The past decade has brought a wave of conscientiousness as consumers, especially Millennials and Gen-Z’s, seem more interested than ever before to know more about their food’s journey before it reaches their plate.
Unfortunately, the urge to learn has also made consumers more vulnerable to self-proclaimed gurus and well-intentioned, but misinformed influencers.
Hungry for Truth, South Dakota Soybean Research and Promotion Council’s initiative for sharing transparency about growing food, shared a blog addressing common sustainability myths related to farming. We’re highlighting those sustainability myths and truths here.
MYTH: U.S. farmers are becoming less sustainable.
TRUTH: This is simply untrue. Farmers across the country have been able to increase or maintain yields while decreasing inputs. Let’s look at the poultry and egg industry for example, which now uses 32% less water to produce a dozen eggs than they did in 1960.
Since 1980, U.S. wheat farmers have been able to increase yields by more than 25%, but on 28% less land. Also since 1980, U.S. soy farmers have increased their yields by 55% on approximately the same amount of land through conservation practices.
Many more industries have achieved similar feats and are increasingly working towards minimal impact on the land. Read these Fact Sheets which summarize sustainable practices and successes by U.S. agriculture, fishery and forestry industries.
MYTH: Only small organic farms are sustainable.
TRUTH: Sustainability is not defined by a few quantifiable parameters. Sustainability is “about making smart choices for the land and water,” as described by Hungry for Truth. The farm sector has sustainability programs to help farmers work more resourcefully. Excellent examples include: the U.S. soybean industry’s Sustainability Assurance Protocol, and the U.S. almond industry’s sustainability program, among many others. In some cases, entire industries are tied to non-governmental sustainability accountability bodies such as Field to Market.
Sometimes, the lines between “organic” and “conventionally grown” are blurred as conventionally grown products meet higher and higher standards of regulation. For example, conventionally grown cotton and organically grown cotton both meet eco-label standards.
MYTH: Sustainability is about choosing the environment over people.
TRUTH: Sustainability is a win-win situation for people, natural resources and wildlife habitats. Most farmers choose sustainability because farming is a passion and a family business. “[S]ustainable agriculture is the ability for us to pass on an opportunity to our children, should they choose to live and/or work here,” said fourth generation farmer Nate Hultgren.
Farmer Jim Anderson saw firsthand what happens when farmland is neglected and poor soil management changes the landscape. Valuable land can be completely lost and unfit to nurture the crops that those very people and surrounding wildlife need to survive.
Sustainability is not about choosing any one thing over the other, it’s all about creating the perfect balance for generations to come.
This article has been updated since it was first published in 2018.