Buzzwords, which can be a word or a phrase,
catch on from time to time in society, business
groups, industries, the media, politics, etc. A popular
buzzword in agriculture these days is sustainability.
In rice, as well as in other commodities, it’s
dominating conversations among consumers, end
users, merchants, millers, researchers and university
personnel, farmers, organizations and all other segments
of the industry.
The challenge with the word “sustainability” has
been to craft a universal definition from which everyone can work. As
Jennifer James, Chairman of the USA Rice Federation Sustainability Task
Force notes in “Sustainable Agriculture,” which begins on page 6, this is
easier said than done. Socio economic factors, such as jobs and quality of
life in rural communities have to be incorporated into the definition of sustainability
“The definition seems to be evolving, and it depends on whose viewpoint
you are looking at, too,” she says. “For example, the food companies may
have a different objective than, say, the conservation and nature groups.”
When an Arkansas rice farmer was asked how he would define sustainability,
he thought for a moment then said, “Well, we’re still here.” This
answer makes sense to me, but, unfortunately, to satisfy many of today’s
consumers, we have to come up with more specifics and be able to measure
and define the good that the rice industry is doing in the sustainability arena.
Many consumers are demanding what they consider “tangible proof” to
hang their hats on when buying our product. However, thanks to the efforts
of the Sustainability Task Force, the U.S. rice industry is making progress.
In a recently released Field To Market report, which analyzes sustainability
trends on a national scale for U.S. rice and several other commodities
from 1980 to 2011, our industry is producing more rice with fewer
resources. For example, as far as resource efficiency per hundredweight of
rice produced, the report shows a 35 percent decrease in land use, 34 percent
in soil erosion, 53 percent in irrigation water applied, 38 percent in energy
use and 38 percent in greenhouse gas emissions.
Rice also was recognized in a positive manner related to sustainability by
the NRCS a couple of years ago when the industry became the first recipient
of the Legacy of Conservation Award.
To me personally, the bottom line goes back to the Arkansas farmer’s
assessment that “Well, we’re still here,” and the U.S. rice industry is continuing
to produce safe, nutritious food in an efficient manner as well as supporting
surrounding rural communities, being good stewards of the land and
providing an ideal habitat for wildlife and waterfowl. That’s what I call
sustainability on the highest level.
Send your comments to: Editor, Rice Farming Magazine, 1010 June Road, Suite 102, Memphis, Tenn., 38119. Call (901) 767-4020 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.