There's a set of criteria for sustainable agriculture that's being developed. Will your voice be in that discussion?
Right now it does not seem likely. Food retailers, major ag input suppliers, and seemingly every group in between are jockeying to write these future sustainability rules for agriculture. Wal-Mart already has a written guideline for its suppliers, as do other retailers. Land grant colleges, integrated pest management groups have also tried to get their two cents in. Organic groups like Rodale Institute have had a free run on this topic, says Michael Doane, vice president for sustainable agriculture at Monsanto. "They've been able to claim right or wrong that organic is sustainable over the past five years, without any objection."
Groups like the Sustainable Agriculture Initiative have declared it is the "main food industry initiative supporting the development of sustainable agriculture worldwide." Unfortunately, the group's membership is made up of companies like McDonalds and Kellogg's. There are no producers or farm organizations in the membership.
Wal-Mart set up a 'sustainability consortium,' and companies like Monsanto have joined - they really don't have much choice, says Doane. This consortium will create a scorecard for every product that goes through every retailer. That 'measuring stick' will reach all the way back through their supply lines and be designed to help consumers understand how the product was produced and what environmental challenges were met.
Membership in the consortium costs $100,000 per year with a three year commitment. Of the 65 members of the consortium, only a handful are agricultural corporations. About 10, including Kellogg's and Cargill, are what you might call food companies. Mainstream agriculture had been participating but pulled out, says Doane.
"That's very concerning," he adds. "If we do nothing, the field will be filled for us by those of us who have a very narrow, different view of sustainable agriculture than the criteria we may want from commercial agriculture.
"What I've found from working with these groups is, they don't know what you (farmers) do," he adds. "What they do care about is marketing sustainability to consumers. What gets lost is practical consideration in agriculture production techniques."
This won't impact you this year or even next year, Doane concludes. "But you will be dealing with this as a management issue ten years from now. You can count on it."