The Stewardship Index for Specialty Crops aims to conduct expanded pilot projects with up to 150 specialty crop growers in the 2011-12 crop year to measure to energy use, water use, nutrient use and soil health.
“Those were the four metrics that were deemed the most valuable and also those for which growers had the most ready access to their data point that we’re asking for,” said Jessica Siegal, program director for the California-based Stewardship Index for Specialty Crops.
Siegal said the group has developed a metric calculator, an Excel spreadsheet with a detailed user guide to help growers through the data submission process.
She said the goal for the pilot projects in 2012 is to engage 150 growers to measure metrics. More than 550 stakeholders are involved in dialogue about the metrics, she said. In 2010, about 100 growers expressed interest in the metrics. Forty of those growers submitted 55 data sets.
The long-term goal is to continue to expand participation, consensus and buy-in around the stewardship index concept across the entire specialty crops supply chain, Siegal said.
“We are definitely scaling up the level of outreach and engagement in 2012,” she said.
Siegal said there has been excitement among growers about the utility of the metrics calculator.
“Folks will see energy use both by yield and by acreage, and the same thing for water use, nutrient use,” she said.
Siegal said participating growers will also see a measure of their soil organic potential based on the region where they grow crops.
Compared with the first year of the pilots in 2010, she said the biggest improvements in the pilot process in 2011-12 is the creation of the metric calculator and the reduction of the number of metrics that are being evaluated.
“The calculator is a very user-friendly and hands-on tool, compared with just a pdf document that we were sharing with folks last year,” she said.
Hank Giclas, Irvine, Calif.-based Western Growers senior vice president for science, technology and strategic planning, said the metrics calculator should make it easier for producers to track their inputs.
Siegal said there are other metrics in various stages of development with the effort, including measures for greenhouse gases, biodiversity, human resources and packaging.
“We will continue to work on developing those metrics and hopefully toward the end of 2012 and early 2013, those metrics that the group is identifying as high priority for the industry will be added to the suite of metrics that we are offering,” she said.
Metrics on pesticide also are on the back burner for now, she said. “In 2010 we piloted a draft pesticide metric, but the group decided that risk wasn’t the proper focus to look at the issue, so it is a very important part of what the Stewardship Index will do, but at this point we’re just focusing on the four core metrics,” she said.
The Stewardship Index for Specialty Crop Index received a Conservation Innovation grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, which will cover the costs of much of the group’s activities through 2013. At this point, there are no membership fees connected with the effort.
Siegal said there are other initiatives looking at metrics for sustainable agriculture, but the Stewardship Index is the only one focused on specialty crops.
“We collaborate very closely with a number of them with a goal of identifying synergies and mutual strengthening of what we offer,” she said.
The Stewardship Index metrics have promise to help growers efficiently manage input use, said Kathy Means, Newark, Del.-based Produce Marketing Association vice president of government relations and public affairs,
“People are finding operational efficiencies and that contributes directly to the bottom line,” Means said. In addition, buyer and customer interest in sustainability measures is increasing, she said.