click image to zoomCoral BeachJohn Keeling, chief executive officer for the National Potato Council, (far right) moderates a panel discussion about sustainability practices during the Potato Expo 2012 in Orlando.ORLANDO, Fla. — They all had slightly different ways of expressing it, but when panelists at the Potato Expo 2012 discussed sustainability, their message came down to three words known as the triple bottom line: people, planet, profit.
From growers to processors to a retail analyst, the 3P message was repeated, along with the rationale behind it.
“It’s just the right thing to do” was the comment from every panelist.
With 42 years of background in retail produce procurement for Kroger and his familiarity with the entire fresh sector as chairman of Washington D.C.-based United Fresh Produce Association, Reggie Griffin said he felt his role on the panel was to represent the consumer.
“For consumers, sustainability is a growing concern,” Griffin said. “It’s similar to organics. Customers are going to demand it more and more. If the industry doesn’t determine the metrics, someone else will.”
The need to determine the metrics was a common theme.
Eric Halverson, executive vice president of technology for Black Gold Farms in Forest River, N.D., said the fact that his family has thrived for four generations as potato growers is proof their operation is sustainable. The tricky part is how to measure their efforts.
“Record-keeping is a must,” Halverson said, adding that Black Gold uses field sensors and high-tech equipment on tractors to collect field data.
“The question now is how do we deliver that data to our customers? In the end, none of it matters if no one trusts us.”
As big buyers of potatoes, McCain Foods’ director of corporate improvement for North America, Leigh Morrow, and Frito-Lay’s senior director for North America agro operations, Gerhard Bester, both said standardized processes to capture and report data are vital.
They both also stressed that the sustainable practices of their suppliers are as important to them as their own companies’ practices.
“The focus has moved through the supply chain to the source of our raw materials,” Bester said. “The challenge is to make farming more productive while protecting natural resources.”
Eli Wollman, farm manager for Warden Hutterian Brethren Farms in Warden, Wash., said protecting natural resources has been standard operating procedure for decades. They upgraded techniques as technology advanced.
“We take soil samples every 150 feet, partly because the processors we sell to require monthly data on our water use,” Wollman said. “Our irrigation systems are tied to telemetry and can be adjusted from our pickup trucks in the field.”
Regardless of the technology or the size of the operation, Bob Meek, chief executive officer for Wada Farms Marketing Group in Idaho Falls, Idaho, said good stewardship of the land makes sense and cents.
“We can’t be careless. It would be too costly,” said Meek, the chief executive over Wada’s 30,000 acres. “We’ve always been sustainable, but we’ve only made it official with plans and reports in the last four or five years.
“For those who haven’t started yet, just jump in, don’t be afraid. Track everything you do and publish it.”