An agricultural marriage made in heaven: state programs & private sector initiatives

field-sun-350At last week’s State Ag and Rural Leaders’ summit in Florida, legislators from across the U.S. discussed sustainability initiatives in the food supply chain. The conversations and presentations were informative for all – but what was missing from the conference was discussion about the role the private sector can play in supporting public sustainability initiatives.

State programs to support farmers

State programs can go a long way towards supporting farmers’ conservation efforts without economic downsides (and potentially increased revenues). 

For example:

Yet few states have such programs, often because they lack the tools and expertise to evaluate which growers and farms are actually operating sustainably.

So, how can we enable more states to offer sustainable farming initiatives such as these? How can we make it easier for them to determine which farms are actually implementing practices that reduce their environmental footprint?

Private ag sustainability efforts

Private sector efforts focused on measurement, such as Field to Market, are developing goals for sustainability and quantifying farmers’ progress towards these goals. These efforts help farmers measure the environmental improvements their sustainable farming methods are achieving so they can meet growing demands from food companies and retailers such as Walmart, which is calling for more nutrient-efficient grains in the products they sell.

But these programs could also help states identify the highest-performing farms, and give those farms priority access to state funding and technical assistance. This could provide real incentive for farmers to implement sustainable farming practices.

Private sector and states need to talk

While the public sector is helping incentivize and support farmers’ sustainability efforts, there is little connection with private sector initiatives which are collecting performance data that would be invaluable.

In order to bring agricultural sustainability to scale, this needs to change. The gap in state sustainability and private sector initiatives is large – but not impossible to resolve.

The first step is to bring all the key stakeholders to the table, and get the discussion going.

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  1. Posted January 17, 2015 at 9:53 am | Permalink

    Great blog Eileen!

  2. Posted January 17, 2015 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

    I appreciate the strategy, but it can’t quite climb the sustainability mountain. “Stakeholders at the table” does help with communication to the community at-large, but landscape management does not happen at the table. We are realizing the solution does not reside in partnerships, but in shared governance; governance as in “how things get done”. These are good evolutionary steps, but we must move through them quickly so they don’t become institutionalized.