Sustainable agriculture for local farmers

Anna Triponel

February 25, 2022
Our key takeaway: Producers on the ground are the key to drive sustainable, regenerative agricultural practices. Yet they can’t do this without a broader systems transformation, such as support, technical assistance and incentives from downstream purchasers. The agriculture industry also cannot afford to forget about the “human dimensions” of change, engaging with farmers to understand both what they need and what they want for their sector.

Field To Market and Trust In Food conducted a study of over 500 row crop farmers across the United States to identify gaps and solutions towards more sustainable agricultural practices. While the report focuses on U.S. producers, these insights are valuable for food and beverage companies procuring from farmers around the globe:

  • Now is the time to re-frame, re-cast, and re-imagine”: The report found different barriers to farmers adopting sustainable and regenerative agriculture practices. While “an overwhelming majority of producers (76%)” focused on profitability as the most important indicator to assess their operation’s performance, farmers also “revealed “softer” motivations and barriers that play a significant role, such as perceived level of effort, opinions of neighbors and peers, and perception of risk.” The report suggests that some of these barriers could be overcome by “[r]eframing value through a farmer lens.” For example, 59% of producers said they have not calculated the economic benefits of adopting conservation agriculture practices, and 22% do not see a value in doing so. But “[r]e-casting this calculation process as a critical component to financial decision making success on the farm could increase its use.”
  • Use a systems approach to design end-to-end, comprehensive education and incentive programs”: The report highlights the need to consider the “confluence and interplay” of factors that determine whether farmers adopt sustainable practices. However, there are “not enough sustainability initiatives designed to account for this complex web of pressures,” demanding a systems approach to supporting agricultural transitions. There is a key role for downstream players in making the case for sustainable practices upstream: “[w]ith 88% of growers indicating they are not currently involved in a private company’s supply chain sustainability program, there is significant opportunity for downstream brands and retailers to mobilize the middle majority of growers by tailoring solutions to address the diversity of farmer needs and motivations.”
  • Meet producers where they are, with what they need—but don’t forget the importance of what they want”: “The data in this report paints a clear picture that producers lack the decision making support and business management tools they need to evolve their operations towards the expanded adoption of more conservation-minded management practices.” These tools must be designed to meet the needs and contexts of producers. The report puts forward the “Golden Triangle for Accelerating On-Farm Climate Impact,” a framework that encourages blended solutions rather than standalone incentives. The triangle has three dimensions. Human dimensions of change “factor in how farmers think, feel, and take action across psychological, social and cultural considerations,” and rely on trust-building between farmers and those requesting the change. Technical assistance means that farmers need to tools and understanding to implement the right solutions. Producers also need financial incentives and supports to move forward.

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