Dozens of companies have been asked to participate in a pilot program to test sustainability metrics over the next couple of years, said Jeff Dlott, president and chief executive officer of SureHarvest.

In October, SureHarvest, Soquel, Calif., was awarded $630,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture on behalf of the Stewardship Index for Specialty Crops. The grant was given so SureHarvest can pilot test emerging sustainability metrics.

Contingent on that funding, the coordinating council of the Stewardship Index for Specialty Crops met in July and approved the process of finishing the metrics and preparing for the pilot, Dlott said in late October.

The next step for the coordinating council of the Stewardship Index for Specialty Crops will come by early December, when Dlott said there will be a report on what metrics have been readied for use.

“We won’t have them all done, but we will have a good chunk of them done,” he said.

A few of the leaders of the pilot who are providing matching funds and in-kind support for the work funded by the grant include:



  • Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Bentonville, Ark.;
  • Markon Cooperative, Salinas, Calif.;
  • SunWest Fruit Inc., Parlier, Calif.;
  • National Potato Council, Washington, D.C.;
  • Driscoll’s, Watsonville, Calif.;
  • Stemilt Growers Inc., Wenatchee, Wash.;
  • Wada Farms Marketing Group, Idaho Falls, Ida.;
  • Del Cabo Inc., Santa Cruz, Calif.; and
  • Sodexo Inc, Gaithersburg, Md.

Dlott said the ideal for the pilot project is to reflect as much diversity as possible in participants. The pilot would like to attract small, medium and large scale participants from every major specialty crop growing region in the U.S. The goal is to have about 100 participants.

“Some of the criticisms that have been received and we want to make sure we have addressed  is that this is not just West Coast and California-centric, we really are reaching out to producers all over the U.S.,” he said.

Dlott said the pilot project is looking for participants from every point in the full supply chain. The grant funds will allow for at least one full season of data collection, along with analysis after the fact, he said. There may be a possibility for more funding in the future, he said.

Some of the key points examined in the pilot will be measuring how much time it takes to collect the data, and at what cost.

“If we find if it takes a ton of time and is not particularly useful, we are committed to report that out,” he said.

However, Dlott said he expects measuring water use and energy use should have bottom line implication and be worthwhile.

The objectives of the project funded by the grant include the completion of the metrics, piloting the metrics and, finally, beginning the discussion of how the metrics will be used.

One question for the coordinating council will be whether the metrics will be used in commerce.

“Do you report them as a whole, do you report one or two? That discussion will be parallel to the pilot,” he said.

However, Dlott said that how metrics will be used in commerce will likely be a long-term point of discussion.

Dlott said the coordinating council will hear presentations from the subcommittee on data collection and confidentiality for pilot participants.

In the end, Dlott said the goal is to ensure there aren’t multiple safety audits.