Saturday, December 3, 2022

Sustainability: A ‘Good News’ Story To Tell

The Sustainable U.S. Peanut Initiative provides a toolkit to communicate with consumers who are increasingly making choices based on environmental impact.

⋅ By Amanda Huber ⋅

The peanut industry abounds with data. The Peanut Genomic Initiative mapped the genetic makeup of the peanut, and now breeding is possible using marker-assisted selection. Production research helps increase yield and fight pests. Nutrition studies show the healthy aspects of this beloved legume. New information shows peanuts need less water to produce more crop. The industry runs on numbers, but there is a data set that is lacking. It is needed documentation and something customers are increasingly asking for. Where does the peanut industry stand on sustainability?

With its reach across all segments of the industry – growers, shellers, manufacturers and allied businesses – the American Peanut Council is the natural choice to lead this effort. Months ago, APC leaders, in collaboration with stakeholders from across the peanut industry, laid out a plan to collect the needed data. They received input from the National Peanut Research Lab and other industry data sources on the framework and potential questions. With cotton as the natural rotation partner, they worked with the cotton industry’s Cotton Trust Protocol to develop a platform. They hired Eric Coronel as the trade association’s first-ever sustainability director. 

Tell Your Sustainability Story

All elements in place, the APC unveiled the Sustainable U.S. Peanuts Initiative to begin enrolling peanut growers in this effort in late January. 

“You are the ones who need to tell your story; therefore, we need your participation,” says Coronel, who, prior to his work with APC, was a senior research analyst with Field to Market: The Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture and oversaw the collection and analysis of year-to-year progress of 11 U.S. crops against indicators of environmental sustainability. “The initiative is voluntary, but we hope to talk with growers and discuss what can be learned from it.” 

APC President and CEO Richard Owen, says, “This is an opportunity for growers to document themselves within a systemized and tested platform the practices they are doing on their farm. The data will be aggregated together to tell what’s happening more broadly across the industry, and just as important, to provide back to growers documentation on what is happening on their farm in relation to farming practices in the region and nationwide.” 

“Having this data is important to be able to chart the sustainability path for peanuts. There is a good story to tell,” Coronel says.

For more information or to register, go to sustainableuspeanuts.org.

Benefit To Growers And Consumers

The Sustainable U.S. Peanuts Initiative has two purposes; the first is customer facing. “All the data will be aggregated for industry use in creating their messaging to customers,” Coronel says. “The industry will be able to use it for domestic and export marketing.

“The other is more private facing, and it is to be able to help growers,” he says. “A grower who participates will get information back about their farm compared to the region’s benchmarks and metrics and be able to make management decisions based on that. In terms of data, it will always be shared in aggregate, not on an individual level. The grower owns their individual data.” 

Owen says, “Our customers, especially, are asking for more and more transparency. That is not going to go away. 

“The more we can document and share what’s being done currently and what’s being put into place for the future is going to be important. It’s hard to recover if a story is told incorrectly or it’s not the whole story.”

Working With Cotton

In the summer of 2020, the cotton industry’s U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol opened to prove, measure and verify U.S. cotton’s sustainability credentials. The goal is to give brands and retailers the critical assurances needed that the cotton fiber element of their supply chain is more sustainably grown with lower environmental and social risk. The system lets U.S. growers document and highlight their land management and environmental stewardship practices while helping them achieve continuous improvement in six sustainability metrics: land use, soil carbon, water management, soil loss, greenhouse gas emissions and energy efficiency.

The APC worked with the cotton industry to create a grower platform based on the Cotton Trust Protocol template. 

“We are working to make data collection easy and efficient,” Coronel says. “At the end of the day, you will not have to provide us as much data as we would need if we were not working with the cotton industry.” 

Both grower platforms aim to bring quantifiable and verifiable goals and measurements to sustainable cotton and peanut production in order to drive continuous improvement in key sustainability metrics.

For each peanut field entered into the platform, farmers will receive eight sustainability metric scores, seven if non-irrigated, along with state and national benchmarks as available.

It’s About Trust And Comfort

Starting now is a great opportunity to be proactive in creating our own program before buyers or external markets try to impose a sustainability program on the American peanut industry, Coronel says. “Consumers are demanding transparency because they want to be able to trust products they eat or use. We believe this initiative will help the industry move in that direction.” 

In the end, the peanut industry will have a great story of sustainability with formalized data to take to buyers and markets.

Owen says, “The goal is not to communicate directly to consumers, but to provide manufacturers with a toolkit to communicate with their consumers all the good things about peanuts.”

“Acting now allows us to control the path taken,” Coronel says. “Our customers want to be able to feel comfortable eating our product. We also must consider that farmers need to make a living. Farmers will learn from this program, and consumers will be able to see the footprint of peanuts and know that they can trust this product.” PG

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