Sustainability Push Builds Momentum

October 25, 2017 08:59 PM
 
Sustainability Push Builds Momentum

Many producers already invest in farming practices that hold topsoil in place, limit nutrient runoff and ensure crops survive in harsh weather. Yet 98% of Americans lack a direct connection to agriculture, leaving them with little visibility into those efforts to continuously improve.

An array of coalitions within the agriculture industry seeks to bring the farm to consumers. They are doing so with research reports that contain a wealth of eye-catching photos and statistics that translate field practices into everyday language. Social media campaigns seek to influence consumers about the value of GMOs, presenting the technology as a necessary part of environmentally conscious farming rather than the false notion GMOs are chemicals and should be feared.

Momentum around consumer outreach is building because young consumers want to know how their food is grown and raised, and food companies have been trying to “find a profit path around sourcing claims,” says Randy Krotz, CEO of Chesterfield, Mo.-based U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance.

“We’re just so far behind and so outnumbered, and we’ve got to change that,” says Krotz, whose family grows row crops in Kansas.

The organization in May published its 44-page inaugural sustainability report. The data-rich report covers advances in corn, soybeans, sugar beets, cotton, eggs, beef, dairy, poultry and pork.

Targeted Visibility. One effort seeking to break out of the echo chamber is A Fresh Look, a farmer-led nonprofit seeking to educate
consumers who are undecided about GMOs used in food production. The project is led by sugar beet associations but is intended to
represent all producers who use GMO technology, explains spokesperson Rebecca Larson.

“Farmers are realizing that their voice has really been absent from the debate,” Larson says. The groups funding A Fresh Look represent 1,600 producers and will connect with moms who are on the fence about GMO farming practices through the web at afreshlook.org, via social media and through paid content in consumer media.

Ongoing surveys will allow them to measure in real time the difference in attitudes about GMOs among people who have seen their campaign messaging, and those who haven’t.

Data Stories. To further the storytelling potential of sustainability and the profitability of farmers, producers in the dairy industry are
documenting farm practices. Funded in part with checkoff dollars, the National Dairy FARM Program: Farmers Assuring Responsible
Management aims to track progress over time. The program’s animal care component covers more than 98% of the U.S. milk supply and more than 39,000 dairy farms, making it the most comprehensive dairy sustainability initiative in the country.

“There are a lot of opportunities for us to provide value to the dairy farmer to find win-win areas,” says Ryan Bennett, senior director for industry and environmental affairs at the Washington, D.C.-based National Milk Producers Federation. “We can collect and process information in a way that allows them to improve their bottom line.”

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