Marty Matlock 2015-04-29 01:28:50
Editor’s note: This is the third article in a four-part series on the role of agricultural and biological engineers in sustainable agriculture. The first two articles appeared in the March/April 2014 and May/June 2014 issues of Resource. Cattle ranchers in the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso do Sul are signing agreements with Marfrig Global Foods and JBS to ensure zero deforestation and to protect wetlands from cattle production in the region. The Pantanal, located in the Mato Grosso region, is the world’s largest contiguous tropical wetland region, but cattle grazing operations are damaging it. Meanwhile, soybean farmers in Iowa and other states are using the U.S. Soybean Sustainability Assurance Protocol to certify that their crops are continuously improving across key performance indicators, including greenhouse gas emissions, energy use efficiency, and soil erosion. These are just two examples of how producers and other contributors to the agricultural supply chain in the U.S. and around the world are adopting sustainability programs for their enterprises. Rarely is a premium paid for sustainable products, yet the rate of implementation of sustainability schemes in agriculture is increasing. Why are farmers and corporations developing sustainability-based management strategies? The reason is simple: sustainable thinking is good business! Sustainability is no longer considered an external burden on agricultural producers; instead, it has become recognized as an internal advantage. Agricultural sustainability, as described in the previous articles of this series, is the process of continuous improvement across key performance indicators (KPIs). The goals for continuous improvement include increasing efficiency, decreasing impacts, and implementation of more informed strategies for managing risks. The internal advantages for producers who engage in a systems approach to thinking about their operations are increased efficiency, which leads to less cost per unit production, and decreased impact on the environment, which reduces risk to the freedom to operate for the producer. The three axioms of sustainability are that everything is connected, everything is changing, and we are all in this together. The rate of change experienced across the entire agricultural production and value chain over the past ten years has been a foreshadowing of things to come. Just a few of the changes faced by today’s agricultural producers include: increased volatility of the costs of inputs and the value of products, increasing customer expectations for highquality products, unprecedented demands for information on how agricultural products are produced, and climate patterns that defy experience and history, resulting in record droughts, floods, heat, and cold. Agricultural producers understand that sustainability is a journey, not a destination. A system might be sustainable for hundreds of years, yet fail very quickly due to changes that likely were not caused by the production system itself. Agricultural value chain enterprises, from growers to processors to retailers, have learned that in a rapidly changing and increasingly interconnected supply system, resiliency is the key to survival. In a recent article in The Geographical Journal, Marc Welsh defined resiliency as “the capacity of the entity to anticipate, adapt to, and recover from the event such that it resumes its original configuration, shape, functional relationships, or trajectory” after some disruptive event or change. Sustainable management is the process of anticipating and adapting to risks that are knowable and building resiliency against risks that are unknown but anticipatable. In a recent presentation at the World Nutrition Forum in Munich, Jason Clay, senior vice-president of the World Wildlife Fund and a leader in partnering agricultural sustainability with wildlife conservation, summed it up nicely: “The issue is not what to think, the issue is how to think!” Agricultural producers who want to remain successful in the future will have to think differently in order to increase the resilience of their operations. Informing resilient strategies across complex systems requires exploring the opposing poles that create the tensions and tradeoffs between elements. The form of synthesis strategy used in sustainability is the multi-stakeholder initiative (MSI), in which representatives within the supply chain, and representatives of interests outside the supply chain, work together to explore the range of perspectives regarding the system. This process, if properly constructed and moderated, can create a new synthesis of understanding of the common problems facing agricultural production and opportunities for change throughout the system. A number of agricultural sustainability MSIs have been convened in the past decade. Two of the most successful agricultural MSIs, as measured by their relative influence on supply chain decisions, have been Field to Market: The Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture (www.fieldtomarket.org) and the Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef (GRSB, http://grsbeef. org). Field to Market has been developing and analyzing KPIs and benchmarks for U.S. row crop agriculture for the past eight years, while GRSB is a relatively new global initiative for beef producers. The Field to Market initiative Field to Market was developed as an MSI to work with the entire row crop value chain to develop strategies and implement plans to meet the needs of future generations and promote an economically viable agricultural production system. Field to Market established the following five goals as the focus for its sustainability efforts: 1. Reduce pressure on habitat and other land use demands. 2. Increase resource use efficiency of energy, water, fertilizer, soil, and other agricultural inputs. 3. Enhance water quality and other natural resources. 4. Contribute to the economic vitality of agricultural communities. 5. Protect the health and safety of workers and consumers. Field to Market activities have included benchmarking KPIs at the sector (national crop) level using publically available data, helping producers find opportunities for continuous improvement at the field and landscape level through pilot studies, and enabling supply chain sourcing claims through the process of transparent data collection and analysis. Field to Market has also created a suite of environmental and socio-economic KPIs for U.S. row crop producers. The environmental KPIs include: • Greenhouse gas emissions • Energy use • Water use • Land use • Water quality • Nutrient use efficiency • Habitat and biodiversity. The socio-economic KPIs include: • Debt to asset ratio • Returns over variable costs • On-farm fatalities and non-fatality injury • Labor hours • Contribution to national GDP. The GRSB initiative GRSB was established by beef producers and supply chain customers to advance continuous improvement in global beef value chain sustainability through leadership, science, and multi-stakeholder engagement and collaboration. As with Field to Market, GRSB was not established to set standards for sustainability certification but rather to provide a framework for discussions of sustainable beef that can be established at national roundtables. In 2014, GRSB developed and approved a set of five principles, each with a list of supporting criteria, to provide a baseline definition for the common framework. Principle 1: Natural resources 1. Environmental stewardship is attained through adaptive management and monitoring to achieve continuous improvement. 