Online course. Learn better farming practices to conserve land, use water wisely, improve efficiency, reduce financial and other risks. Explore options for more sustainable agriculture.

Course Code: BAG215
Fee Code: S2
Duration (approx) Duration (approx) 100 hours
Qualification Statement of Attainment
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Distance Learning Course in Sustainable Farming

  • Become a more sustainable farmer
  • For those who want to help the world move towards the preservation of our natural resources and to maintain the delicate balance of our ecosystems.
  • Learn economic, commercial, marketing and production techniques in a multi-facetted way to help move a farm towards improved sustainability.

    Additional Reference

    An ideal complementary reference is the book Sustainable Agriculture 2nd edition, written by our principal John Mason, and published by Landlinks Press (A division of CSIRO).

    Click to see an outline and order a copy


    Lesson Structure

    There are 8 lessons in this course:

    1. Introduction
      • Sustainable ways of farming
      • Whole farm planning
      • Land Management programs
      • Sustainable ways of farming
      • Natural farming
      • Organic farming
      • Permaculture
      • No Dig techniques
      • Biodynamics
    2. Soils
      • Growing media
      • Major types of soil problems
      • Soil structural decline
      • Erosion
      • Salinity
      • Acidification
      • Soil improvements
      • Phytotoxicity
      • Adding organic matter to soils
      • Cultivation techniques
      • Conservation tillage
      • Plant nutrition
      • Soil life
      • Cover crops
    3. Water
      • Types of water storage
      • Livestock water requirements
      • Water problems
      • Water quality
      • Reed beds
      • Water saving measures
      • Recycling
      • Swales and keylines
      • Irrigation systems
    4. Land Care
      • Weed Management
      • Preventative measures
      • Tree management
      • Timber lots/plantations
      • Wind breaks
      • Wildlife corridors
      • Wildlife habitats
      • Pest and diseases
    5. Financial Sustainability
      • Economic principles
      • Developing a Farm Business Plan
      • Financial plan
      • Controlling growth
      • Value adding
      • Enterprise mix
      • Eco-tourism
    6. Broad Management Strategies
      • Toward better planning
      • Land care or land management
      • New enterprises
      • Broad management categories
      • Marketing
      • Personal welfare
      • Plan drawing of farm
      • Looking at risk
      • Quality systems
    7. Plant Enterprises
      • Crop management
      • Hydroponic fodder
      • Hay
      • Considering new crops
      • Nuts
      • Organic farming
      • Agro-forestry
      • Hydroponics
      • Herbs
    8. Animal Enterprises
      • Deer
      • Ostriches
      • Emus
      • Alpacas
      • llama
      • Goats
      • Aquaculture
      • Wool and meat production
      • Horses


    • Explain the broad possibilities for improving sustainability on farms
    • Explain how to avoid serious degradation of soils on a farm through sustainable management
    • Discuss how to avoid too serious degradation of soils on a farm
    • Explain the nature and function of land care
    • Discuss economic rules that apply to a farm enterprise
    • Explain crop management techniques for sustainability
    • Minimise degradation through planning and management
    • Evaluate the financial viability and potential of animal enterprises.

    What You Will Do

    • Investigate what is being done for improving agricultural sustainability in your country or region.
    • Contact different organisations or farmers and find out what you can about attitudes & resources available to assist with improving sustainability in your chosen area/Country/region.
    • Investigate whether an organic certification scheme operates in your country, and if so, find out what is involved currently in attaining that certification for a farm.
    • Obtain either literature or advice relating to the management to soil degradation in your locality.
    • Identify the most important issues that farmers need to address in a region within approximately 100 km( or 50 miles )of your home; in order to remain financially viable over the next two decades
    • Distinguish between hydroponics, permaculture, biodynamics and certified organic farming.
    • Identify a farm situation where it might be appropriate to convert to either permaculture, biodynamics or certified organic system.
    • What is being done to improve sustainability of agriculture in the region, country or state of your choice.
    • Obtain information from your local government department or irrigation supply company. Find out what the local water quality is like and how it was measured.
    • Explain how you can test your local water supply for contaminants. What contaminants were found? eg. Bacteria, heavy metals, silt etc.
    • Outline how can these contaminants be removed from the local water supply eg filtration, chemicals, etc.
    • Identify cost effective means by which contamination can be prevented.
    • Identify types of water catchment in your local area. eg dams ,stream ,creeks ,etc.
    • Find out what types of conservation are being practiced in your local area.
    • Outline methods of pest control being practiced in your area
    • Describe methods of weed control used in your area.
    • Identify and describe any natural control methods being used in your area.
    • Research tourism activities are available in your local area.
    • Investigate planning and advisory services in your local area.
    • Investigate existing animal enterprises in your local area and the economic impact.

