Environmental Management For Agriculture (EMA) : A Catalyst for the Evolution of Sustainable Agriculture
The potential environmental impacts from agriculture can be diverse. They can be local and site-specific, such as damage to biodiversity and landscape, or more global in nature, such as emissions of ammonia and greenhouse gases. Increasing concerns over such impacts have lead to both political and consumer pressures for the industry to respond to such issues and improve its environmental performance - to become more sustainable. Achieving sustainability is not an easy task. It could be considered as searching for a utopian balance between environment, society and economy. However, at a more fundamental level, the dynamic nature of these systems means that sustainable agriculture will need to be evolutionary. It must be able to respond to threats and opportunities. To reduce environmental damage where necessary whilst performing its economic and social functions. Agriculture is no stranger to change. In the past half century the agricultural industry has been in a constant state of flux, change and reform. So far it has been able to respond and adapt to meet the demands placed upon it, proving that it has the ability to evolve. However, that ability is dependent on having the knowledge to do so. EMA can help deliver that knowledge and enhance that ability of the industry to respond to the issues it faces now and in the future. EMA is computer software that has been developed by the Agriculture and the Environment Research Unit (AERU) at the University of Hertfordshire, in collaboration with IACR Rothamsted and ADAS, and with funding from Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Milk Development Council. It has been based on principles and philosophy of environmental management systems such as ISO 14001. The research development of EMA started in 1995 and it has now evolved into a technology transfer tool. It is composed of a comprehensive library of hyper-linked documents on legislation and good agricultural practice, a number of decision support modules to identify site-specific best practice, and environmental models and assessment (auditing) routines to monitor the environmental performance of the farm. The integration of these components in EMA has created a tool that can act as a catalyst in the evolution of sustainable agriculture by: making farmers more of aware of environmental issues; analysing the environmental performance of the farm; providing support and advice on managing environmental impacts and adopting best practice; and by acting as medium for the transfer of new information and knowledge. EMA is now is use in the industry with over 1000 users and this is expected grow considerably. Its quality has already been recognised with an award in the MAFF 1998 Science into Practice Awards and the granting of Millennium product Status by the government.