What is in this article?:
- Big food companies make moves to source sustainably
- Calculating footprints
- Tillage decision
Field to Market: The Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture is seeing more clearly the need for and value of sustainable crop production.
Farmers can create their own farm Fieldprint with the Field to Market online calculator tool, allowing them to enhance on-farm sustainability by looking at a range of factors.
Determining a product’s “footprint” is very important to General Mills, says Jerry Lynch, the company’s chief sustainability officer, adding, “About two-thirds of our carbon footprint and 99% of our water footprint are in the raw materials we source.”
Field to Market has developed the Fieldprint Calculator (fieldtomarket.org/fieldprint-calculator) for corn, soybean, wheat, cotton, rice, potato and, in the near future, alfalfa growers. This calculator estimates field performance on the following sustainability indicators: land use, conservation, soil loss, irrigation water applied, water quality, energy use (number of equipment passes over a field, for example) and greenhouse gas emissions.
The grower enters his or her management data into the calculator, and these data (which remain confidential) are analyzed and transformed into a Fieldprint. Developed with the assistance of the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, the Fieldprint helps growers see how efficiencies and environmental impacts fluctuate based on their management decisions. It takes into account their respective production practices since a one-size-fits-all approach does not work. It also allows growers to compare with others on local, state and national levels, based on publically available data.
Between 350 and 400 growers in eight states are involved in 13 pilot projects, says Fred Luckey, chairman, Field to Market: The Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture. Between 134,000 and 140,000 acres are currently being “Fieldprinted.”
These pilot projects are supported by Field to Market member-organizations and growers. Bunge and Kellogg Co., for example, have been working the past five years with corn growers in Nebraska to produce the corn used in Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes more sustainably.
During the last two years, General Mills has been working with 25 wheat growers in Idaho’s Snake River Valley. These growers produce potatoes, sugarbeets and barley in rotation with wheat, which is also helping to provide useful information on the impacts of crop rotation on natural resources.
Lynch notes that the Idaho growers have made improvements in water stewardship through the use of variable-rate irrigation technologies. “These growers recognize water as their asset base.”
This can also help them reduce energy costs associated with running irrigation pumps and other equipment.
“We intend to continue working with growers who use the Fieldprint Calculator and expand the program to other regions,” Lynch says, adding that participating growers see the economic benefits of environmental efficiency. “We’re confident that more growers, who are managing pennies to the bushel, are going to be interested.” He encourages them to visit the Field to Market website.
Sustainably sourcing 100% of 10 priority commodities by 2020 is a tall order. Lynch says, “We understand that a lot of work has to be done yet. But we’ll understand more as we get more geographies under our belt. We’re committed to reaching our goals.”
This optimism is fueled by the contributions of crop input companies, grower organizations, processors, retailers, environmental groups and the public sector to the Field to Market program.
Collaboration is important, agrees Jennifer Shaw, head, Sustainable Sourcing Solutions, Syngenta North America. Because Field to Market participants use similar metrics, information can be aggregated to represent a geography from which a commodity is being sourced, she explains.
Syngenta has been working with several of its AgriEdge Excelsior growers in the Field to Market program. In 2010, it established a pilot project with a group of growers in the South who were producing corn, soybeans, wheat and cotton.
Growers accessed Field to Market metrics within their farm software, resulting in considerable time-savings, Shaw says. “From what we learned on that project, we then partnered with General Mills and the group of growers in Idaho.”
This project is still in its early stages, and the companies are collecting grower feedback. “Growers appreciate that we’re not telling them how to farm,” Shaw says, adding that the partners are focused on low-cost, pragmatic approaches to sustainably producing commodity crops. They want to avoid incurring extra costs and complexity. “The value must exceed the cost of doing this,” she says.