Ag Sustainability Practices Increase Resiliency On-Farm

By Anne Dinges, Lead Agronomist and Soil Scientist

Sustainable Environmental Consultants (SEC) provides services to food and beverage companies that have established goals to reduce risk in their supply chain. Essential to the supply chain are farmers. By implementing on-farm sustainable practices to their system, they not only reduce risks from weed pressure, pest pressure, and weather impacts, but it also allows them to diversify their markets.

With a vested interest in being good stewards of the land and implementing on-farm sustainable practices, SEC must advocate for farmers while having an open dialogue with farmers to move the needle on supply chain sustainability.

Resiliency is the ability to withstand turbulence. Of all things, agriculture is turbulent. There are ups and downs in weather and markets and controlling either is beyond the control of the farmer, leaving stability out of reach. Farmers do have power over one thing however, and it’s how they face the challenges that come their way. Resiliency must be a priority in agriculture now because farming is a business and even through turbulence, it must remain economically viable to continue.

The sustainable practice or suite of practices implemented on-farm can have a significant impact on the resiliency of the operation. Each farm location has a unique set of challenges and opportunities. There are many tools in the toolbox when it comes to sustainable practices, however the what, where and how is different for each field and farm location.

As an example, weather impacts every operation from planting to harvest. When faced with high winds and vicious rains, at some level it’s inevitable that there will be some erosion. However, there are practices that can help protect soil health when these extreme patterns happen. Farmers can plant cover crops to reduce erosion, essentially adding a layer of armor to the soil, and/or skip a tillage pass so the soil isn’t as susceptible to the elements. When a poor growing season affects feed quality and yields, growing a cover crop can make all the difference by providing grazing opportunities at the end of the season, which reduces the need to buy additional feed off-site.

 

 

Diverse crop rotation is another opportunity to remain resilient through the use of sustainable practices. In the upper Midwest region, adding a small grain between corn and soybeans is agronomically viable. This rotation is powerful in improving biodiversity through the introduction of a new crop family while also creating an additional revenue source for the farm. For areas in the Midwest and beyond, adding forage between row crops is another very versatile option for diverse crop rotation. By adding a perennial crop like alfalfa, tillage is nominal and the soil is covered year-round. As a legume, alfalfa also adds the benefit of nitrogen fixation which will the subsequent crop. Livestock systems can also utilize perennial crops like alfalfa for hay or pasture as feed.

Each decision a farmer makes is with land stewardship and longevity in mind. By continuing to expand on sustainable practices that improve resiliency, the farm will not only be positioned to be around for many more generations but will also positively impact the supply chain. Consumers are not only asking about soil health, carbon and biodiversity, but are making purchasing decisions based around them as well, making it imperative for food and beverage companies to share the farm to fork story. Sharing the story involves taking the impacts from sustainable on-farm practices implemented by the farmer and aggregating across the supply chain. By collaborating with the farmer to collect data, the SEC EcoPractices® platform gathers the necessary data to provide third-party verification and quantification, allowing the impact of these on-farm practices to be shared. In turn, the data aggregated by EcoPractices can assist food and beverage companies reach their sustainability goals and share the sustainability story from farm to fork.