For several years, sustainability has been a buzzword in every aspect of the produce industry. Customers want to know the produce they purchase is the safest for their family and the environment.
Growers do, too-after all, we've been doing it for generations.
However, perception is sometimes reality, leading some groups to attack agriculture for perceived misdemeanors in terms of water use, chemical use, fertilizer use, run-off, etc.
Brian Hrudka, food chain manager for Bayer CropScience, points out that growers have been practicing sustainability for years, but have called it something else-"stewardship."
If an operation has electronic records on chemical usage, water consumption, diesel fuel usage, electricity consumption, etc., Good Growing Link will pull that data in and create charts for growers to review. Operations can create different sustainability reports for different customers based on differing needs, such as one report for Walmart and one for Kroger.
Hrudka says that Good Growing Link is not only a tool to report what an operation is doing, but it is also to help improve their operations over the years as they compare prior years.
"Sustainability [is] a journey," he says.
It's not just for larger operations, either.
"Larger operations typically may have more resources," he says, "but there's absolutely no reason that a small grower couldn't do this."
And an operation can start anywhere-waste recycling, carbon dioxide, community activities, etc.
"You don't have to jump into the pool in one shot," he says. "You can stick your feet in and do it slowly. It's a very scalable tool."
When growers sign up as members of Good Growing Link, they're members of an online community-but data remains secure, and the community will only see what you want them to see.
"A grower will probably not want someone to see how many acre-feet of water they used...but there are important things we can do. Growers want to demonstrate they're conserving water by installing water meters, or that water consumption is coming down over the years and they're using particular practices. Those are all positive things I'm sure they'd be happy to share," he says.
Western Growers has endorsed Good Growing Link as a solution for safety, traceability and sustainability for their members.
Initial trials have been done by Wada Farms, in eastern Idaho-the specific inspiration for the program-as well as the Warden Hutterian Brethren in Warden, Wash., and Black Gold Farms in Grand Forks, N.D.
Wada Farms CEO, Bob Meek, who sits on the executive committee for the Produce Traceability Initiative, was approached last September by Bayer CropScience. They were looking for a company to test the program with, and when they looked at Wada Farms' sustainability program already in place, they knew they had found their match.
Wada Farms has published an annual sustainability report for a few years now.
"They looked at that and said, `Wow, this is the end product right here. This is what we'd like to help growers create,'" he says.
"Farming and sustainability go hand-in-hand," says Chris Wada, Wada Farms marketing manager. "The biggest thing is being able to tell the story, highlighting what you have done if you are doing above and beyond what we're trying to do. That's where this Good Growing Link is really an effective tool. It allows those who aren't at the point we are to create their own template."
Even though Wada Farms released annual sustainability reports before Good Growing Link came along, it's still been an effective tool for them.
"It gives us a second opinion," Meek says. "As we go forward this year, we'll use the Good Growing Link as a second check to what we're doing.
"I don't think a company can have too much information," he adds.
Being in its inaugural year, Good Growing Link is continuing to evolve. Members will soon be able to: have access to pertinent industry information and links to relevant online sources relating to sustainability; see and participate in real-time discussions taking place online relating to sustainability and agriculture; have the ability to share best practices with other community members, and be able to link to other communities within the food supply chain in order to communicate and collaborate on further sustainability initiatives.
Hrudka adds that they would like to build in more functionality to give growers "a really sharp pencil" to manage their efficiencies. They're currently working with the Warden Hutterian Brethren on a prototype. As the potatoes come off the harvester, potatoes will be graded on the spot. Based on the results, practices can be changed the very next day-such as to reduce bruising.
"We want to have more functionalities, more tools for growers to increase their efficiencies on the spot as they go, not just at the end of the year."
Through Good Growing Link, growers will not only be able to improve efficiencies but can demonstrate to consumers that "stewardship" isn't just a passing fad to them.
"We saw the opportunity to take this sustainability story, this great sustainability story that has been there for generations, and turn that into a real positive [against] a lot of attacks that are coming against our industry," Hrudka says.
The website went live during the Potato Expo in January. Growers can watch a video that highlights three growers, and there is also an online tutorial.
Visit www.goodgrowinglink.com or call (866) 99-BAYER to become a member.