New report defines sustainability from consumer and farmer point of view

“Sustainability” is a word with tremendous implications that lacks a universal definition. To dive into what being sustainable means to both the consumer and general public, the U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance (USFRA) launched the Agriculture in America Sustainability report this year.

Following a six-month media and communications audit, the USFRA found consumers are having a number of conversations around sustainability as it relates to food and agriculture. First, consumers struggle to define it, with it being unclear how “natural,” “local,” or “conventional” relates to overall sustainability. Being organic, however, is viewed publicly as the gold standard of sustainability.

When it comes to furthering sustainability on the farm, mainstream media has focused on the importance of precision agriculture and big data. Other common headlines related to sustainability included company announcements around new initiatives related to the topic, regulation efforts and lifestyle trends like home gardening to become more self-sustainable.

On the other side of the coin, farmers and ranchers believe they are focused on sustainability, but also think their consumers, including those in the food industry, have little understanding of how their practices affect sustainable food production.

While more than 80 percent of farmers believed customers are growing more concerned about the environmental sustainability of the products they buy, nearly 70 percent of those surveyed by the USFRA don’t believe food industry professionals know enough about how food is grown and raised to demand certain practices. Nearly 90 percent of farmers and ranchers believe their practices meet the environmentally sustainable production standards demanded by end-users.

Soil care (29 percent), followed by less water pollution/improved water management (13 percent) and reduced tillage (10 percent) ranked as the most significant changes made in farms to positively impact the environment. More than 30 percent of farmers said new technology and equipment has allowed them to make these changes.

Specific to corn, the USFRA report states American corn farmers are committed to sustainability through careful stewardship of the land, constant improvements in technology and advanced production methods.

As evidence, the report states since 1980 soil loss per bushel has decreased 68 percent, energy used to produce a bushel of corn decreased 44 percent and greenhouse gas emissions decreased 36 percent per bushel of corn, all while corn yields increased 64 percent.

The Minnesota Corn Growers Association (MCGA) recently announced an initiative to make Minnesota corn farmers the most sustainable and environmentally responsible in the United States.

The plan calls on Minnesota corn farmers to engage in sustainability programs and implement on-farm best management practices that fit their specific farm. It also expands a new MCGA grant program focused on conservation, calls for greater investment in developing new uses for corn and seeks to grow partnerships with outside organizations. Click here to learn more about MCGA’s commitment to environmental sustainability.

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