The Food Journal and Food, Nutrition & Science

An alliance between The Lempert Report and The Center for Food Integrity

Field To Market Calculator

Field To Market Calculator

Sustainability

March 29, 2009

Agricultural sustainability is a hot topic these days. While the term has been defined many ways by many people, it can really be boiled down to producing more and conserving more. Using fewer natural resources to grow more food is just as important today, as the ground thaws across the Corn Belt, as it will be decades from now. 

How will we know if agriculture gets more sustainable between now and then?

Earlier this year, the first step was taken by a group called the Field To Market Initiative. It generated a standard for calculating ag sustainability with a report evaluating several attributes of row crop. The findings reinforced the need to drive innovation and continue improvement throughout the food supply chain.

So how do folks take those macro-level findings a step further, applying them on a micro-level basis? Let’s start with the farm. After all, it’s one thing to have a pretty good idea about how sustainable an individual farm is. It’s quite another to put the power of empirical data behind that type of assessment.

Enter Field to Market’s Fieldprint Calculator, which is currently undergoing grower testing and feedback. This new online tool takes sustainability quantification from Pre-Algebra 101 to Partial Differential Equations 402. It’s like one of those fancy graphing calculators, but with sustainability on the brain. 

The calculator was developed to help farmers evaluate their operations compared to industry averages by analyzing natural resource use (like topsoil and water) and key crop production inputs (like energy and crop protection products). Growers can securely save their data, allowing them to evaluate changes and enhancements after each production season. These measures could help improve production efficiencies and profit potential.

It was not created in a vacuum, either. A diverse group of agriculture, food, fiber and conservation specialists participated, and the tool will evolve and improve with ongoing feedback from farmers. North Dakota farmer Doug Goehring is one of them, and said the evolution of the tool is one of its best attributes. 

“I certainly like where we’re at, and we have something strong to build on,” Goehring said. “The tool is continuing to be refined, down to the county situation and grower level.”

The Fieldprint Calculator illustrates the connection between resource and economic sustainability, so growers can more easily see how their choices impact natural resources, production levels and, ultimately, the efficiency of their operation. Carefully managing inputs and agronomic practices is an important aspect of managing farmland.

“As you move west of the Mississippi River, we see a dramatic effect on how we use resources,” Goehring said. “For the amount of resources we use, our results are amazing. Use of GPS and better use of inputs really keep expenses down.”

He isn’t kidding. In the early 1990s, Goehring used about 6.2 gallons of diesel per acre per season. By 2007, he had reduced that number to 2.9 gallons of diesel per acre per season. Last year, it dropped again – this time to 2.6. That is the kind of information the calculator may help log.

“It gives us an ability to showcase our commitment to sustainability in production agriculture in the United States,” Goehring adds. “We are fantastic stewards of the land. We live there. We drink the water. We raise our families. You would never do anything to harm something you regard as so precious. Farmers really have a deep love for the land and pride in what they produce.”

Once farmers have had the chance to get familiar with and use the tool, Field To Market plans to publish the usage results to arrive at conclusions on a more individual level. Better understanding how growers can improve sustainability may offer a roadmap to how other stakeholders can contribute to this important goal. The calculator will be available at www.fieldtomarket.org.