Author Archives: Suzy Friedman

Organic or conventional. Which production system can feed the world sustainably?

suzy_friedman_277x387Organic. Conventional. Locally grown. And the list goes on. The seemingly age-old debate of what system can best feed and sustain the planet is again at the front of my mind on National Ag Day.

When I spoke at a recent Food Entrepreneurship Symposium event at Princeton University, an audience member asked me if organic is the best path forward to feed the planet sustainably. At Commodity Classic in New Orleans earlier this month, I spoke with growers about whether conventional ag is the way to feed a growing population.

My answer: there is no silver bullet when it comes to sustainable agriculture. There is no single system, no one-size-fits-all prescription that can solve our food security and environmental sustainability challenges.

That’s why we cannot afford to shut the door on any idea, or on any system of food production. Here’s how organic and conventional compare on yields and environmental impacts, and why we need both systems, local and global production, and big and small farms in order to protect food security and the planet. Read More »

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Meet the farmer who helped make no-till the norm in north central Montana

mattson-logoApproximately 56 percent of all corn, soy, wheat, and cotton farms use strip-tillage or no-till on at least a portion of their land. No-till, as defined by experts at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, means “limiting soil disturbance to manage the amount and distribution of crop and plant residue on the soil surface year round.” Strip tillage, meaning soil disturbance occurs on 30 percent or less of the field, also qualifies as no-till.

No-till is a widely recognized conservation practice that can help growers maximize soil health. The practice works best when implemented year after year and combined with other conservation measures like fertilizer efficiency and cover crops (wherever geography permits). There are myriad benefits for farmers and the planet, but barriers still exist.

That’s why I’m so amazed by a no-till adoption rate of 90 percent in north central Montana.

I talked with Carl Mattson, Montana grain grower and an agricultural policy and conservation consultant, about why he made the switch to no-till, why he was an early adopter of the practice, why so many farmers in his region use no-till, and what he sees as other obstacles to the future of sustainable farming. Read More »

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Nature inspired my career in conservation, but farmers and family keep me going

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My husband and 10-year old twins – keeping me dedicated to a sustainable future.

Whether I’m out shopping, preparing a meal for my husband and 10 year-old twins, or visiting a farm with one of our agricultural partners, I’m continually reminded of why I’m so passionate about agriculture. The food supply chain touches all parts of our lives, and my job gives me the opportunity to make sure the farm to plate journey is as sustainable as possible.

Growing up in Connecticut, I spent a lot of time exploring the outdoors and I’ve always had a deep love for animals. Although most of my time in nature is now spent protecting it, I still find the time to run outside every morning before I wake up my kids. Along with all of the farmers and partners I work with, my children – and their cousins (also twins, born on the same exact day as mine) – are the ones keeping me dedicated to building a sustainable future.

Here’s why I couldn’t imagine working anywhere else. Read More »

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Why the sustainable agriculture glass is half full

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Suzy Friedman, Director of Agricultural Sustainability at EDF

I’ve been working to promote and implement sustainable agriculture practices for nearly 15 years. But the last two years have seen more action and momentum in this space than in all of the previous 13 years combined – and I’m more enthusiastic than ever.

Let me be clear – we still have a long way to go. As a USDA report released at the Paris climate talks noted, warming temperatures pose a significant threat to agriculture and food security across the globe. And, despite technological advancements, the multimillion-dollar question of how we’re going to measure and quantify sustainable agriculture remains.

But a new progress report from the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), also released last week in Paris, reaffirms my optimism and excitement. We’re headed in the right direction, and sustainable agriculture is on its way to becoming the norm. Here’s why. Read More »

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How “plant doctor” Dan Sonke is making Campbell Soups’ ingredients greener

Dan Sonke, Manager of Ag Sustainability at Campbell Soup.

Dan Sonke, Manager of Agricultural Sustainability at Campbell Soup.

The Campbell Soup Company, along with a growing number of major food companies, is taking action to implement and support sustainable agriculture measures. It’s in their best interest to decrease the risk of supply chain disruptions.

Plus, there’s increasing consumer demand for transparency. A new report from the Chicago Council on Global Affairs found that 78 percent of Americans are interested in how their food is produced.

