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Agribusiness aims at green practices

As surely as the globe’s climate is changing, its business climate is changing as well.

That was the gist of a meeting in Fresno where representatives of several government agencies talked about how “green” business practices could translate into greater profitability for those in agribusiness as well as other endeavors.

And the message from speakers at the meeting was clear: The emphasis on greening is not limited to government pressures and it’s global.

“The world is saying we want cleaner, greener [manufacturing] processes,” said Jean Toal Eisen, deputy director of the Office of Policy and Strategic Planning in the Office of U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke. “If we don’t move, the products that sell will not be from the United States, they will be products from abroad.”

The meeting closed with Padraic Sweeney, a specialist with the federal International Trade Administration, saying that pressures from the private sector, including retailers, for more sustainable manufacturing are also mounting.

Those include efforts by PepsiCo to determine the carbon footprint left by the harvesting by the harvesting of oranges for juice, Sweeney said.

And leaders in the dairy industry – including the International Dairy Foods Association and National Milk Producers Federation – have called for actions to reduce fluid milk’s carbon footprint by using new technologies, changing management practices, expanding use of methane digesters and other steps.

While the heightened emphasis on eco-friendly practices is certain to find its way onto farms and ranches, the emphasis at the Fresno meeting was on manufacturers, service providers and agricultural exporters and what they can expect in a climate that’s changing — literally and figuratively.

Several speakers, including Michael Anderson, California’s state climatologist, talked of change that – in recent years – has included less snow in the winter, more rain and an earlier snow melt.

“Doing business in the same way in a changing climate is not going to work,” Anderson said. “One thing we are seeing is a monumental amount of uncertainty.”

Kelly Redmond, regional climatologist with the Western Regional Climate Center Desert Research Institute in Reno, Nev., said summers in California have been marked recently by cooler days, but warmer nights. He echoed Anderson’s comments about increased variability – particularly in some regions in California and said that, historically, periods of extended drought are not uncommon.

Anderson hedged when asked to predict what California’s winter would be like.

“It’s at least favorable for a wet winter, but details are sketchy,” he said. “We can say it will either be wet or dry.”

Someone in the audience quipped, “So, that’s a definite maybe.”

Jerry Rossiter, president and CEO of Cisco Ag Irrigation Consultants in Atwater, said he believes agricultural needs to be still more sparing in its use of water, perhaps changing out of water-intensive crops such as rice and avoiding flood irrigation.

“We need to cut to the bone, it’s not rocket science,” Rossiter said.

Morgan Barr, an economist with the International Trade Administration’s Office of Trade Policy Analysis, said her agency is seeking to develop “metrics” to measure sustainability for comparison purposes.

Tab Wilkins, with the National Institute of Standards and Technology, said a “next generation strategy” will look at details such as how much water is used in manufacturing, how it is used, and whether energy use can be reduced.

He said there’s money to be saved by embracing the greening approach. Among success stories he cited was that of Har-Conn Co. in Connecticut, a metal-finishing company that saved more than $77,000 as a result of changes that followed an energy audit.

Wilkins said his agency can help those interested in energy savings to connect with the Small Business Administration to seek funding.

From the audience, Matt Angell, a Madera County grower and vice president of a company that specializes in irrigation management, said he is concerned about the extent of regulation faced by agriculture.

“Sustainable to me means I get to farm next year,” he said, decrying what he called “a patchwork of regulations.”

David Kincaid, with the International Trade Administration, said efforts are being made to establish a “one stop shop” for those seeking information on regulations and preferred practices. One challenge is that regulations within the 50 states differ.

The meeting concluded with members of a panel telling how they were helped by the U.S Department of Commerce.

“I sometimes feel the only agency I get my tax money back from is the Commerce Department,” said Claude Lavall III, chairman of the board of Lakos Separators and Filtration Systems in Fresno. “I’ve gone to trade shows all over the world and got more than my money’s worth.”

Joel Lipsitch, director of external affairs for John Deere Water Technologies, said the commerce department has come to his company’s aid on tariff issues.

Dan Clawson, with the International Center for Water Technology at California State University, Fresno, said the agency helps connect exporters and clients by scheduling meetings. “It saves you money and time.”

Lavall said the agency also helps by providing simultaneous translators and bringing distributors in for interviews.

TAGS: Management
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