Sustainability Spotlight: Industry Perspective
Last December, Marvin showed up on my parents’ doorstep.
Marvin works for ADM (Archer Daniels Midland Company – although nobody ever calls them by their full name) as a marketing agent who procures grain from local farmers.
Have you ever driven past the tall white cylinders that stretch for nearly half a mile? Some of those belong to ADM, which is one of the country’s leading flour millers. Those tall white cylinders are grain elevators that store millions of bushels of corn, wheat, soybeans, and milo.
Marvin wanted to know if Scheufler Farms was interested in participating in a Field to Market program sponsored by ADM and General Mills (you know, the makers of Nature Valley granola bars and Yoplait yogurt; General Mills is a customer of ADM).
In the past few years both companies have made a commitment to help ensure the global sustainability of agriculture. But they can’t do this without farmers, which is why ADM and General Mills are partnering with people like my parents.
This brings me back to Marvin. He and his company want to sustainably source wheat in Central Kansas, but “sustainable” first needs to be defined. Thus ADM is looking for producers willing to share information about their farming practices. The goal of this Field to Market program is to determine the most profitable - yet environmentally friendly - way to raise wheat. ADM, in turn, wants to partner with these farms to purchase this sustainably grown grain.
Sustainability Report Card
An estimated 24% of greenhouse gas emissions are produced from agriculture, so improving sustainability techniques in this field (pun intended) is no small thing.
However, before being able to identify who is practicing sustainable agriculture and who is not, sustainability needs a definition. To meet this need the Fieldprint Calculator was born.
The Fieldprint Calculator is a well-refined rubric used to evaluate the effects farm management practices have on key environmental outcomes. Outcomes measured include:
Soil loss and soil carbon content
Water use and quality
Greenhouse gas emissions
Land and energy use
After every crop harvest Morning Farm Report software generates a “sustainability report card” which integrates these data points to help farmers evaluate their farming practices and operations.
ADM and General Mills are footing the bill for Scheufler Farms to use this software. In return, the farm committed to provide data for the next four years about field operations, fertilizer and water use, crop yields, and soil sample data.
The goal of Field to Market: the Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture is to gather the data points from the “sustainability report card” to create benchmarks and ultimately guidelines for sustainability in agriculture.
Individual farms partnering in this process will be compared to other farms in the region. Ultimately, sustainably produced crops may elicit a premium crop price.
A few interesting takeaways from Scheufler Farms’ first year report:
15 gallons of diesel fuel produced wheat with an average yield of 59 bushels per acre
To produce 1,000 bushels (a semi load) of wheat, greenhouse gas emissions equaled the annual emissions of 1.2 cars
A bushel of wheat used an average of one pound of nitrogen (read more about nitrogen fertilizer)
Are these numbers meaningful? Are they good or bad? Do they reflect the reality of Scheufler Farms’ operation?
Right now there are more questions than answers. This is a long process and this is merely the beginning of the attempt to quantify sustainability. Field to Market isn’t going to create results in the next year, but the goal is to answer questions about sustainability with data rather than feelings.
ADM, General Mills, Scheufler farms, and many more are laying the groundwork today to identify responsible actions to create a sustainable future for generations to come.