A group of farmers, food companies and others — members include Walmart, Del Monte Foods, Campbell Soup, United Fresh Produce Association and Western Growers — today launched measurement tools to support sustainable agriculture efforts across the specialty crops supply chain.
The Stewardship Index for Specialty Crop’s (SISC) five working metrics, developed through collaboration among growers, buyers and public interest groups, are intended to provide a science-based yardstick for assessing on-farm performance across key areas impacted by the production of fruits, vegetables and nuts, SISC says.
The initial suite of metrics (designated “working” because SISC says they will be continually refined) are: applied water use efficiency, energy use, nitrogen use, phosphorus use and soil organic matter. Metric overviews are available at SISC’s website. A demonstration metric calculator will go live in mid October.
SISC says the metrics are not intended to deem specific practices or performance levels as “sustainable,” which it says is an ongoing process. Instead, the organization says its goal is to give any producer or buyer considering a sustainability program free access to a single, data-driven measurement tool, so that individual partners across the supply chain do not have to invest time and resources developing proprietary systems.
The working metrics let growers measure stewardship in areas such as fertilizer and water efficiency without disrupting faming practices and turning the farm into a “full-blown academic research laboratory,” says SISC founding member Jonathan Kaplan, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s food and agriculture program.
The metrics not only help growers target areas for improvement, they also allow them to compare their farms to similar farms over time, says SISC steering committee member Steve Balling, Del Monte director of agricultural and analytical services.
The working metrics were officially adopted at the most recent meeting of SISC’s Coordinating Council, where the council also reaffirmed its commitment to ongoing support of metric adoption and to developing new metrics through a the multi-stakeholder process.
After receiving significant support from the Conservation Innovation Grant program administered by USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, SISC is now self-funded by coalition members and operating as a project of Ag Innovations Network.