Commentary: Farmers, ranchers dedicated to sustainability


Issue Date: January 11, 2017
By Rod Snyder
Cotton and rice are among the 10 commodities studied by Field to Market: The Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture. All 10 crops demonstrated improved environmental outcomes in nearly every key indicator.
Photo/Kathy Coatney and Photo/Ching Lee
Rod Snyder

At the core of sustainability trends and continuous improvement in agriculture are millions of individual decisions made by farmers and land managers each day.

Field to Market: The Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture recently released the third edition of its Environmental and Socioeconomic Indicators for Measuring Outcomes of On-Farm Agricultural Production in the United States (2016 National Indicators Report).

The report analyzes sustainability trends over the past 36 years in eight environmental and five socioeconomic indicators at a national level for 10 crops:

  • Barley
  • Corn for grain
  • Corn for silage
  • Cotton
  • Peanuts
  • Potatoes
  • Rice
  • Soybeans
  • Sugar beets
  • Wheat

Overall, the report reveals promising results for the sustainability of commodity agriculture, with all crops demonstrating improved environmental outcomes in nearly every key indicator. These findings indicate significant progress toward more sustainable food, feed, fiber and fuel production as a result of a variety of factors, including voluntary conservation efforts by farmers, public sector investments and technological innovation across the agriculture sector.

The 2016 National Indicators Report also provides an opportunity to focus the efforts of the food and agricultural value chain to drive improvements where they are needed most. The report's findings demonstrate there is still more work to be done to ensure continued improvements in sustainability performance for the next decade.

For several crops, long-term improvements have plateaued within the past five to 10 years, presenting both a challenge and an opportunity for the food and agriculture sector. This underscores the critical need to provide practical tools and science-based metrics to help farmers and the supply chain address environmental concerns.

One of the greatest challenges of our generation is feeding a growing world population with finite natural resources. The entire food and agriculture value chain must work together to identify important technology improvements that can address sustainability outcomes, while also promoting research on effective conservation practices and the necessary infrastructure, training and knowledge transfer to increase their adoption on farms across the country.

Field to Market will continue to offer our Fieldprint Calculator and related tools as part of our Supply Chain Sustainability Program to provide a way for farmers and the supply chain to characterize their environmental impact and identify opportunities for improvement.

By catalyzing continuous improvements at the field level, Field to Market's members are working together to drive significant and broad-scale progress nationally toward creating a more sustainable food system.

(Rod Snyder is president of Field to Market: The Alliance of Sustainable Agriculture, of which the American Farm Bureau Federation is a member. The organization is dedicated to leading a diverse alliance that joins stakeholders from all levels of the supply chain to create sustainable outcomes for agriculture. He may be contacted at sustag@fieldtomarket.org.)

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.