What is in this article?:
- Can farm sustainability measurement tools improve farm management?
- Testing the tools
Evaluating your farm’s sustainability and seeing how it stacks up against similar operations can be an eye-opener that helps improve a farm’s economic and environmental sustainability, says Shawn Conley, Extension soybean specialist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
He helped develop the National Sustainable Soybean Initiative (NSSI) sustainability measurement program.
“NSSI is an introductory approach that helps get growers engaged in sustainability questions and takes about an hour to complete,” he says. Fieldprint Calculator provides a more detailed look at sustainability measures, but takes more time. “We see NSSI and Fieldprint Calculator as complementary and not redundant,” he adds.
Testing the tools
By Moore’s count, the NSSI sustainability tool took an hour to complete for his entire farm. The more detailed Fieldprint Calculator took an hour for a single field.
“I chose a representative field for Fieldprint Calculator,” he says. “It would have taken me several days to do this for all 30 of my fields.” Moore learned that his practices are better than average in terms of soil loss and carbon sequestration. Greenhouse gas emissions were lower than the national average, too.
The NSSI tool also confirmed his farm ranks well on sustainability measures. “I was fairly confident that my operation is fairly sustainable, but I wanted to find out what these programs would say,” he says.
Koompin, American Falls, Idaho, has experience with an updated version of Fieldprint Calculator that has been integrated into software he uses in through Syngenta’s AgriEdge Excelsior program. That cuts the time requirement to a few minutes of data entry for a full Fieldprint report on his family’s entire 8,000-plus acre operation.
“Our time investment to document sustainability is minimal,” says Koompin, who provides sustainability information to General Mills, where he markets wheat. “This really puts a visual on the fact that we are moving in the right direction from a sustainability standpoint.”
Ultimately, to be successful, “Fieldprint Calculator needs to go in the direction of integrating into management tools farmers already are using,” adds Jennifer Shaw, head of sustainable sourcing at Syngenta and a member of the Field to Market executive committee. “We want to make it as simple and efficient as possible.”
A trial run with an early version Fieldprint Calculator several years ago highlighted the challenge of being an early user of the tool, says Hlavinka, who manages farming operations for Hlavinka Cattle Co., East Barnard, Texas. Some of the results were at odds with his observations, especially on erosion, which the tool said was excessive. “Our ground is as flat as a board,” he says. “We have very little erosion.”
Nevertheless, as the tool is refined, he interested in trying it again.