Agriculture’s role in creating a more sustainable future
Producing enough food, fiber and fuel for more than nine billion people by 2050, while conserving natural resources is a challenge that has become increasingly complex.
In the next 35 years, experts predict that we’ll need to double agricultural production to keep pace with population growth, changing diets and increasing demand. And farmers will have to meet this challenge in the face of a changing climate with increasingly extreme weather patterns.
While the agricultural community faces big risks due to climate change, there are also major opportunities to embrace practices that make our farming system more resilient while also reducing greenhouse gases and impacts on the climate.
As stewards of more than half the land and water resources in the United States, farmers must be involved in the development of solutions to address environmental concerns including climate change.
Many practices that farmers adopt on their land, such as conservation tillage; precision agriculture; advanced nutrient management; cover crops; and buffer strips, deliver multiple benefits in the form of cleaner water, increased wildlife habitat, reduced soil erosion, and reduced greenhouse gas emissions.
In fact, trends in data demonstrate that U.S. farmers have significantly improved their efficiency and reduced environmental impacts over the past several decades due to a variety of factors including technology adoption and increased investment in conservation. But we also know that more can be done.
Risk management is a way of life for farmers. Long before climate change was understood in scientific terms, farmers have had to deal with the vagaries of the weather as a primary factor affecting their business. As science has advanced and data becomes more accessible, farmers now have the ability to manage these risks more effectively than ever before and can pursue strategies and techniques that help them become more resilient.
But this is not just the farmer’s fight. Climate change poses a material risk to the agricultural value chain as a whole, which necessitates collective action to this shared environmental challenge. Many companies, when assessing their environmental footprint, discover that the majority of their impact and risk lies outside of the four walls of their operations and resides upstream in their supply chain.
As leading companies set very public targets on improved environmental outcomes for their supply chains, it is essential to not only send a market signal upstream but to partner with suppliers and agricultural producers to achieve these goals.
At Field to Market, a number of food companies are directly engaging with their supply chains in a pre-competitive fashion to partner with growers on a journey of continuous improvement. With nearly 30 Fieldprint projects in more than 20 states across the country, Field to Market members are helping to create a space for learning and innovation, catalyzing continuous improvement at the field and landscape levels.
From General Mills and Kellogg’s working with producers of grain for their cereals to PepsiCo and The Coca-Cola Company engaging corn farmers that help produce sweeteners for their beverages, companies across the food and agriculture value chain are collaborating pre-competitively to make our food system more resilient and improve its environmental impact.
Field to Market is working to provide information to farmers about how their management choices impact key environmental outcomes. Through the Fieldprint® Calculator, farmers have the opportunity to index their agronomic practices to determine a sustainability score and benchmark their performance against local, state and national averages.
Armed with this knowledge, farmers can identify opportunities for improvement and engage trusted agronomic advisors on what conservation practices or technology they might adopt to help improve their environmental performance while increasing productivity and profitability.
As fewer and fewer Americans are involved in the business of farming, it can become more difficult to communicate how crops make their way from the fields and into our kitchens, as well as the environmental tradeoffs that are required.
As more food companies take on the role of establishing sustainable sourcing partnerships within their supply chains, we can not only better explain to consumers how food is grown, but also make the entire system more sustainable in the long run. In the end, this kind of unparalleled collaboration and transparency leads to reduced climate impacts and more productive and profitable farming communities. And those are results worth celebrating.