In recent years, "sustainability" has become one of agriculture’s biggest, most popular, most politicized buzzwords. But in a panel titled "Sustainability in Action" held Feb. 29 at the Ag Issues Forum in Nashville, Tenn., speakers agreed that it shouldn’t be used to exclude anybody.
Panelist Suzy Friedman, deputy director at the Environmental Defense Fund, said everyone -– from the smallest organic farmer to the largest conventional farmer and everyone in between -– can and should become a sustainability stakeholder on their operations.
"From our perspective, ‘size’ doesn’t mean ‘bad,’" she said. "Bigger in many ways means an easier point of entry making change at scale, which is what we really need to get the job done. We really need sustainability in mainstream agriculture."
Friedman said many staples of sustainability, such as improved data analysis, products that improve efficiency, and easier-to-implement precision ag tools, can be used by small- and large-acre farmers alike.
"To achieve the sustainability we need, we need to be working with large-acre farmers and companies that control large portions of the supply chain," she said. "From our perspective, we want to highlight, champion, push the envelope and find the ways to bring those approaches and practices to more of agriculture."
At its core, "sustainable intensification" is simply growing higher yields per acre while minimizing environmental impact. Soil conservation, integrated pest management and crop diversity are three common ways farmers are already doing this to some degree.