At the same time, food safety programs require ditch banks to be free of weeds because they harbor wildlife.
“You put the farmer in the terrible position of having to make a choice of which one of the permit conditions required by a regulatory agency he is going to comply with,” Botts says.
Some are skeptical
Although the movement has met with plenty of support from throughout the supply chain, Bob Martin, general manager at Rio Farms in Oxnard, Calif., is skeptical.
Many growers already are doing everything they can to be stewards of the land, he says.
Martin compares the stewardship index to various food safety programs from some buyers and auditors that he describes as “window dressing,” “fluff” and “warm and fuzzy stuff.”
“I avoid those things as much as much as possible,” he says.
But Martin did not rule out Rio Farms’ support for the stewardship index.
“If there is something that is effective, will do something positive and won’t break our business, I think it’s worth pursuing.”
Dlott says he doesn’t want to see growers saddled with costs and time investments that won’t provide them any return.
“I do think, for some of the metrics, we will find positive outcomes related to profitability,” he says.
In other cases, the benefit may not be so clear.
“There are areas where you are doing it because it’s a public good, not necessarily a private good,” he says.
When growers produce public benefits that don’t help their bottom lines, they should get reimbursed in some way, he says, perhaps through farm bill allocations or directly from buyers.
Despite everyone’s best efforts, there’s no guarantee that, at the end of the process, the growers he represents will be willing to accept any metrics that are developed, says Keeling of the National Potato Council.
“But we think it’s the best process in which to try to ferret through all that and potentially end up at a point of agreement.”
“Is there efficacy to this whole program? I don’t know,” says Martin of Rio Farms. “I’m hoping that they will allow the public to review (the stewardship index) for a long time before they start pushing anything on people.”
For more information on the stewardship index, visit http://www.stewardshipindex.org.
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