Sustainable Agriculture

Multi-Commodity Sustainability Practices Program


The California Department of Food and Agriculture funded GVC to create a Multi-Commodity Sustainability Practices Program that brought together specialty crop commodity groups in a collaborative effort to develop a sustainable practices program strategic plan. The project was stewarded by a team including GVC; SureHarvest, a company instrumental in developing the wine industry sustainability program; and Sustainable Conservation, a non-profit that looks for economic solutions to address climate change.

Tools for Establishing a Sustainability Program

The Multi-Commodity Sustainability Practices Program resulted in two tools for commodity groups or individual growers to use in establishing a sustainability program or strengthening their industry’s or organization’s existing sustainable practices:

What is Sustainability?

The concept of sustainability is permeating conversations at all levels of the food system. The time is ripe for agriculture to engage in this discussion and bring the industry’s knowledge and perspective to the table. The Great Valley Center works with agriculture to explore varying models and approaches to sustainability.

Defining what one means by sustainability is essential for a productive dialog to ensue. It appears that most definitions have found their root in the United Nations World Commission on Environmental and Development definition expressed in the 1987 “Our Common Future” report: “that which meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

Sustainability rests on the principle that we must meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Therefore, stewardship of both natural and human resources is of prime importance.  A systems perspective is essential to understanding sustainability. The system is envisioned in its broadest sense, from the individual farm, to the local ecosystem, and to communities affected by this farming system both locally and globally. A systems approach also implies interdisciplinary efforts in research and education. This requires not only the input of researchers from various disciplines, but also farmers, farmworkers, consumers, policymakers and others.  Making the transition to sustainable agriculture is a process.

Reaching toward the goal of sustainable agriculture is the responsibility of all participants in the system, including farmers, laborers, policymakers, researchers, retailers, and consumers. Each group has its own part to play, its own unique contribution to make to strengthen the sustainable agriculture community.

Industry Examples

USDA Sustainable Agriculture
“Sustainable agriculture” was addressed by Congress in the 1990 “Farm Bill” [Food, Agriculture, Conservation, and Trade Act of 1990 (FACTA), Public Law 101-624, Title XVI, Subtitle A, Section 1603 (Government Printing Office, Washington, DC, 1990) NAL Call # KF1692.A31 1990]. Under that law, “the term sustainable agriculture means an integrated system of plant and animal production practices having a site-specific application that will, over the long term:

  • satisfy human food and fiber needs
  • enhance environmental quality and the natural resource base upon which the agricultural economy depends
  • make the most efficient use of nonrenewable resources and on-farm resources and integrate, where appropriate, natural biological cycles and controls
  • sustain the economic viability of farm operations
  • enhance the quality of life for farmers and society as a whole.

California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance
Growing and winemaking practices that are sensitive to the environment (Environmentally Sound), responsive to the needs and interests of society-at-large (Socially Equitable), and are economically feasible to implement and maintain (Economically Feasible).  The combination of these three principles is often referred to as the three “E’s” of sustainability.

Almond Board of California
Sustainable almond farming utilizes production practices that are economically viable and are based upon both scientific research and common sense. It is motivated by a respect for the environment, neighbors and employees. The result is a plentiful, healthy and safe food product.

Lodi-Woodbridge Winegrape Commission
In 1989, the American Agronomy Society adopted the following definition for sustainable agriculture: “A sustainable agriculture is one that, over the long term, enhances environmental quality and the resource base on which agriculture depends; provides for basic human food and fiber needs; is economically viable; and enhances the quality of life for farmers and society as a whole.” The Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program at University of California, Davis (UC SAREP) emphasizes that sustainable agriculture integrates 3 main goals-environmental health, economic profitability, and social and economic equity. UC SAREP also points out that a systems perspective is essential to understanding sustainable agriculture. Farming does not operate in a vacuum. Each farmer’s field is part of a complex community ecosystem, which in turn can effect or be impacted by global economics and even global ecological processes (e.g., El Nino). A systems perspective involves viewing multiple factors when considering field and farm-level decisions.

The Lodi Rules for Sustainable Winegrowing is guided by the CAWG definition.

University of California Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program
Sustainable agriculture integrates three main goals–environmental health, economic profitability, and social and economic equity. A variety of philosophies, policies and practices have contributed to these goals. People in many different capacities, from farmers to consumers, have shared this vision and contributed to it. Despite the diversity of people and perspectives, the following themes commonly weave through definitions of sustainable agriculture:

Models of Sustainability

GlobalG.A.P. is a non-governmental organization that sets voluntary standards for the certification of agricultural products around the globe. The GLOBALG.A.P. Standard is primarily designed to reassure consumers about how food is produced on the farm by minimizing detrimental environmental impacts of farming operations, reducing the use of chemicals and ensuring a responsible approach to worker health and safety as well as animal welfare.

California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance
The California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance (CSWA) is a San Francisco-based 501(c)3 nonprofit organization incorporated in 2003, created by Wine Institute and the California Association of Winegrape Growers to promote the benefits of sustainable winegrowing practices, enlist industry commitment and assist in implementation of the Sustainable Winegrowing Program.

Lodi Rules
Lodi Rules were California’s first sustainable winegrowing standards that have been peer reviewed by scientists, academics and environmentalists and are being implemented on a region-wide basis. The Lodi Rules Sustainable Winegrowing: Farming  Practices Standards are designed to lead to measurable improvements in environmental health of the surrounding ecosystem, society-at-large, and wine quality. Participating growers can get their vineyards certified as producing sustainably-grown winegrapes.

Positive Points System for California Citrus
Self-assessment tool for evaluating sustainable citrus management practices.  A 1,100 point self-assessment tool for evaluating the extent of sustainable practices used in citrus orchards.  The scores are used to educate and guide growers towards more sustainable practices and to quantify the adoption of safety programs and reduced risk practices used in California citrus.  The PPS was developed through a collaborative partnership of growers, pest control advisors and the University of California Cooperative Extension personnel. The end result describes a sustainable citrus orchard in which both natural and human resources are maintained.

Sustainable Cotton
The Sustainable Cotton Project has been building bridges between farmers, manufacturers and consumers to pioneer markets for certified organically grown and sustainable cotton, including working on the ground with local farmers. SCP’s guiding philosophy of “cooperation for a change” has fostered a new level of shared information among farmers, manufacturers and others in support of creating a cleaner cotton industry. In 2003, SCP joined with the Community Alliance with Family Farmers (CAFF) to strengthen its operation and reach into farm and consumer audiences. CAFF and SCP are collaborating to provide growers with information about biological farming techniques and to educate the public about the importance of reducing chemical use in food and fiber production.

SYSCO Agricultural Sustainability Program
SYSCO’s sustainable agriculture program focuses on environmental stewardship and rural social vitality. They currently have a series of initiatives to address these issues:

  • Integrated Pest Control
  • Buy Local, Sell Fresh
  • Ag-In-The-Middle Procurement
  • Business Coalition For More Sustainable Food

This program was supported by a grant from:

California Department of Food and Agriculture