It’s strange to say that sustainability can be a controversial topic.
There are so many potential holes to fall in when discussing what sustainable agriculture means in practical terms. The fact of the matter is that while there are generally agreed upon best practices, there really is no single definition.
Each week, Trust In Food™ has the great privilege of listening to, learning from and advising a wide range of the nation’s leading sustainable food and ag innovators. We download on and support the strategies of organizations across the value chain—including crop protection companies, agtech firms, regenerative ag nonprofits and financial institutions—all working to provide producers with the products, services and resources required to meet production needs.
What we’ve learned over the course of hundreds of conversations is actually quite comforting. Although there might be philosophical differences in how to get where we all want to be, the final destination is fairly singular across all stakeholders: Creating a stable, environmentally sound, economically viable food, fiber and fuel supply.
In the past few decades, the tools available to farmers to continue working toward those objectives have made leaps and bounds.
Biologicals (including biopesticides, biostimulants and biofertilizers), for example, jumped from $2 billion in sales in 2012 to $7 billion in 2021, according to DunhamTrimmer, a biologicals consulting firm. The category has a growth rate that’s two to three times faster than the traditional crop protection market. Companies that have embraced the meaning of an integrated portfolio that includes both biological and chemical products have reaped the rewards. UPL, for example, the fifth largest agrochemical company in the world, is also now the largest manufacturer and distributor of biosolutions worldwide.
Understandably, farmers still have doubts: A 2021 Farm Journal Pulse Poll showed that 41% of producers still need to know more about biologicals before using them.
Beyond increased time in the marketplace for biological products and improved farmer access to related information, another potential bridge across the doubt gap could be communicating agreement that new products don’t necessarily need to replace tried and true ones.
Biologicals aren’t meant to completely replace traditional crop inputs on which farmers have relied for so long. Instead, they are meant to serve as another tool that can help farmers reach their goals in a profitable and environmentally sound way.
As Jill Calabro of Valent U.S.A. (a Founding Partner of the America’s Conservation Ag Movement partnership program) describes it in summing up the benefits of a diverse approach to inputs: “We’ve definitely reached a point where we’re pivoting. Biologicals now are more effective than they ever have been, and what’s great about that is now they are better able to be integrated into traditional production practices.”
In fact, in some cases, biostimulants actually improve the efficacy of traditional chemical inputs. The use of botanical extracts such as seaweed, for example, can improve retention of active ingredients on a leaf surface.
Sustainability requires a marriage of traditional and new approaches. As we sit around tables regularly with the diverse group of precompetitive partners of America’s Conservation Ag Movement, it’s clear that sentiment is shared. Each partner brings different tools to the table that can help farmers and ranchers create a strong, sustainable future for our food, fiber and fuel supply. As we work together to provide sustainability support and intelligence to U.S. producers via 50-plus million touchpoints across Farm Journal’s media platforms annually, we are collectively designing a future for regenerative agriculture that benefits the entire agri-food value chain, using all the tools necessary to do so.
Image courtesy of Indiana NRCS via Flickr.