WASHINGTON, March 16, 2016 - (Editor’s note: At an event on Monday, on the eve of Ag Day, Agri-Pulse Editor Sara Wyant moderated a panel which discussed just how important telling agriculture’s “sustainability story” is to rebuilding a relationship of trust with today’s consumers. Associate Editor Whitney Forman-Cook’s overview of that discussion follows.)
“Farms have been so productive since our grandparents’ generation,” panelist Chris Policinski, president and CEO of Land O’Lakes Inc., told the several hundred ag stakeholders who gathered in the Hart office building. He pointed out that since then, the best U.S. cornfields are producing six and a half times more corn on 13 percent fewer acres.
“We talk about it in farmer terms,” he said, “as a productivity story.” But “if we were listening to consumers, we would turn it around and say that’s really a sustainability story,” he said. “It’s an authentic sustainability story – producing more with less.”
The American farmer’s sustainability story doesn’t end with economic “efficiency,” either. Their brand of sustainability necessarily incorporates environmental and social sustainability too, the panelists agreed.
Rod Snyder, president of Field to Market, said producers interested in farming long-term are implementing scientifically proven soil, water and pest management practices on their land to build high quality soils and limit nutrient and pesticide runoff. And with his organization’s Fieldprint Calculator, he said farmers are able to show in precise metrics just how much they are improving the longevity of their operations.
A North Dakota potato farmer and president of the board of directors for Black Gold Farms, Gregg Halverson, brought the social component of sustainability into clear view.
“One of the outcomes I’m looking for is to have one or two or three, or all eight of my granddaughters (he has no grandsons) in the field of agriculture in the next 20 to 25 years. That’s what transparent, authentic, sustainable agriculture is all about.”
“When you talk to farmers about sustainability, there’s skepticism around the term, but when you dig into it and start talking about the actual issues, the actual practices, it’s the stuff that we’ve been working on for a long time,” Snyder said.
Instead of being fearful of the word “sustainability,” farmers should embrace the term and use it often, because it’s readily understood and valued by American consumers, he added.
“It’s how we connect all the work going on - on the ground, back to the consumer,” Snyder said. “Sustainability is here to stay. We can’t just do it, we have to talk about it now.”
Dave White, co-founder of the 9b Group and a former head of USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, also served as a panelist in Monday night’s discussion. White said in his take home message to the audience that he hoped “sustainability is not a fad.”
“It’s too important for our planet, it’s too important for our future,” he said.
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