Farmers on a Field Holding Soil and a Small Plant | Woodruff

Sustainability: Better for the World, Better for Your Brand

If you Google “sustainability,” you get about 1.2 million results. Which is roughly the same number of definitions for what the term truly means. But don’t take Google’s word for it.

The topic is vital to our own clients. From the efforts of the Soil Health Institute to the unique fertilizer advancement of Anuvia™ Plant Nutrients to the day-to-day discussions in the crop protection realm, sustainability is on everyone’s mind.

But just because it’s top of mind doesn’t mean that there is a clear definition or path forward. If you were to conduct “man on the street” interviews, you’d get a wide range of answers to the question “What does sustainability mean?” To prove this point, we asked the Woodruff staff — people who largely work in production and animal agriculture on a daily basis — what sustainability means to them. Here are some of their insights.

“Finding ways to stop wasting resources. Being innovative so our grandkids don’t have to move to the moon.”

“To me it means continuing to thrive and maintain in our current state.”

“In general, it means survivability. Whether we’re talking about ag or anything else, to be sustainable means to be able to continue to do it.”

“The ROI to the earth is equal or better for the earth. So, are your practices those that are only taking from the earth but not giving anything back? If we continue to do what we are doing will we just destroy, or are we doing good things to replenish as we go.”

With all the various perceptions, many would be surprised to know that when it comes to sustainable agriculture, there is a formal and legal definition: U.S. Code Title 7, Section 3103, to be exact. That code defines sustainable agriculture as:

An integrated system of plant and animal production practices having a site-specific application that will over the long term:

    • Satisfy human food and fiber needs.
    • Enhance environmental quality and the natural resource base upon which the agricultural economy depends.
    • Make the most efficient use of nonrenewable resources and on-farm resources and integrate, where appropriate, natural biological cycles and controls.
    • Sustain the economic viability of farm operations.
    • Enhance the quality of life for farmers and society as a whole.

This code doesn’t just outline what sustainability is; it sets up the basic goals of sustainability, or what many call the “legs of the sustainability stool” — environmental, economic and social equity.

Sustainability as a Three-Legged Stool: Environmental, Economical and Social Factors Make Up Sustainability | Woodruff

Through this filter, farmers are the ultimate sustainability champions

Farmers have long been making the most efficient use of their resources, using natural biological cycles, employing techniques like low- and no-till farming, integrated pest management, water and soil testing and crop rotation techniques. Technology allows them to be increasingly precise with their input usage, and because of that, inputs include more and more biological products which enhance environmental quality and improve economic viability. And we challenge anyone who takes that first bite of tomato or corn on the cob in the summer to not feel like agriculture is enhancing your quality of life.

Truly, farmers were sustainable before sustainability was cool.

The challenge isn’t if farmers are acting in a sustainable manner. The challenges are whether consumers recognize on-farm efforts as sustainability and whether more can be done. The general answers are maybe and sure, respectively.

Consumers and sustainability

According to a survey presented at the 2019 Trust in Food Symposium, when consumers were asked if sustainable farming practices were essential to the future of ag, 93 percent said yes. However, 68 percent of those surveyed also indicated that farmers needed to make more progress.

Do You Believe Sustainable Farming Practices Are Essential to the Future of Agriculture? Poll Result Pie Chart | Woodruff

Source: maru/matchbox. The Disconnect in Advancing Sustainability. January 2018.

The same survey asked consumers to identify those things that they most closely associate with sustainable agriculture. At the top of the list were solar energy, organic farming and wind energy. See the range of ideas? The good news is that consumers of all ages do trust farmers and are willing to pay more for food that meets their perception of “sustainably produced and sourced.”

Doing more

As farmers and livestock producers look at sustainability, they need to ask themselves two questions:

  1. What more can I (or should I) do to improve sustainability?
  2. How can I better communicate the things I am doing to be sustainable?

Answers to these questions aren’t easy. Agri-marketers are working hard to develop tools and products that help farmers answer those questions. Field to Market and similar groups focus on the value chain, with touch points along that chain from the farmer to the consumer. On the production side, you have the Ecosystem Service Market Consortium (ESMC) that works to advance ecosystem service markets that incentivize farmers and ranchers to improve soil health systems — combining the enhancing quality and economic viability portions of the legal code.

Likely, there are brilliant solutions on the market right now that farmers don’t even know exist — or things farmers are doing that consumers don’t know or understand. This makes the solution to the sustainability puzzle less about innovation and more about awareness among farmers as well as consumers.

At Woodruff, we address the issues with clients on a regular basis and believe that we can help bridge the sustainability awareness gap. We have a passion for getting people on the same page so that everyone can move forward. Keep an eye on this space for more sustainability insights, stories of those who are doing it right and ideas to move the conversation forward. If we can help you navigate the sustainability landscape, give us a call.