I recently came across this blurb that caught my eye: "A recent survey found that 79% of global consumers are changing their purchase preferences based on sustainability, and 66% choose to purchase products based on environmental friendliness."

This piqued my interest, so I did a little more digging. With a few keystrokes, I found
another study that said that over 70% of consumers believe sustainability is important when selecting products to buy. Nearly half of these consumers say they buy sustainable products for their environmental impact.

Yep—the desire for “sustainably” produced products is as strong (if not stronger) than ever.

All of this would lead one to believe in the near future, we are going to see more and more efforts by processors and retailers to brand their products as “sustainable” or “regenerative” or something. There is no way to know for sure, but the evidence seems to point in the direction of farmers and ranchers having to at least give a little thought about how the commodities they produce would fit into this narrative. As the old saying goes, “the customer is always right,” and if these surveys are to be believed, the customers seem more and more to be interested in putting money toward products that are produced in the most environmentally friendly way possible.

This push for more environmentally sustainable food and fiber is actually one of the driving forces behind the Partnership for Climate Smart Commodities initiative that was launched in February of 2022. With a total investment of over $3 billion from the USDA Commodity Credit Corporation this effort is designed to develop pilot projects that will help develop strategies and potential new marketing opportunities that producers can use to meet this growing demand for more sustainably produced products.

The three main goals of these projects are to:

  1. Provide technical and financial assistance to producers to implement climate-smart production practices on a voluntary basis on working lands;
  2. Pilot innovative and cost-effective methods for quantification, monitoring, reporting and verification of greenhouse gas benefits; and
  3. Develop markets and promote the resulting climate-smart commodities.

USDA anticipates that these projects will result in hundreds of expanded markets and revenue streams for farmers and ranchers and commodities across agriculture and forestry, corn to specialty crops as well as providing environmental benefits in the way of things like carbon sequestration and avoided emissions, improvements to both water quality and quantity, reduced soil erosion and improved wildlife habitats.

As of this writing, over 141 projects around the country have been approved under this initiative, including several that impact the Southern Plains. Over the course of the year, we will try and highlight some of the efforts in our region, beginning with a conversation we had with Adam York, Director of Sustainability for the National Sorghum Producers, about the sustainable grain sorghum effort they are launching as part of this You can also read a blog we did on this issue some time back as well as listen to the interview we had with Debbie Lyons-Blythe, Chair of the U.S. Roundtable for Sustainable Beef. You also can read a little about climate smart agriculture at what it means in another piece we wrote here.

The issue of sustainability is not going away. It’s not being driven by laws or regulations but by the marketplace. It’s important that we find options to take advantage of any new marketing opportunities that might arise while also positioning ourselves to meet any new demands that might be placed on us by the folks purchasing our commodities. We also need to better prepare our farms and ranches for extreme weather events like droughts and floods. If we can do all this at the same, so much the better (it’s also important to remember that most of the practices that folks want producers to follow to be “sustainable” fall under the umbrella of soil health and climate smart agriculture and qualify for assistance through USDA NRCS conservation programs like the Environmental Quality Incentives Program or EQIP or the Conservation Stewardship Program or CSP. We’ve written about this before.)

The sustainability train is still running. We need to figure out how to get on board — or at least stay off the tracks.

Related Content:

Protecting Natural Resources Goes Hand-in-Hand with Protecting Your Wallet,
Pope: Drylands Are Very Dry,
No-Till Key to Sustainability for Brazil