USDA Awards Huge Sustainability Grant

On behalf of the Stewardship Index for Specialty Crops, Jeff Dlott of SureHarvest announced this week that his company will receive a $630,000 USDA grant to pilot test emerging metrics for sustainability performance of specialty crop production.

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“These funds represent an important investment by USDA to increase adoption of conservation practices by creating a standard set of metrics for growers and agrifood companies to assess their sustainability performance, find greater efficiencies and cost reduction opportunities, and win recognition in the marketplace for sustainability performance,” said Dlott.

The grant will boost the work already under way by the more than 200 growers, food companies, and trade associations involved in the Stewardship Index for Specialty Crops, said Hank Giclas, vice president of science and technology for Western Growers, a key collaborator in the Stewardship Index for Specialty Crops. “With these resources, we will proceed to pilot test the metrics with participating growers, shippers, distributors, food processors and retailers,” Giclas said.

The USDA Conservation Innovation Grant will be used to complete draft metrics for air quality, biodiversity and habitat, community, energy, human resources, plant nutrients, packaging, pesticides, soil quality, waste, water quality, and water use that will quantifystewardship performance or outcomes (e.g. units of energy used per yield of harvest).

The metrics will then be pilot tested to demonstrate that using sustainability metrics can improve conservation performance and provide value to supply chain participants by communicating meaningful data to buyers. The money will also be used to design an industry-wide consensus on an online tool and data management system for voluntary data collection, aggregation and standardized reporting.

“Getting industry-wide agreement on how to measure sustainability is a win for everyone,” stated Jonathan Kaplan, senior policy specialist for the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). “The Stewardship Index will help operators find greater efficiencies, demonstrate actual progress in meeting sustainability goals, and enable all participants, at any performance level, to join the process.”

Founded in December, the Stewardship Index Specialty Crops (www.stewardshipindex.org) is a multi-stakeholder initiative to develop a system for measuring sustainable performance throughout the specialty crop supply chain. The collaborative includes over 200 stakeholders from every sector of the food supply chain working together to develop metrics in nine different resource areas for measuring sustainable outcomes. SureHarvest will administer the USDA grant, along with Western Growers and NRDC.

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Avatar for Anonymous Anonymous says:

Creating a standard set of metrics for assessing sustainability performance is an exercise that will undoubtedly require a large number of value judgements that will ultimately be influenced by interest groups lobbying for their preferred outcomes. For example, arid land agriculture requires relatively few pesticides compared to eastern US agriculture, but the former has huge impacts on river flows and all that is affected by water in an arid environment. Who will ultimately decide how to weight the trade-off between pesticide use and water use, between local production and cross-country transport? Looking at the website for SureHarvest (grower customer list, etc.) leads me to suspect that this grant will fund an outcome strongly biased toward large-scale arid-land agriculture. I hope I will be proven wrong!

Avatar for Anonymous Anonymous says:

Don’t worry Dave, the NRDC says this “… is a win for everyone”. I know that sure makes me feel better!

Avatar for Anonymous Anonymous says:

Creating a standard set of metrics for assessing sustainability performance is an exercise that will undoubtedly require a large number of value judgements that will ultimately be influenced by interest groups lobbying for their preferred outcomes. For example, arid land agriculture requires relatively few pesticides compared to eastern US agriculture, but the former has huge impacts on river flows and all that is affected by water in an arid environment. Who will ultimately decide how to weight the trade-off between pesticide use and water use, between local production and cross-country transport? Looking at the website for SureHarvest (grower customer list, etc.) leads me to suspect that this grant will fund an outcome strongly biased toward large-scale arid-land agriculture. I hope I will be proven wrong!

Avatar for Anonymous Anonymous says:

Don’t worry Dave, the NRDC says this “… is a win for everyone”. I know that sure makes me feel better!