Opinion: Part Of Being Sustainable Is To Be Transparent With Consumers

Rosemary GordonWhen the term “sustainability” became a part of everyday conversations, many of the growers I talked to provided specifics on what they were doing to be “sustainable” — whether it was using new technology, choosing varieties that better withstand environmental stressors, etc.

A few years ago, I visited the Michigan operation of a large potato grower, Black Gold Farms, and sustainability was one of the main topics discussed. The farm’s CEO Gregg Halverson told me that in order to be sustainable, crop protectants, fertilizers, etc. — which are necessary components to farming operations — must be used in ways that communicate to consumers that growers are being good stewards of the land.

Why? Because more and more consumers want to know that the food they purchase is safe and was produced in an environmentally friendly way.

So if you are conducting experiments to determine how to use less water by using more efficient delivery methods, implementing practices to increase efficiencies, or doing something else entirely, tell your story. Become transparent.

Sustainability is about preserving a livelihood. Recently I was speaking with a grower in Florida who also is striving to become more sustainable and is looking at ways to reduce crop inputs. Growers tackling this effort need to determine a viable course of action to cut costs while ensuring customers continue to receive a superior product. To achieve the desired outcome, that means conducting numerous trials using various products to figure out which ones will provide the necessary results.

Growers striving to be sustainable also must stay on top of the latest technology. For example, the Strawberry Advisory System (SAS) at the University of Florida was developed to help reduce yield losses as a result of weather-related fungal disease pressure. Instead of using the calendar to determine when to spray, the web-based SAS uses the duration of leaf wetness and temperatures during the wetness period in the field to predict conditions that would contribute to the spread of disease. In essence, the technology can help reduce crop losses and fungicide use, both efforts in sustainability.

What story do you need to tell? How are you being transparent with consumers? Send me an email or tweet and tell me about your efforts. Who knows, you may be on to something that may be critical to the future of sustainable vegetable production.

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