Building trust in food begins with empowering farmers through one of the largest and most diverse conservation- and sustainability-focused public-private partnerships in our nation’s history: America’s Conservation Ag Movement. To find the latest news and resources related to the Movement, visit AgWeb.com/ACAM.
Today’s consumer wants to know how their food is grown and raised. They are asking specific questions. The conversations are lasting longer.
“Words like safe, healthy and local were words that used to come to the top of the list of what consumers wanted farmers to be,” says Emily Johannes, director of sustainability for K-Coe Isom, referencing a 2019 Cargill survey. “Now they want us to be sustainable. They aren’t saying they want us to all be organic or all plant-based protein – this is a huge opportunity for us to be who we want to be.”
Farmers know how to be sustainable, she argues. In fact, they’ve been talking about it at coffee shops for decades. She advises farmers to focus on what really matters – looking at balance sheets, inputs, making the right choices year after year.
“Sustainability doesn’t happen overnight. It’s an every day, every night, every season, every harvest, every year kind of thing,” she says. “Getting started is key. Waiting is not going to help you anymore. It’s not going away.”
Does it Make Cents?
When it comes to pursuing sustainability, economics is everything, Johannes says. Sustainability is all about implementing continuous improvements in a business, so it must make financial sense.
“Economics enables decisionmaking that we need to make a technology investment. We can’t make those decisions lightly,” she adds.
Technology is lacking when it comes to sustainability practices, notes Justin Sherrard, global protein strategist for Rabobank’s Raboresearch Food and Agribusiness team.
“We are going to see plenty of change in animal-based agriculture over the years ahead, and we need technology to be a part of that change,” he says.
Livestock producers need to consider how technology can be implemented to improve productivity, reduce labor needs, help identify potential illness in the herd/flock, improve gut health and feed efficiency, provide an optimal environment for animal comfort, reduce risk of water pollution, and more, he says.
“There is much that technology can and should do in animal-based agriculture, but I feel we are lagging too far behind crop farmers when it comes to the development and deployment of technology,” Sherrard adds.
See the Positive
Rather than resisting to change or distrusting technology, Aidan Connolly, chief executive officer of Cainthus and president of AgriTech Capital, suggests asking this question: Is it better for the employees, animals, consumers and environment?
“A lot of times it feels these demands are not fair and are being pushed onto both farmers and those on the supply side. This probably reflects the fact consumers don’t understand farming. It’s hard to accept what is being imposed and see the positive, but it’s funny how often you can,” Connolly says. "Before reacting negatively and saying why we can’t do it, think about what can be done and, in the end, is it actually good for business?”
Future-Proof Your Farm
Want to stay ahead of the value chain’s demands for transparency? Connolly shares five steps you can take today:
1. Keep secure, written, records of on-farm practices, including conservation practices such as cover crops, conservation tillage, nutrient management and precision technology.
2. Research the products you use on your farm.
3. Develop a waste management plan that includes recycling practices or waste reductions.
4. Monitor and record your annual fuel usage and any reductions in consumption over time.
5. Monitor your water use and record the use of any moisture sensors or precision irrigation tools.
To find the latest on sustainable food systems and conservation ag, visit AgWeb.com/ACAM.
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