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Potato Sustainability Alliance: ‘The most important time for agriculture’

This article was written by John Mesko, Executive Director, Potato Sustainability Alliance (PSA) and first published as a blog post on the PSA website here

I’ve been farming, talking with farmers, or supporting those who support farmers for my entire life. From growing up on a farm to selling seed and crop protection, to education, to sustainability, and farming myself, I’ve had the distinct honor of being involved in just about every aspect of the farming industry. There’s never been a better, more exciting time to be in agriculture.

The topic of sustainability and all of its relatives – regenerative, climate-smart, and resource positive – are the hottest focus in agriculture right now. These initiatives are growing in popularity and influence because of the legitimate promise that farming practices can change the world. Despite many years and incredible investments in education and incentives, climate-smart practices are not being adopted as fast as climate experts tell us they need to be. 

It seems everyone wants to know more about farmers’ practices and decisions. In the food and agriculture sustainability world, system gains come from farmers making changes, improving sustainability on their farms. Everyone wants to be able to claim they helped make it happen. Collectively, we forget an essential element in this discussion – farmers are people, too!

Understanding the agronomic, economic, and production realities a farmer faces is required to support systems that bring about sustainability improvements. Farmers will not choose to do something on their farm that causes them to lose productivity or profit. The reality is that farmers make decisions with other factors in mind, including agronomics and economics.

We all, farmers or not, make choices based on more than just dollars and cents. For example, all cars take us from point A to B, but we don’t all buy the least expensive car. Price is just one consideration. In our decision grid, we also include factors such as brand reputation, features, color, etc… Even smaller purchases require a more nuanced decision process. We might like a particular brand or clothing style because we like how we look or feel in them, and we might be willing to pay a little more for that.

If this is true about cars and clothes, how much more should it be true when we encourage farmers to change production practices, which can impact a farm business’s success? We need to do more than just put the decision in terms of costs, profits, and yields. We need to better understand the full picture, the personal motivations, and the drivers farmers consider when making changes to how they farm. We need to stop telling farmers how to farm and better understand why they farm, their hopes and dreams for the future, and how they see themselves on the land.

The folks at Farm Journal’s Trust in Food initiative are leading the way in thinking about farmers holistically. In addition to crunching numbers to help farmers understand and recognize the value of implementing climate-smart farming practices, they are exploring the “Human Dimensions” of farmer practice change. They endeavor to support farmers in all aspects of decision-making. Understanding the full picture of what goes into a farmer making choices is the first step to working with them instead of talking to them.

We all know farming is hard work, and our global society depends on our ability to work as an industry, farmers, suppliers, food companies, and consumers to bring about a sustainable future for our world. There has never been a better time to work in agriculture.

Source: Potato Sustainability Alliance

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