The march toward a more sustainable society isn’t just a buzz word according to a panel of speakers at the National Corn Growers Association’s 2016 Corn Utilization and Technology Conference in St. Louis. It’s real, it’s happening and progress is being made in farming and the food industry.
According to Betsy Hickman of Field to Market, sustainability is the leading agricultural challenge of the 21st century because feeding, fueling and clothing 9 billion people will take new practices, new data collection and management and stronger connections to consumers.
The U.S. food system is still the envy of the world Hickman said, but some people wonder if we are heading down the right path. She says everyone with a stake in the game needs to work together to assure consumers get their questions answered and aren’t left wondering.
The move toward a more sustainable food system must be collaborative, says Rob Meyers of PepsiCo’s Sustainable Farming Initiative, and much like eating an elephant it will be done one bite at a time with small, well planned steps and a goal of continuous improvement.
Making sure that everyone’s definition of what constitutes sustainability is a great place to start, according to Marty Muenzmaier, of Cargill. For his company it means “doing business in a way that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”
Muenzmaier noted Cargill applied this yardstick to their efforts working with growers on sustainable corn production, responsible operations within Cargill’s business units and even working toward sustainable use of their products once they hit the market.
Fred Yoder, an Ohio farmer who works with “Climate Smart Ag” notes farmers have been conservation minded for years and have made significant improvements, but they now need to do a better job of demonstrating or quantifying that change.
“Farmers used to grow their crop and then take it to the elevator and their job was done. Those days are over,” Yoder said.
Corn growers in the audience were happy to hear that a growing number of corn users are beginning to understand the unique nature of farming and the delicate financial tightrope growers often walk when corn prices are low.
“Farmers need to farm and we need to let them do their job. Farming is not a factory,” Myers of PepsiCo said, so for sustainability to continue to progress change will be incremental, but continuous and will have value for farmers as well as their customers in industry and the buying public.