#NextGenerationFarming was the theme of this year’s SAI Platform Annual Event. Held in Chicago, IL on 26-28 June, SAI Platform members and guests gathered to take part in an informative and honest talking event. Relations between the consumer and the farmer, the need for better farmer support as well as greater collaboration across multiple stakeholders were some of the key themes open to discussion.
1. Collaboration means everyone is sitting at the table
A unanimous agreement crossed the room that in order to continue producing food, multiple-stakeholders must come together and address the challenges faced by the agriculture industry.
Margaret Henry, Director Sustainable Agriculture, PepsiCo, commented that this collaboration included cross sectors such as the feed industry, finance and energy (renewables) sectors and policy makers to support it. Henry argued was that it was important to move beyond simply putting a bit more money into the farmer’s pocket.
Farmer and Sustainability Officer, NM USFRA, Jay Hill stated that – “it is time to sit down with the radical environmentalists and animal rights activists and acknowledge that they have some valid points.”
2. The consumer is far from the farmer
Dr. Candace Croney commented on the disconnection between consumer perceptions towards farming and the reality of farming practice. Due to a breakdown in communications the consumer does not understand the basics of farming or how food is produced. If the consumer perceives problems in animal welfare, they’ll believe there are problems across the board in sustainability.
With the help of the whole agricultural industry together, farmers can tell their story, be more open and transparent and in turn, reconnect with the consumer and policy-maker.
3. Soil is the core asset of any farm
“I believe the climate is changing by the day, by the minute, and by the second. As a resilient farmer, it is my job to battle this. My way of doing this is through managing the soil,” stated Jay Hill.
Soil is an essential component to farming and farmers are now talking about soil health.
As seen on many of the field visits, key practices for healthier soil include no tillage, use of cover crops, diversity of crops, plants and the inclusion of livestock. However, it is also through creating markets that will drive the diversity needed to maintain healthy soil.
4. Diversity in farming
Women have always been central to agriculture commented Christine Daugherty, Vice President Global Sustainable Agriculture & Responsible Sourcing, PepsiCo. Right now, there is an increase by 27% of women running farm business (USDA Census, 2019).
The next step for farming is more diversity in terms of skills, education and the inclusion of more women. On a global scale, there is a need to address the fact that women work longer hours, they do not hold land titles, are unable to buy quality seeds or machinery, and lack education and support.
“If more women were running farms, there is a prediction of reduction in global hunger by 100 million,” said Daugherty.
5. Not everyone in farming should be in farming
Farming is a financially risky business, but it is also a lifestyle. Farmers look at their business in terms of generations not in years. They have to be adaptable and flexible as increasingly, extreme weather patterns and conditions are the difference between making profit and breaking even.
Mike Cossins, corn farmer, and former office worker in operations management, talked about how farmers see themselves as resource managers. As he stated – “Take what you’ve already got and make it stable”. For Cossins this was a question of correctly managing your assets to generate the cash flow required to work on the more difficult areas.
For the next generation of farmers and the present, Cossins’ message was clear, “farmers should either adopt progressive practices or get out of farming.”
Sustainable farming requires passion, long-term commitment and the right support and as Rick Clark, farmer, stated – “I’m not here to win the first lap, I’m here to win the last.”