Recently I have had conversations with representatives from two grain merchandisers. Both representatives indicated that grocers have been changing their sustainability focus from climate change to water quality, reasoning that improvements in water quality were more obvious to the consumer and easier to report. I agree. The ability to track and report agricultural improvements to water quality is far easier to track than climate change.
But maybe there is even a better reason that a company should focus on water quality. If the farmer is one of the primary customers, then focusing on water quality makes far more sense. I do not know of any farmer who is facing regulatory threats, or even public pressure, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But all farmers are under the microscope for their impacts on water quality.
Two Causes: Water quality or greenhouse gas emissions?
Environmental issues are complicated. Personally, if I had to prioritize water quality or climate change, I would say they are equally critical. But I hear differing opinions from farmers. Farmers are confused about environmental issues and often turn to their agricultural agents for solutions. They need help and I can understand why. Conservation practices that work for reducing greenhouse gas emissions are largely ineffective for improving water quality…and vice versa.
Farmers are feeling pressure to improve water quality, whether they are part of the Chesapeake Bay, Lake Erie Watershed, the Mississippi River (hypoxia in the gulf), or even the drainage area supplying water to the Des Moines, Iowa drinking water facility. Just pick your state and name your watershed, and you will hear the same concerns. Farmers still rely on their ag retailer to help meet their conservation objectives. If you ask them, most farmers are interested in improving water quality. We need to help them understand that certain BMPs are far more effective than others for improving water quality.
If grocers and their customers both hope to improve water quality, then it’s up to grocers to help promote the most cost-effective solutions. Learn what is effective and what isn’t. I guarantee you will be surprised.
The opinions of the author are not necessarily those of Corn+Soybean Digest or Farm Progress.