Alternative agriculture that comes in many different forms advocates organic production reducing synthetic inputs, small scale production instead of large, reduced energy inputs, greater farm regional self sufficiency, minimal food processing, conservation of finite resources and more direct sales to end users. This is in strong contrast to the more conventional approach which is the system of agriculture that dominates in developed nations, being primarily aimed at achieving economies of scale. Intensive crop agriculture is designed to optimize for a single parameter, that of increased yield. It involves increased use of fertilizers, plant growth regulators, pesticides and high levels of mechanization, aiming to have a high level of control and detailed analysis of growing conditions, including weather, soil, water, weeds and pests.
Conventional agriculture is centralized in design, as centralization is a key part to achieving economies of scale, here products are produced primarily for national or international markets. Centralization means fewer farmers, concentrated control of land, resources and capital. In contrast alternative agriculture is decentralized in nature. Involving local/regional production, processing, and marketing, dispersed populations; more farmers with a dispersed control of land, resources and capital. This works to make the countryside more of a living place and is seen as an important part of retaining traditional rural ways of life.
Conventional agriculture focuses on specialization, a narrow genetic base where most plants are grown in monocultures, single-cropping in a linear succession, separation of livestock and animals and standardized production systems. Alternative methods promote diversity, placing greater emphasis on holism over specialization. Diversity is a key part of this, and a broad genetic base is promoted, more plants are grown through polyculture, using rotation and practices are adapted to local conditions.