A lighter ‘fieldprint’
The good story that farmers have to tell will soon be as visible as the footprint they leave on a field.
A Fieldprint Calculator, now in the testing phase on farms throughout the nation, is allowing producers to take a snapshot of their practices and benchmark them against established standards. It’s been in use at the field level since last August.
The calculator is a project of Field to Market: The Keystone Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture, which is made up of producer groups, conservation organizations, food and retail companies, agribusinesses, and academia.
• The new Fieldprint Calculator takes a snapshot of grower practices.
• The calculator is still in the beta phase of testing.
• The goal is to reduce a farmer’s impact on land and improve profits.
The Alliance was formed in 2006 to define and motivate more sustainable production in commodity crops and support and encourage those practices. Its mission is to “champion solutions for tomorrow’s safe, accessible and nutritious food, fiber and fuel in thriving ecosystems.”
The Fieldprint Calculator is a way to document practices on the farm and benchmark them across a region and the nation. In simple terms, a fieldprint can be likened to taking your blood pressure at a mall kiosk. If your blood pressure is high, you visit a doctor. In ag terms, a fieldprint documents the impact of a farm on the environment in regard to erosion, water use, energy use, climate impact and land use.
While a high blood pressure reading leads to a doctor’s appointment, a snapshot of field practices might lead to a trip to the Natural Resources Conservation Service for help in addressing concerns with programs that could reduce the production impact on the farm.
At the local NRCS office, such cost-share programs as the Environmental Quality Incentives Program could help growers meet their conservation goals, says Scott Edwards, Louisiana state resource conservationist with NRCS.
“A tool like the Fieldprint Calculator allows growers to continue to do it the right way long term,” Edwards says.
Producer Jay Hardwick says the calculator allows him to document the sustainability of the practices he uses on his wife’s family’s Somerset Plantation. “We are caretakers of this land,” with both an economic and environmental responsibility, Hardwick says.
“This tool will help growers understand their impact on the environment,” says Janet Reed of Cotton Incorporated. “Farmers have a good story to tell, and this enables it to be told from a science-based program, grounded in facts.”
At a tour of Somerset Plantation near Newellton, La., various stakeholders, including NRCS, looked at the positive impact no-till, double-cropping, flood remediation, conservation structures, wetland remediation and conservation tillage have had on reducing the farmer’s impact.
The program helped Hardwick document a reduction in energy use, soil loss and water use for cotton, soybeans and wheat.
On a widespread scale, Reed hopes that grower groups such as the National Cotton Council and the USA Rice Federation, two organizations in the Alliance, will be able to help educate growers about practices that assist in conserving natural resources.
“We want growers to become aware of their impact, reduce their impact and conserve resources … while making a profit,” Reed says.
This article published in the August, 2010 edition of MID-SOUTH FARMER.