Sustainable Ag’s New Pillars: Efficiency, Precision, Technology, Generosity

As we have explored in previous posts on this site, there are many important practices that many farmers are employing and that contribute greatly to global agricultural sustainabiltiy even though they are not the first things that come to mind when the term "sustainable agriculture" is discussed.  TBL Commodities members believe deeply in these values and practice them in managing their farms and ranches.  We are also working with those building sustainability measurement systems to include these important concepts.

Sustainability is becoming an important driver for private business practices and increasingly for consumer choices as we move toward a future with more people, more distributed global wealth and finite resources.  America’s farmers and ranchers have been and remain some of the most efficient and productive producers in the world.  What has not been fully explore and quantified to date, is just how important these factors are in also preserving the environment. 

An important point to remember is that the same measures that save a farmer money on the farm: precision use of fertilizer, using genetically-enhanced seeds that provide more yield using less resources and producing highly efficient livestock; also carry with them significant environmental and social benefits. 

Part of the problem in determining what is sustainable is one of language and priorities.  For an urban consumer looking at the food system, it is not a top priority of theirs to know that farmers have saved money – even though this is an essential part of farms being able to continue to provide inexpensive food for consumers.  These consumers want to know that their food is safe and grown in a way that preserves the natural resources we all share.   Likewise for the successful farmer, protecting the environment is not something they view as a separate part of their business – but rather, it is intertwined in protecting the assets they steward.  The most successful farmers can only continue at that level if they are also protecting the environment that supports their natural resource business. 

In a very real way, urban consumers and successful farmers do share the same priorities; they merely put emphasis on different things.

Still, despite the “better than known” environmental performance of many of America’s top farmers, the challenges of 3 billion more people joining the planet in the coming decades will push all of us to do better. (Not to mention feeding the existing 7 billion that already strain our resources.)  Farmers will need to continue to look for ways to produce more using less – and to adapt to increasing resource constraints in sustainable ways.  Retailers and food companies are already beginning the process of quantifying the sustainability of their products and they will need to work diligently to make that information as transparent and understandable as possible to enable a more informed, “apples to apples” consumer choice.  

TBL Commodities will use its membership in The Sustainability Consortium to help inform and influence the measurement system being created.  By sharing our first-hand experiences with these positive practices and providing scientific research examining their outcomes; we are working to get these new pillars of agricultural sustainability quantified and included as preferential options for meeting sustainability goals.

We believe that something as important as the future measurement and assessment of our industry is worth investing time and some resources to influence.  If you feel the same, we welcome your support and participation.

For more information about joining TBL Commodities, please contact Sara Harper at sharper@clarkgroupllc.com

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