The Stewardship Index for Specialty Crops, founded in 2008 by a coalition of growers, buyers and public interest groups, is conducting pilot tests in an attempt to define metrics in four categories: water, energy, soil, and nutrients.
The tests are an important part of the process of using farm data to drive decisions.
“We’re all kind of struggling with the same thing, and we are trying to find measurements to manage those goals,” said Andrew Arnold, senior sustainability associate at SureHarvest, Soquel, Calif.
SureHarvest is the principal investigator and overseer of the grant project under which the Stewardship Index has been operating.
“We’re trying to build some case studies where we can improve the value proposition in farming operations. These elective collaborative experiences are a good way to do it,” Arnold said.
The third round of pilots is under way.
Previous sessions were less categorized, but this year projects are grouped by region with a few growers all working on a challenge or opportunity together.
“One group is working on looking at sustainability from the sourcing perspective.
Another test is a specific experiment with a new variety of potato.
Ultimately, the end goal is to help growers with issues the farming community is facing today, Arnold said.
By working together on these collaborative pilot tests, Arnold thinks that goal is attainable.
“There’s strength in numbers, and we can all learn from this together so then we can apply those things in individual farming operations,” he said.
“We’ve been doing the pilots, and we’ve put them out in the real world situation and asked growers to give us feedback on how hard the data is to collect and if these are the right metrics and how they think they can be applied in farming applications,” Arnold said.
Grower participation is important, he said.
“Ultimately, we want to know what the value of these metrics are to the operation.
“It’s been an ongoing experiment with real world farming operations to make sure we’re on the right track,” he said.
The initiative is accepting comments on applied water use efficiency, energy use, nitrogen use, phosphorus use, and soil organic matter, according to a news release.
The metrics have been developed and tested in a process aimed at achieving multi-stakeholder consensus, according to the release.