2. Practices are implemented to improve air quality. 3. Net greenhouse gas emissions are minimized on a per unit of product basis. 4. Native forests, grasslands, and other ecosystems are protected from conversion and degradation. 5. Land management practices conserve and enhance the health of ecosystems. 6. Water resources (including quality and quantity) are managed responsibly and efficiently. 7. Soil health is maintained or improved. 8. Native plant and animal biological diversity is maintained or enhanced. 9. Where available, feed sources are sustainably produced. Principle 2: People and the community 1. Human rights are respected in accordance with the United Nations’ Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights through policies, regulation, and due diligence. 2. Business is conducted with integrity, in compliance with applicable laws and regulations. 3. A safe and healthy work culture is adopted and supported. 4. Employment provides the legal minimum wage where applicable, and opportunities for career development where possible. 5. The cultural heritage and way of life of all parties are recognized and respected throughout the value chain. 6. Land and property rights are acknowledged and respected throughout the value chain. Principle 3: Animal health and well-being 1. Adequate feed and water are provided to meet cattle’s physiological needs. 2. Animal caretakers provide cattle with health care to control and treat disease. 3. All veterinary pharmaceuticals and vaccines are used responsibly and in accordance with labeling. 4. Appropriate action is taken to minimize undue pain, injury, and disease. 5. Good animal welfare is ensured, including the freedom for cattle to express normal patterns of behavior. 6. Stocking density, air quality, and surfaces are conducive to good health and normal behavior and minimize physical discomfort. 7. Transport and handling procedures are consistent with guidelines of the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE). 8. Animal welfare procedures at processing plants are in line with the OIE terrestrial animal health code. Principle 4: Food 1. Food safety is ensured through the development, adoption, documentation, maintenance, and (where applicable) third-party validation of practices throughout the value chain. 2. Beef quality is ensured through the adoption, documentation, maintenance, and validation of management systems throughout the value chain. 3. Information should be shared both up and down the value chain to provide opportunities for participants to improve their businesses, while respecting confidentiality. 4. Food waste is reduced throughout the value chain, reusing and recycling wherever practicable. Principle 5: Efficiency and innovation 1. Cattle are selected and managed to continually optimize available resources and suit their environment, while meeting market demand and consumer preferences. 2. Waste is reduced and opportunities to reuse and recycle are maximized throughout the value chain. 3. Product value and carcass utilization are maximized throughout the value chain. 4. Water and land resources are managed throughout the value chain to ensure responsible and efficient use. 5. Energy use is optimized for efficiency and productivity throughout the value chain. 6. Feed and forage use is optimized for production and welfare goals throughout the production chain. 7. Pharmaceuticals, nutrients, and chemicals are used safely and responsibly, optimizing efficiency and productivity throughout the value chain. 8. Beef value chain stakeholders continually innovate and responsibly use technologies and leading practices to adapt to changes in climate, resource, and market conditions. 9. Sustainable beef production is enhanced through education, extension, and partnerships where appropriate opportunities exist. This approach was developed in order to provide maximum adaptability for the diversity of beef production systems around the world. Development of region-specific indicators will require national, regional, or even local MSIs to develop priorities based on the principles defined by GRSB. Sustainability in the private sector Manufacturers and retailers of food and agricultural consumer package goods have learned through process failures over the past ten years that the safety, security, and stability of their product supply chains depend on knowing where their products come from, how they are made, and how they are being managed. The private sector has developed strategies for sourcing sustainable agricultural products in direct response to these challenges. For example, Walmart, the largest consumer retailer in the world, and Unilever, the largest processor and manufacturer of consumer package food goods in the world (over 400 brands), have both adopted strategies to promote agricultural sustainability in their supply chains. Walmart began collaborating with its suppliers and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), such as Conservation International and the Environmental Defense Fund, to enhance awareness among its customers of agricultural yields, greenhouse gas emissions, and water usage in order to drive adoption of agricultural best practices. Walmart’s primary goals with respect to sustainable agriculture are: 1. Produce more food with fewer resources. 2. Optimize fertilizer use. 3. Support farmers and their communities. 4. Sustainably source key food commodities. Unilever launched its sustainability plan in 2010 based on a “compass” strategy to set the company on a constant path toward making sustainable living commonplace. Unilever’s sustainability vision is to “double the size of the business, while reducing our environmental footprint and increasing our positive social impact.” Unilever established the following goals for 2020: 1. Improving human health and well-being, with a target of positively impacting one billion people. 2. Reducing environmental impacts by half while doubling the size of Unilever. 3. Enhancing livelihoods by sourcing 100% of agricultural raw materials sustainably. These two examples illustrate that sustainability is becoming an integral part of the strategic thinking and planning of private enterprises across the agricultural supply chain. The demand to become more resilient in the face of changing production environments is driving producers to adopt sustainability frameworks. At the same time, manufacturers and retailers of food and agriculture consumer package goods have recognized that they must be engaged in quality control across the entire supply chain in order to protect their reputations. The fact is, everything is connected, everything is changing, and we are all in this together. ASABE Member Marty Matlock, P.E., Professor, Department of Biological Engineering, and Executive Director, Office for Sustainability, University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, USA, firstname.lastname@example.org.
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