Sustainability: A Cornerstone of U.S. Agriculture

by David Kostelancik, Deputy Chief of Mission U.S. Embassy Budapest
November 2017

Remarks at the Sustainable Farming Conference organized by the Hungarian Chamber of Agriculture  October 18 2017

In the United States, “sustainability” is a cornerstone of our approach to agriculture. Our goal has always been to maintain, improve, and preserve natural resources for future generations, while enhancing the quality of life for farmers and society as a whole.

Farmers, ranchers, and foresters in the United States have implemented sustainable agriculture practices actively since the Dust Bowl in the 1930s, when unsustainable farming practices combined with a long drought caused major economic, social, and environmental devastation in our Great Plains.

The outcome was that the U.S. Government stepped in to create soil conservation programs, resettle displaced farm families, and seek new ways to balance agricultural productivity goals with environmental stewardship and conservation.

For 80 years, U.S. Government agencies have worked with agricultural producers to make conservation improvements to their farms, ranches, and forests. These improvements help clean and conserve water, boost soil quality, and restore habitat, and also make our rural economies and agricultural operations more resilient.

But even before the Dust Bowl, the U.S. Government developed many regulations that promote sustainable practices – for example, the Lacey Act combats trafficking in “illegal” wildlife, fish, and plants, including wood products. It was first enacted in 1900 to combat the impact of poaching, interstate shipment of unlawfully killed game, and killing of birds for feather trade.

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Improving Water Quality is a Shared Responsibility

By Suzy Friedman, Environment Defense Fund
September 2017

I spent the summer meeting with farmers, commodity groups and food companies in the Midwest to discuss collaborative conservation approaches. Whether we were in Missouri, Iowa or Minnesota, water quality was top of mind.

Agriculture has a large impact on water quality – the sector is the source of 70 percent of the nutrients that flow down the Mississippi River and cause dead zones in the Gulf of Mexico.

Farmers have made big strides on implementing and scaling conservation measures to improve water quality and agriculture’s overall environmental footprint. Unsung heroes like Tim Richter, Kristin Duncanson and Denny Friest are constantly fine-tuning nutrient and soil management with new efficiency tools, finding better ways to implement cover crops or reduce tillage, installing wetlands and buffers, and introducing new crops into their rotations.

They aren’t the only ones.

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Sustainability Is Here to Stay

By Eve Turow Paul, Author and Consultant
April 2017

“Sustainability” is not just the latest buzzword — it’s a new cultural value. While debates about climate change fill political airwaves, there’s a young generation of folks eagerly buying organic goods, installing solar panels and limiting their use of plastic bags and water bottles. I’m talking about Millennials and Generation Z.

For those born after 1980, news has shifted from the effects of hairspray on the ozone layer to maps tracking the eventual flooding of coastal cities. At the same time, “green” options at the corner store have become more common, along with organic and biodynamic foods in the grocery aisles. People talk about offsetting their carbon footprints and tracking water usage. Sustainability has become a way of life, a value system to live by.

A 2014 survey by the Glass Packaging Institute found that “Millennials feel they have more at stake than any other generation when it comes to matters of health and the environment.” As a generation, the survey found, those ages 21 to 35 were “more likely than any other age group to be concerned about serious environmental issues, but also feel that they can make a difference through lifestyle changes that can add up to benefit the environment.”

Dominating Millennial worries are the issues of climate change, protecting natural resources, and growing landfills. “Over 80 percent of Millennials say that being eco-friendly improves their quality of life, and three-fourths actively look for changes they can make in their home and lifestyle to be greener,” the report states.

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The Supply Chain: A New Opportunity for Business and Environmental Resilience

by Suzy Friedman, Environment Defense Fund
December 2016

Risk is an amazing motivator. Nobody likes feeling vulnerable – not people and not corporations. Entire industries are built around managing risk – insurance, re-insurance, diverse fields of consulting and more. Despite this fact, many companies are not facing up to a source of growing risk to their own businesses: the risks of not addressing sustainability.

