LAST SUMMER, when mega-retailer Walmart announced plans to develop a worldwide sustainable product index, American businesses got the clear message that the topic of sustainability isn't going away. Walmart asked its 100,000 suppliers to respond to a 15-question survey that assessed their sustainability efforts.

Sustainability is something agribusinesses will have to address, too. That was the message at the Minnesota Agri-Growth Council 42nd Annual Meeting held last month in Minneapolis, where the theme was “Sustaining a strong future for the food and agriculture industry.”

Definitions of sustainability vary. But keynote speaker Gene Kahn, vice president of sustainable development for General Mills, broadly defined it as “managing and conserving our natural and human resources to meet the needs of present and future generations.”

“Sustainability is a broad cultural trend that isn't going away,” Kahn says. “It is a critical time, and farmers must take the lead in assessing the environmental impacts of agriculture.”

So how do we do that? First, producers should inform consumers about the environmental protection practices they have adopted, such as conservation tillage. Second, they need to own up to problems, such as the over- or misapplication of crop inputs, and take steps to correct them. “We must own our negative impacts to build credibility and trust,” Kahn says.

To hear more about what you can do to improve your sustainability index, see our video recap at farmindustrynews.com.