Sustainable certification standards beginning to take root on the farm


Global customers for U.S. agricultural crops are taking a close look not only at the harvest but how it’s produced.

Sustainable production practices have become so important to today’s marketers and overseas buyers that sustainability certification standards are beginning to reach local farm gates.

«For the most part, the things the Europeans and others require — the minimum till, using less chemicals — most farmers have been doing them for close to 20 years,» said Phil Bradshaw, a Griggsville farmer and United Soybean Board past chairman.

The big challenge is how to prove it.

By adopting sustainable agricultural practices, Illinois farmers can help processors, manufacturers and distributors meet stringent sustainability requirements from the ground up, giving U.S. producers a strategic advantage over foreign competitors, but «they’re just not necessarily documenting it right now,» said Ron Moore, Illinois Soybean Association director and vice chair of sustainability, in a news release. «In an increasingly competitive global marketplace, being able to tell our domestic and international customers that our soybeans are raised using sustainable methods will go a long way in ensuring people keep choosing Illinois soybeans.»

It’s potentially a key issue in Illinois, a large exporter of agricultural products, and especially for soybean farmers.

«Soybeans are targeted because it is the largest exported commodity,» Bradshaw said. «We exported almost 60 percent of our crop last year. If you look at projections for years ahead, with higher income and standard of living, I could foresee 70-80 percent.»

The Illinois Soybean Checkoff is working to help farmers understand what’s happening with emerging certification requirements. Because soybeans are used in so many ways, Moore said certification can protect market access to a number of industries.

One concern is that the certification process will become a burden for farmers.

«In some countries, primarily in Europe, they’re pushing for every farmer to be certified, which I think is added expense consumers and farmers do not need,» Bradshaw said.

«Everybody needs a little bit of somebody looking over their shoulders, but when you start talking about building a new industry worldwide just to go out and certify soybean farmers, and when you look at rising food costs, if you add on another layer of bureaucracy, you add on a layer of expenses,» Bradshaw said.

Another question, Bradshaw said, is what standards to follow for certification.

«People start saying government should get involved, but with 20 different governments with 20 different standards, you better just follow best management practices as established through good research and production history,» Bradshaw said.

It’s not a one-size-fits-all solution.

«Those practices may be and will be different from Illinois and Alabama and Illinois and Mato Grosso, Brazil,» he said. «You don’t want to set up a global standard.»

Ensuring farmers get proper credit for existing sustainable practices is key.

«One of the most important things ISA is doing is informing our customers about all the sustainable management practices soybean farmers are already doing,» Moore said in the release.

The certification idea, though, is likely to spread to other commodities beyond soybeans.

Whether it’s certification for soybeans, biomass crops or trees, «it’s a growing trend to certify your crop and your production standards,» Pike County Farm Bureau Manager Blake Roderick said. «Part of it is to ensure the importers that you’re providing a high standard product and assure the public you’re doing it in the best, most sustainable way.»

Source / Fuente:

Author / Autor: Deborah Gertz Husar 

Date / Fecha: 11/03/11

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