Plans call for developing metrics for several areas, including air quality, energy use, nutrient management, pesticides, soils, waste, water quality and water use, all of which Dlott says should be ready for pilot testing this season.
Biodiversity, packaging and greenhouse gas emissions are some areas that will be included in the future.
A number of organizations have offered their support for the program, including the Washington, D.C.-based National Potato Council.
“We believe that supply chain requests for producing sustainable outcomes during the production process are there, they’re real and they’re ongoing,” says John Keeling, the potato council’s executive vice president and chief executive officer.
“You need to develop definitions and measurement tools for sustainability that are workable from the grower’s perspective. Hopefully, we’ll end up with a single set of standards that apply to the entire industry.”
When every produce buyer imposes a specific set of criteria on growers, he says, “It drives costs into the system, and it’s confusing to consumers and growers.”
Monitoring in Florida
The Maitland-based Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association is monitoring the steward index, since it is “an effort that has significant potential impact at the grower level,” says Dan Botts, vice president, industry resources.
Botts is a member of several workgroups but does not provide input. Instead, he monitors the activities and proposals and reports back to the organization’s membership.
The decision to abide by the recommendations will be up to individual growers.
Botts says he’s not pleased with the idea of marketing institutions and nongovernmental organizations that don’t have a vested interest in the production systems “trying to drive or determine which processes are the best processes used to produce a crop.”
“We are strong adherents to a continuous improvement process, but we want it to be driven by good science and the fact that the grower is usually the person who is in the best position and knows what he needs to do to produce his crop,” he says.
Each farm is unique, Botts says, and operates in its own environment and microclimate.
“For someone to try to come up with a system to judge one farm against another seems strange to me,” he says.
Botts cites an instance regarding food safety where Florida’s water management districts require that ditch banks be vegetated to prevent surface movement of nutrients into the canal systems that flow into the Everglades area.