Potato growers are hearing from their partners throughout the supply chain that guidelines for sustainable production are in the works. When that discussion occurs, growers immediately have several visceral reactions.
First you hear, “Of course we are sustainable, we have been on the farm for four generations!” Second, “What does sustainability mean and what does it have to do with profitability?” And finally, “How in the world will I comply with several production entities who are all asking for a different set of sustainability measures?”
These are all important questions that need to be addressed by the potato industry as sustainable production becomes a part of the dialogue with processors, retailers, and consumers. In order to begin that process, the National Potato Council (NPC) is working with our members and other supply chain partners to develop guidelines based on a few key principles. The guidelines would be consistent and workable at the farm level and provide measurable results for others in the supply chain.
We are not alone in this quest for sustainability in farming practices. The Leonardo Academy, the Keystone Center, and other groups are involved in similar efforts for bigger sectors of agriculture. NPC is monitoring and participating in those efforts.
As we begin this process, it is important to answer those first key questions directly. Sustainability and economic viability have to be directly linked in any description of sustainable farming. The principles that have kept successful farming familieson the farm for generations are the core principles of sustainability. The fundamental guidelines of sustainable farming should mean doing what you have always done.
Consistency Is Key
Guidelines to measure sustainability must be consistent across the entire supply chain for the industry. Too many individual sustainability guidelines are confusing and inject unneeded costs. Workable guidelines will encourage continued progress over time and not establish bright line standards that pick winners or losers. Sustainability guidelines must reflect what farming has always been about, improved efficiency over time. Whether the benchmarks are protection of wildlife habitat, application of plant protection products, or calculation of carbon footprint, sustainability is about improving efficiency over decades, not individual growing seasons.
On a daily basis, you find innovative ways to reduce your inputs and increase your output. Yes, you will see this talked about in new terms like carbon footprinting, but at its core, this is nothing new. In the near future, growers will likely be asked to demonstrate where more energy efficient techniques are used to produce and ship their potato crop to market. By identifying these techniques, they will be able to show where they are reducing their carbon footprint over time. This is a concept growers understand and have understood since dirt was invented.