Stewardship Index makes impact in fresh produce industry

01/19/2012 05:17:00 PM
Susie Cable

Stewardship is a word being tossed around in discussions about sustainability and going green. Sometimes it’s used to mean the same thing as sustainability, but at least one group is working hard to clarify the definition of stewardship and to provide meaningful ways to measure it.

“We take stewardship to mean responsible planning and management of resources,” said Jessica Siegal, program director for the Stewardship Index for Specialty Crops. “The responsible management of resources is a key element of sustainability.”

The Stewardship Index is a project managed by Ag Innovations Network, Sebastopol, Calif., to encourage a focus on responsible resource management and to create a widely accepted set of measurements that can be used by growers to gauge resource usage, Siegal said.

“You can only manage what you can measure,” Siegal said. “We’re offering a simple, free and functional tool developed by the industry, for the industry.”

The index is recruiting a diverse group of growers to pilot the 2011 Stewardship Index for Specialty Crops Metrics.

Siegal said she hopes large and small growers, conventional and organic growers, and growers of a variety of specialty crops will participate.

The four key environmental indicators in the latest version are soil health and the use of nutrients, energy and water. Those were pared down from 18 metrics on the version piloted in 2010, Siegal said.

“We hope the stewardship metrics will help growers see what can be measured, and it’ll leave it up to them to decide how to manage resources,” she said.

For those who already have stewardship plans in place, the tool can provide a way to communicate to supply chain partners about their practices, she said.

“The end game for the entire industry is a single set of metrics so that both those on the producer end and those on the buyer end will speak the same language,” Siegal said.

The scenario Siegal hopes to avoid is one where every buyer defines and measures sustainability in its own way and requires growers to meet its standards to enter contract negotiations.



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