Growers tired of expending time and money to meet the varied requirements of multiple buyers and sustainability auditors are hopeful that the Stewardship Index for Specialty Crops might bring some relief.
The stewardship index was launched to develop a system for measuring sustainable performance throughout the specialty crop supply chain, says Jeff Dlott, president and chief executive officer of Soquel, Calif.-based SureHarvest. The stewardship index will list metrics in 14 categories.
The metrics are akin to the Environmental Protection Agency’s mpg standard for automobiles. They’re numbers that are derived by a uniform process and easily understood by everybody, Dlott says.
Eventually, organizers hope that the metrics will be adopted by auditors, accepted by produce buyers and replace the need for multiple food safety audits.
Dlott credits Tim York, president of the Markon cooperative in Salinas, Calif., with being the driving force behind the stewardship index.
But Dlott’s company is coordinating a $630,000 U.S. Department of Agriculture grant to pilot test the metrics.
Growers want a say
Growers generally don’t object to measuring their operations’ sustainability levels. But they’re not pleased with multiple buyers and auditors demanding that producers comply with differing standards.
“The whole notion of an auditor-driven standard made people angry,” Dlott says.
Those developing the index hope to come up with a standardized measurement system that can cut across crops and meet the requirements of any auditor.
“There would be nothing unique about an auditor,” Dlott says. “They all have to follow the same rule book.”
A 30-member coordinating council that drew members from organizations, such as the Produce Marketing Association, United Fresh Produce Association, Western Growers Association, the Wine Institute and the National Potato Council, oversees the stewardship index.
The council is composed of representatives of growers, buyers and non-governmental organizations. A majority of each group must approve any measure for it to be accepted.
Dlott describes the movement as a “grassroots, democratic process” and says anyone can express their opinions through those organizations. He expects about 400 people to provide input for the standards now in development.