‘Farmer-friendly’ data collection paves way for sustainable solutions – EURACTIV.com


With a growing demand for sustainable products, reliable data is essential for farmers to improve their production practices and prove their green credentials. But how can this be done in practice? EURACTIV is taking a closer look at a protocol putting this into action.

Sustainable sourcing is high on the European Commission’s agenda, from its flagship food policy, the Farm to Fork strategy, which aims to improve the sustainability of each stage of crop production systems, to its new action plan for the circular economy.

But while both strategies place a strong emphasis on the need for measurable and verifiable data, navigation can be a minefield for producers.

“We have a lot of data that we’ve collected, but then it becomes overwhelming when you try to sort through all of that data and go, what does that mean? That’s the real challenge, ”US cotton producer Aaron Barcello told EURACTIV in an interview.

To help streamline this, Barcello, along with hundreds of other American cotton producers, signed a sustainability protocol called the US Cotton Trust Protocol (USCTP).

The protocol, which sets a new standard for more sustainably grown cotton, harnesses the data to help farmers improve their sustainability, while providing retailers with assurances about the quality of their product.

“The USCTP measure is unique in that sustainability progress is verified using data collected from pre-planting operations to post-harvest operations,” explained Deepika Mishra, USCTP Special Advisor to EURACTIV.

In this way, the protocol brings quantifiable and verifiable objectives and measures to cotton production to help improve key parameters of sustainability.

“Accurate data collection paves the way for appropriate environmental decisions,” said Mishra, stressing that data analysis is “only as good as the quality of data obtained during the collection process.”

“Inaccuracy of the data will lead to false conclusions due to misinterpretation of the results,” she warned.

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It takes a family to raise a crop

To collect this data, the protocol works in a series of steps through partners and intermediaries.

First, producers conduct a best practice self-assessment on nine key principles, including soil health, water management and biodiversity, among other criteria.

Farmers then collect and enter data using a “field to market” platform where producers can track their data to understand it.

An essential part of the Field to Market platform is the Field Print Calculator (FPC), through which producers enter information related to the management of their farm on topics such as crop rotation, application practices nutrients and fertilizers and pest control.

The calculator then uses this information to provide a score on environmental parameters such as water quality, land use, soil conservation and carbon.

“With the help of the measurement score, producers can compare their results to national and national averages, which helps the producer to understand where he stands in relation to other producers in his region and to implement practical and practical practices. region-specific, ”explained USCTP’s Mishra. at EURACTIV.

Focus “friendly for farmers”

Using such platforms makes it easier for farmers to enter their data, according to Allison Thomson, vice president of science and research at Field to Market.

“We often hear that the hardest part of our projects is getting the farmers to enter the data, we know that a key barrier to entry is just being able to sit down and enter all the information. So we are working on a lot of ways to make this easier, ”she explained.

For Thomson, whose role is to ensure that the sustainability measures needed for sustainability assessment are based on the latest scientific advances, the use of such platforms helps farmers see that the measures that ‘they implement in their farms operate.

“A lot of our farmers are pretty progressive, they want to embrace the latest sustainability practices, but they also want to be able to see that it works. And so, they find value in our platform that way, ”she said.

Results compared to practices

Thomson pointed out that one of the strengths of the protocol is that it focuses on results rather than practices.

“In Europe, many programs are much more focused on practice than on results. But our whole program is designed so that it doesn’t tell you how much fertilizer to apply, but rather what the environmental result of that choice is ”.

“We don’t want to tell farmers what to do. But we want to monitor your results and help you improve them, ”she explained, stressing that this ensures that farmers are a key stakeholder around the table“ from the start ”.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic and Benjamin Fox]

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