    Organic Matter Improves Soil

    Soil is a combination of inorganic material (particles of varying sizes derived from broken down rock), mixed with organic material (particles derived from living things that have died and decomposed). The organic material is largely responsible for making a soil fertile; insulating the soil against extremes of temperature, and holding moisture during dry periods; among other things.

    Sustainability starts with Soil Health.

    By knowing and understanding where this organic material comes from; you can manage the sustainability of your soil; ensuring that there is a supply of new organic matter as the old organic matter continues decomposing and it's nutrients continue being absorbed into plants. Some of these Organic Sources include:

    Cover Crops

    Farms often grow a crop to simply plow it in. On the surface, this may seem counter productive; but doing this may be the difference between maintaining adequate levels of organic matter in a soil, and not. One of the best crops to use for this purpose would be a "legume". You will learn more about why legumes are so valuable in this course.

    Logs and branches of trees
    Whole logs can be levered together and used as planting sites. They break down rapidly due to rain, heat, termites, and fungi. In Hawaii, rotting logs of the kukui tree (Aleurites moluccnesis) are placed in shallow water of taro terraces. An edible fungus appears on the logs and is used as crop.

    Detritus from bamboos and pines:
    Several plant species provide silica-rich mulch (palms, bamboos, Casuarinas). This can be used at the base of newly planted trees. This silica has the effect of reducing pH.

    Aquatic weeds:
    These are excellent crop mulch. Useful plants include:
    The water lettuce (Pistia), water fern (Azolla), water hyacinth (Eichornia), algal mats, reeds, and rushes

    Crop wastes and manures:
    The husks of corn, kitchen wastes and human and animal manures are useful tropical garden mulches. Cardboard and newspaper are valuable for suppressing grass growth.

    Hedgerow and mulch plants:
    All hedgerows are continual mulch sources (Hibiscus, Casuarina, banna grass, palms, Acacia). Other species of good mulch value are: Nicotiana, wild ginger, lemongrass, bamboo (leaves), vetiver grass, sesbania, soft ground legumes, and comfrey.
    A top mulch of straw, bark, dry manure, or woodchips is added annually or whenever needed. It is also essential to interplant leguminous green crops (perennial and annual) within the garden to help add nutrients to the soil.
    The value of mulch in weed suppression is a major factor in decreasing work in the garden. Mulch should be applied at 20-25cm deep when first establishing home gardens.
    Coconut husks have a variety of uses, not the least of which is as mulch for a valued crop such as vanilla orchids. Shredded bark and broken shells are ideal mulch for ginger, turmeric and vines.
    There is no reason for burning organic wastes in the tropics as even large materials rot quickly due to fungi, termites, and beetle larvae. Logs also provide slope barriers against monsoon erosion.
    It is possible to grow in poor tropical soils but it requires a lot of early work in rehabilitating the soil in order to render it useful and efficient.

    How this Course Might Benefit You

    Any farmer or even hobby farmer who has not studied sustainable agriculture before, will expand their knowledge, understanding and awareness of how to better manage their property.

    This course may also lead and help you in many other ways as well though. Anyone who works in agriculture needs to understand sustainability. This can range from those who provide materials, equipment and services to farms, through to the agriculture media and education sectors. You may use this course to supplement past studies and experience. Others may use it as a foundation, continuing and building on what you learn here, with further study beyond this course.

    Course Contributors

    The following academics were involved in the development and/or updating of this course.

    Bob James (Horticulturist)

    Bob has over 50 years of experience in horticulture across both production sectors (Crops and nursery) and amenity sectors of the industry.
    He holds a Diploma in Agriculture and Degree in Horticulture from the University of Queensland; as well as a Maste

    Peter Douglas

    Over 50 years experience in Agriculture and wildlife management.
    Former university lecturer, Wildlife park manager, Animal breeder, Equestrian.
    Peter has both wide ranging experience in animal science, farming and tourism management, and continues to ap

    Barbara Seguel

    Teacher and Researcher, Biologist, Aquaculture expert.
    Barbara has a B.Sc. and M.Sc in Aquaculture Engineering.
    Over the past decade, Barbara has worked in Hawaii, Mexico, Chile, New Zealand, and is now settled in Australia. She has co authored severa

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