With progress plateauing, findings highlight urgent need for renewed focus from value chain on understanding and creating enabling conditions to support widespread transition to sustainable practices.
Submitted by Field to Market: The Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture
Field to Market: The Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture released today the fourth edition of its landmark National Indicators Report, Environmental Outcomes from On-Farm Agricultural Production in the United States, which provides critical national-level analysis on progress in environmental indicators across eleven U.S. commodity crops. The report, last issued in 2016, demonstrates that progress across five key environmental indicators has largely plateaued over the last decade, demonstrating an urgent need for greater collective action from the value chain in order to achieve sustained transformation of the agricultural system.
Field to Market’s National Indicators Report is a peer-reviewed report utilizing publicly available data, published government reports and scientific literature to measure sustainability trends of commodity crop production in the United States between 1980 to 2020. This edition of the report updates the national level indicators for Energy Use, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Irrigation Water Use, Land Use and Soil Conservation for eleven major commodity crops, introducing newly available data on sorghum for the first time.
Where earlier editions of the report chronicled steady improvement across these indicators since 1980, the 2021 National Indicators Report finds that many areas of improvement have largely plateaued. These findings underscore that greater collective action is needed across the value chain to understand and create the necessary enabling conditions to support a transition to sustainable agriculture, including a focus on areas such as social science research and financial mechanisms.
Key findings from the report include:
“Since 2009, the National Indicators Report has provided a critical, science-based benchmark for our industry to understand where progress has been made, as well as where our collective efforts are falling short of creating systemic change,” says Allison Thomson, vice president of science and research at Field to Market. “While the research to develop new technologies is critical to success, it is increasingly clear that social science research and community support to address the agronomic and financial risk related to changing productions systems is necessary to achieve sustained transformation of the agricultural system.”
Significant improvement in soil erosion, energy use and greenhouse gas emissions in the 1990s and early 2000s outlined in the report demonstrates that when new technologies and incentives allow farmers to achieve greater efficiency, they will rapidly adopt new practices. As improvements in these areas have flatlined in recent decades, the report underscores the need for the value chain to place renewed focus on understanding the enabling conditions needed for landscape-wide improvements over the next decade.
“As interest in sustainable agriculture grows, we must remember that achieving measurable progress in environmental indicators relies on complex decision-making at the farm level,” says Brandon Hunnicutt, Nebraska farmer and Chair of Field to Market. “Where progress has stalled, our industry must understand and create the enabling conditions that support widespread transition to sustainable practices, including providing farmers with financial incentives, technical assistance and peer learning opportunities."
In addition to assessing sustainability performance by crop, the National Indicators Report also provides national-level trends on biodiversity, soil carbon and water quality, providing landscape-level analysis on three critical indicators where publicly available data is insufficient to draw conclusions on crop-specific performance. Where previous versions of the report included sections on socioeconomic indicators, Field to Market recently release individual, peer-reviewed reports on farm financial well-being as well as responsible pest management, elevating analysis of national level trends related to both topics.
For more information on the report’s key findings or to explore sustainability trends for specific crops in greater detail, please visit: www.fieldtomarket.org/report.
Field to Market: The Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture is a leading multi-stakeholder initiative working to unite the agricultural supply chain in defining, measuring and advancing the sustainability of food, fiber and fuel production in the United States. We bring together a diverse group of grower organizations; agribusinesses; food, beverage, restaurant and retail companies; conservation groups; universities; and public sector partners to create opportunities across the agricultural supply chain for continuous improvements in productivity, environmental quality, and human well-being. With the world population estimated to exceed 9 billion by 2050, the entire value chain must work together to efficiently and responsibly lay the groundwork for a more sustainable future. From the farm gate to the retail and restaurant counter, the challenge of producing enough food, fiber and fuel for a rapidly growing populationâ€”while conserving our planet’s natural resourcesâ€”has become increasingly complex. The nature of this challenge requires an unparalleled level of transparency and collaboration. By uniting the agricultural supply chain and key stakeholders around a common measurement framework, Field to Market seeks to drive continuous improvement in the sustainability of commodity crop production.