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The Packer: Stewardship Index Ramps Up Pilot Projects

Tom Karst, The Packer


More sustainability pilot projects are coming.

The Stewardship Index for Specialty Crops hopes for 150 pilot participants in 2012 and 250 in 2013, as it plans for greater industry adoption.

Jessica Siegal Winberry, program director for the Stewardship Index for Specialty Crops, Sebastopol, Calif., said the group is finalizing communications with potential participants in the pilots for this year. About 60 growers piloted the metrics in 2010, she said.

The aim of the Stewardship Index is delivering a single set metrics that could be applied to the entire industry.

Siegal Winberry said a number of retailers are piloting metrics in their supply chains.

“Our hope is at the close of this pilot season, we will be able to say that these four metrics as they are written can be adopted by the industry,” she said.

The group’s “metrics calculator” includes measures for nutrient use, energy and water use and soil health, she said.

Development continues for other metrics, such as greenhouse gases , which will likely join the list of agreed upon metrics in 2013, she said.

The underlying goal, she said, is to develop case studies that prove the theories and concepts of the pilot participants and that can explain the value of the metrics to growers.

Another big goal, she said, is to have a critical mass of pilot participants in key crops and regions, which will allow peer-to-peer learning and the benchmarking across operations.

“If you have a large enough number of participants and you can guarantee anonymity, then you can start to look at the high and low end of the scope of input use,” Siegal Winberry said.

Funding for the development of the Stewardship Index, managed by Ag Innovations Network, Sebastopol, has largely come from U.S. Department of Agriculture Conservation/Innovation grant funding since 2009. That support will continue through 2013, she said.

However, greater industry involvement in funding the effort is on the agenda for the group’s steering committee this year, she said.

The need for the Stewardship Index for Specialty Crop remains as relevant as ever, said Kathy Means, vice president of government relations and public affairs for the Newark, Del.-based Produce Marketing Association.

“We really need to be developing these standard metrics so folks can just measure once,” Means said.