Sustainability a growing part of the strategy for nut, dried fruit companies

10/11/2010 01:43:38 PM
Jim Offner

Recycling materials, reducing chemical use and replacing older orchards with new ones are all part of the dried fruit and nut business, marketing agents say.

Peanut growers are looking at new, hardier varieties, said Tyron Spearman, executive director of the National Peanut Buying Points Association in Tifton, Ga.

“The National Peanut (Research) Lab in Dawson, Ga., is leading that area in sustainability,” Spearman said. “They have experiment stations, a gene bank. The University of Georgia maintains varieties from all over the world in a freezer. They’re testing and using those to find areas of elimination of some of our disease problems. The one we need right now is the drought-resistant.”

A proactive approach in the area of sustainability is essential to the Fresno, Calif.-based Western Pistachio Association, said Richard Matoian, executive director.

“Our number one market is the European Union and the carbon footprint of ag commodities is a very big issue for marketing products in the EU,” he said. “As a result, many of our processors have implemented program to ensure sustainability and carbon footprint are addressed at the growing, as well as the processing, level.”

That would include cutting pesticide use, implementing recycling programs, reducing water usage and even using solar heat, Matoian said.

“Carbon footprint is a huge issue in our industry and has been for a number of years,” he said.

The Hazelnut Marketing Board in Portland, Ore., recently announced it was launching a sustainability initiative in conjunction with Soquel, Calif.-based sustainability management software provider SureHarvest.

“We decided that a grower-led program would best position us to be proactive on environmental issues and to demonstrate sustainability performance to regulators and our buyers,” said Polly Owen, manager of the board and the Oregon Hazelnut Commission.

The software company conducted a needs assessment survey among 41 growers, handlers, dryer operators, crop advisors, and other stakeholders and found that more than 90 percent of respondents indicated that a grower-led effort to address the sustainability of hazelnut production was “very important” or “important.” Respondents identified regulators and policymakers as the primary target audience of the program, with buyers as emerging in importance.

The sustainability program will be voluntary and will include a self-assessment tool, benchmark reporting and a continuous improvement program for responding to areas of highest priority with targeted outreach, research and education, the board said in a news release.

A committee of hazelnut growers and handlers, Oregon State University researchers and crop advisors, and environmental stakeholders will be led by SureHarvest to develop two modules aimed at Pest Management and Soil Management for pilot testing in early 2011.

“The hazelnut industry has been working for a long time on this,” Owen said.



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