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Understanding the “S” word
A number of strategies can demonstrate a farmer’s sustainability. Johannes encourages farmers to avoid getting caught up in the mishmash of terms such as regenerative agriculture or soil health.
“These are all things that have meaningful, tremendous value,” she says. “But it all comes down to are you doing the practices that keep soil on your field? Are you doing the things that create more carbon or add more microbes?”
Farmers know how to be sustainable, she argues. In fact, they’ve been talking about it at coffee shops for decades. She advises farmers to focus on what really matters – looking at balance sheets, inputs, making the right choices year after year.
“Sustainability doesn’t happen overnight. It’s an every day, every night, every season, every harvest, every year kind of thing. It’s not the sexy stuff, it’s more the digging in and getting it done kind of stuff,” she says. “Getting started is key. Waiting is not going to help you anymore. It’s not going away.”
The challenge remains
Feeding two billion more people is both a problem and an opportunity. Johannes says we simply cannot feed the people of this world with the existing resources we have.
“It’s impossible. We’ll destroy our planet,” she says.
With that in mind, she says this is a major opportunity for U.S. farmers who are already so efficient and productive to make sure they are working the land and utilizing technology in a way that looks out for the next generation. What will this farm look like in 30 years? Are there things I should be doing today that will ultimately get me there?
Food companies may have the biggest stake in this challenge, Connolly says. Imagination will be a big part of what happens next.
“I’m sure consumers will never go back to where they were before,” Connolly says. “It’s going to be a new model, probably something with tremendous fragmentation of the traditional brand model, customization of foods to what each individual prosumer/consumer wants.”
The global food system must be more sustainable. But Sherrard says it won’t be easy. He believes it will require the full supply chain to work together, including signals from the market.
"We shouldn’t shy away from these challenges. In fact, we should be open to them,” Sherrard says. “Because if we are open to the challenges, and can set the direction for where we want to go so we have time to adjust, I believe farmers have the entrepreneurial spirit and the commitment to their sector to deliver real change over time.”
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