The Food Journal and Food, Nutrition & Science

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

Field to Market

Field to Market

In the News

January 25, 2009

As the competition for land, water and energy rapidly grows, agriculture is facing some clear challenges. Experts estimate that the need for food production will double to keep pace with population growth between now and 2050 – and that leaves the food industry in a difficult situation. How can we increase production without negatively impacting the environment?

Now, a first-of-its-kind coalition known as “Field to Market” hopes to answer this important question. Established by the Keystone Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture, Field to Market brings together farmers, agribusiness, food companies, retailers and conservation organizations to define and measure the sustainability of American food and fiber production.

To do this, the organization spent two decades evaluating domestic corn, soybean, cotton and wheat for land, water and energy use, as well as for soil loss and climate impact. These crops comprise the majority of America’s farmland.

This month, the Alliance released the Environmental Resource Indicators Report detailing the results of this research, the first step in generating a standard for calculating agriculture sustainability. The findings are positive and reinforce the need to drive innovation and continued improvement throughout the supply chain.

Significant in its efforts to identify key sustainability outcomes and measurements, as well as in its encouragement of collaborative solutions to protect the food supply for future generations, the report finds that the overall efficiency of resources has actually improved over the past decade, relying on fewer inputs to produce more.

Sarah Alexander, spokesperson for Field to Market, says that it is clear that growers have become more efficient over time with the resources they are using. Soil loss efficiency trends improved by 30 to 70 percent for all four crops studied. Meanwhile, energy and water use per unit of output went down substantially for cotton, corn and soybean. Carbon emissions per unit of output dropped by about a third.

But these improvements are only scratching the surface, and there is lot more work to be done. The Alliance hopes to foster an industry-wide dialogue, from grower to retailer to conservation organization, leading to the creation of programs that will improve the management of natural resources and step-up productivity.

“Although there may inevitably be some tradeoffs we will need to make, we know there will be practices which, for example, increase yields and reduce energy use, resulting in cost savings for the grower, more production, and less impact on the environment,” says Alexander. “The goal is that we can all work from the same set of information by which to base wise decisions.”

Using the Environmental Resource Indicators Report as a jumping off point, Field to Market is currently in the process of finalizing water quality and biodiversity indicators to be released in a mid-year report. Additional environmental impacts, as well as socio-economic and health factors, will be considered in future reports.

Another developing feature, says Alexander, is an online calculator that will help individual growers measure the efficiency of their farming methods, alongside advice from experts and other growers. Since many growers are already using sophisticated sets of information to manage their fields, the hope is that this tool, and others like it, will serve as a home base for important sustainability discussions. Retail, she says, ties into the big picture too.

“Retail and Food companies play a very important role of communicating with the group their consumers’ expectations, ensuring that the metrics and information we are generating are useful, and providing support and encouragement throughout the supply chain. They play a lead role in helping us meet the sustainability challenges we may face together as a society.”


To learn more about Field to Market, visit: www.keystone.org/spp/env-sustain_ag.html.