In fact, the theme of this October’s World Food Day is “Climate is changing. Food and agriculture must too.” A report by Accenture in 2015 highlighted that supply chains in many nations, including the US, China, and Italy, are vulnerable to climate change.

Yet the world is relying on food and agriculture supply chains to produce much more food than they are today. The United Nation’s Food & Agriculture Organization estimates that agricultural production must rise by about 60% by 2050 in order to feed a larger population. We must meet this production need while addressing the very real problems created by agriculture’s environmental footprint. Agriculture already occupies almost 40% of the world’s land, consumes 70% of global freshwater for irrigation, and contributes one-third of global greenhouse gas emissions.

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Technology, Sustainability and Food Security

by Dr. Jayson Lusk, Oklahoma State University
November 2016

Excerpt: We largely delivered on the hopes of the 1970s to satisfy the growling stomachs of a growing world, primarily through innovation and technological development. Yet, there remain concerns about climate change, water quality, obesity, animal welfare, sustainability, and more. While there is plenty of room in the food system for smaller and more “natural” forms of agricultural production that aim to meet consumer demands and address these challenges, as our history shows, agricultural research, innovation, and entrepreneurship have also vital roles to play. Even if we choose to eschew technological progress in some areas of food and agriculture, we ought to at least leave the door open for innovation to address future food problems, even if it isn’t the complete solution.

A more optimistic, sustainable and hopeful food future is one where people are empowered to use creativity, intellect, and determined experimentation to solve today’s problems and fashion the type of future they desire. It is a future where scientists and farmers are free to innovate, and where consumers are free to adopt (or not). Not only is technological progress, practically, a way to meaningfully impact our food problems, but there are strong ethical reasons to support and perhaps even fund technological development in food.

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Collaborate and Converge: Streamlining Sustainability in Agriculture Across the Atlantic

by Ronald Hiel and Pascal Kuipers at Schuttelaar & Partners, the Netherlands
July 2016

Sustainability Insights, Ideas and OpinionsWe do not inherit the land from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children.’ 

Neither Europeans nor Americans with any sense of sustainability could possibly disagree with this slogan, printed on a postcard issued in 2015 by the U.S. Sustainability Alliance. Despite this consensus, there are differences in the pace and approach of sustainability assessment on both sides of the Atlantic. The time is right for a shared interest in converging both approaches.

In the historically fragmented old world, agriculture was the backbone of the creation of a common political and legislative framework currently known as the European Union. Today, the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy whose origins date back to the 1950’s, is still impacted by fragmentation. Within the current 28 EU member states, agriculture is characterized by a diversity of farm sizes, agricultural structures, production practices and competitive abilities. A common policy has to appeal to all, so the European Commission needs to take every member’s interest into account when designing this policy.

Compared to Europe, U.S. agricultural policy is rooted in more homogenous soil. As such, agricultural programs designed on a federal level at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), apply to all states. In the U.S. the government has a stronger impact on the way agro-environmental programs are run. The European Commission on the other hand, needs to give member states more leeway within their territory in the implementation of the agricultural guidelines it established.

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NGOs, Sustainability and the Rise of Ethical Consumerism

by Robert Blood, SIGWATCH
June 2016

It is impossible to talk about sustainability without involving campaigning organizations or NGOs. Thanks to sustained levels of campaigning, especially by groups in the environmental arena, there is now hardly a major company operating today that is not taking seriously the notion of reducing its environmental impact and trying to achieve more ethical production systems. From the international NGO networks such as Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth to national and local groups such as Générations-Futures in France, NGOs have played a major part in establishing ‘sustainability’ as a defining characteristic of premium food retailers and brands.

How much have NGOs influenced the sustainability of food production and supply? Has their influence been positive or negative? See here for an analysis by Robert Blood of SIGWatch.

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