By Elizabeth Westendorf
A rapidly emerging food marketing trend is the concept of “sustainable production.” Sustainability is not clearly defined and therefore means something different to each participant in the value chain. The stakes are high in this game for industry impact and environmental protection, and this creates challenges for producers. U.S. farmers are committed to continuous improvement, and that is why U.S. wheat industry organizations are actively engaged in relevant sustainability initiatives.
For example, the National Association of Wheat Growers (NAWG) is a member of Field To Market®: The Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture, a coalition focused on “promoting, defining and measuring the sustainability of food, fiber and fuel production.”
Field to Market pioneered a “fieldprint calculator,” which allows farmers to input information about their operations, compare themselves to others and track improvement over time. Many Field to Market members are involved in fieldprint projects in regions where food companies source ingredients for their products. Field to Market has also produced two national indicator reports assessing sustainability trends for wheat, corn, cotton, potatoes, rice and soybeans. U.S.Wheat Associates (USW) attended a Field to Market plenary session held in Washington, DC, earlier this year and saw how both food companies and farmers are working to decrease their environmental impact while producing high quality, reliable food supplies.
Internationally, questions about production practices have led USW to join the U.S. Sustainability Alliance (USSA), a group of American agricultural organizations committed to responsible resource management. USSA works to inform international customers about current U.S. efforts in sustainability. As customers worldwide take a greater interest in how their food is produced, it has become more important to share what U.S. farmers have been doing for generations.
For most people in U.S. agriculture, sustainability is second nature, even if we do not refer to it that way. Farmers have built it into production habits and best management practices, but rarely talked about it until recently. Sustainability is incorporated into conservation programs, incentivizing improvements on highly erodible land, reducing soil loss or encouraging nutrient management plans for farmers. Sustainability is also about smart business — using more efficient production methods to reduce inputs while increasing yields. Purchasers and consumers see agricultural practices, including precision applications, minimum tillage and cover crops, as sustainable methods that not only help protect the environment, but can also increase a farmer’s bottom line.
In pursuit of sustainability, NAWG and USW believe there is no finish line. Sustainability is about applying innovations that contribute to continuous improvement, for both customer needs and farmer profitability. It is a thread that connects farmer action, government policy and scientific innovation to ensure healthy ecosystems for future generations. It requires new ideas and approaches to perennial problems, and there is no one right answer.
NAWG and USW are working to address sustainability every day by helping to create industry conversations and meet domestic and overseas customers’ evolving needs. A key part of our engagement in sustainability is telling the critical story of what U.S. wheat farmers are doing today that contributes to a productive future in agriculture and the food industry.