The Stewardship Index for Specialty Crops (SISC) is one answer to the complex question of what sustainability means for producers and consumers of specialty crops (fruits, vegetables and nuts).
SISC aims to advance both optimal production and strong environmental protection by offering a suite of science-driven metrics empowering producers to measure on-farm practices (i.e. water use, nitrogen use, etc.) accurately and consistently. Metric data give consumers, food buyers, and producers a common language for discussing the impact of farming practices – and the meaningful stewardship activities of U.S. farmers.
What makes SISC unique? SISC is a coaltion of producers, buyers, and public interest groups who are collaborating to develop and share metrics that all parties agree are the most important indicators of stewardship.
By developing, refining and promoting farmer-tested tools that anyone can use to measure performance, SISC is aligned with many other initiatives globally in advocating for measuring specific outcomes rather than endorsing the use of less accountable 'checklists of practices' that many businesses have been asked to use.
Operators in the specialty crop supply chain are facing diverse demands to demonstrate "sustainability" to their customers and end-consumers. While other certification and supplier education programs have attempted to address these demands, most focus on a niche market, a limited set of crops, and/or a specific link in the supply chain. In contrast, SISC metrics provide the specialty crops industry with a free, comprehensive system for measuring on-farm performance.
Quantitative performance metrics, developed collaboratively, offer significant potential benefits, including:
- Providing a standardized system for measuring and reporting performance, thus reducing the potential for duplicative systems;
- Allowing individual operators to engage in the sustainability journey starting at (and regardless of) their current level of performance;
- Addressing the unique needs of the specialty crop industry while demonstrably improving environmental and social impacts;
- Helping operators identify opportunities for increasing efficiency and reducing costs; Enabling verifiable marketing claims (i.e., backed by measurable performance data);
- Reducing the likelihood of future industry regulation by solving problems and demonstrating improved performance to regulators; and
- Freeing users to innovate best practices-by focusing their sights on performance outcomes rather than specific processes.
SISC regards sustainability as an ongoing commitment to advancing environmental, social and economic values. The project does not aim to identify who or what is "sustainable," but instead to provide common measurement tools to help all participants implement and communicate clearly about sustainability activities.
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