I asked Dan Sonke, manager of agricultural sustainability at Campbell’s, to explain how his company is working with farmers to reduce environmental impacts, why they’re working with Environmental Defense Fund, and about the unprecedented demand he’s seeing for sustainable grain. Read More »

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Sustainability and profitability go hand-in-hand, says Iowa corn farmer

TimRichter

Tim Richter, owner of Saratoga Partnership.

Farming is a tough business. With constantly changing crop prices, difficult to predict and increasingly extreme weather variations, and changing consumer demands, growers don’t have an easy time of it.

Like any business, profitability is the number one priority. And it should be – if you are not profitable, it’s very hard to stay in business.

All the growers I’ve worked with care deeply about their land. In a recent survey of a group of Midwestern farmers, “land stewardship” ranked as their top value. And sustainability is in a farmers’ best interest since healthy lands plays a huge role in whether farms will be around – and productive – for the next generation. But making agriculture truly sustainable will require investment from farmers.

Here’s the good news: sustainability and profitability can go hand-in-hand. Efficiencies like fertilizer optimization can result in cost savings. And with those savings, growers can invest in new technologies and cover crops, which can help make farms more resilient and increase yields, generating long term economic gain.

I asked Tim Richter, owner of a swine and corn farm operation spanning 9,000 acres in northern Iowa and Missouri, to tell me his profitability and sustainability story. Read More »

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More reasons to embrace food sustainability

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Credit: Flickr user Ruben Holthuijsen

There is no shortage of news about the contamination of drinking water sources caused by fertilizer run-off from agriculture. And there is no shortage of regulatory responses to these events: Ohio and Michigan’s commitment to reduce phosphorus levels in Lake Erie by 40 percent; the nitrate lawsuit in Des Moines, Iowa, and Monday’s ruling on the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to enforce total maximum daily load specifications for the Chesapeake Bay.

In addition, food companies wanting to source sustainably grown grains to meet that consumer demand and reduce their own supply chain risks are sending the same signal, further shining the spotlight on the growing demand for improved environmental outcomes from how we produce food.

If farmers can help meet these demands by being increasingly efficient with nutrients and protecting their soils, they will see nearer term benefits and possibly stem future regulations. Here’s why:

Read More »

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Campbell’s Soup expands its fertilizer optimization programs

220px-Campbell_Soup_Company_logo.svgThere’s a new reason to celebrate your favorite sugar cookie. The Campbell Soup Company has committed to fertilizer optimization in its sourcing areas in Ohio and Nebraska. These areas provide wheat for Campbell’s subsidiary, Pepperidge Farm – and the company will enroll an additional 70,000 acres into its fertilizer optimization programs by 2020.

Campbell will work with EDF to create additional fertilizer optimization and soil conservation programs for farmers, and will deploy United Suppliers’ SUSTAIN platform in these sourcing areas to help ensure farmers that changing their practices will not only reduce nitrogen runoff, but also protect yields and farm income. Read More »

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Meet Brent Bible, state trooper turned farmer and mentor

BrentBibleA new Purdue University study released this week found that agriculture will create nearly 60,000 jobs each year for the next five years. But to meet this growing demand, more students will need to graduate with agricultural degrees. And as the deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture said in a recent interview, the farming sector must do more to work with students and the educational system as a whole.

That’s where growers like Brent Bible come into play.  Brent is inspiring the next generation of farmers, scientists, researchers, and agronomists through his work with Purdue students who help him operate his 3,000-acre grain farm in Indiana. He’s also promoting soil health, nutrient efficiency, and sustainable agriculture through changes in on-farm practices.

I asked Brent, a former Indiana state police officer, about his transition to the agricultural world, his work with the Soil Health Partnership, and what gets him out of bed every morning. Read More »

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What a trip to rural Thailand taught this Idaho farmer

chicken house-Thailand

Dick Wittman and his family in the Chiang Mai region of Thailand.

Last time you went to the grocery store, did you notice that your pineapple was from Costa Rica, your pears from Argentina, your edamame from China, your salmon from Scotland, and your rice from Thailand?

To address the true environmental impacts of agriculture, we’ll need to think beyond our borders. And to alleviate environmental impacts in countries around the globe, we need to first understand the context of farming in these places.

I asked Dick Wittman, who manages a 19,000-acre dry land crop, range cattle and timber operation in northern Idaho and runs a farm consulting business, to tell me what he and his wife learned about farming and environmental challenges on their recent trip to Thailand. Read More »

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