describe a simple, straightforward solution to a difficult problem. From many interactions with farmers it seems to me that many farmers are looking for a silver bullet. Be that a solution to a problem they are having in their soil, a way to build soil carbon, a way to produce higher litres of milk per cow per day or a way to use water more efficiently. The unfortunate truth is that there are no silver bullets in farming. The agro-ecosystem is way too complex, with far too many interactions, to have a simple, single solution to challenges. As much as good marketing strategies try and get us to believe that there are products which can solve all problems, it is most often not true. I am not saying that there are not a lot of great products out there which play a role in solving problems, there are, but they are not a solve-all.

Farms are complex systems

Photo by Sveta Fedarava on Unsplash

Now that the bad news is out of the way, the good news is that agriculture and the agro-ecosystem operates according to ecological principles. There are many principles that can be applied, which work in harmony with each other, to address the challenges faced in agriculture. This often involves measuring indicators of ecosystem health and functioning, indicators of productivity and efficiency and indicators of sustainability. The measurement of these indicators provides feedback on the effect of management practices. Measuring indicators also assists in identifying areas of lack or opportunity, further informing decision-making. I really believe that farmers need to stop trying to find the non-existent silver bullet, and rather focus on implementing practices which follow the principles of sustainable agricultural management. This will lead to long-lasting solutions to the challenges farmers face.

Craig Galloway