Sustainability has become a popular topic across all industries throughout the world. It is the latest fashion, in terms of companies scrambling to convince consumers they are more sustainable than their competition. In the produce industry, however, this is not a new concept — it has been around and in practice for hundreds of years.
The concept of sustainability is simple, as it applies to agriculture, and it is only natural to protect and defend the land, water and proper farming methods that ensure the continued fertility of the land and ongoing production of fresh produce. Unfortunately, the industry has done a relatively poor job of getting the information out to consumers about the long-standing support and utilization of sustainable agricultural practices.
During my career in this dynamic industry, I had the opportunity to see and experience all sides of food production — from family farming to buying and selling, from warehouse to retail, from transportation to production, and from import to export. In all cases, I witnessed the care and concern demonstrated by each industry member to conserve and protect the valuable land and water resources that make produce production possible.
At the field level, producers (especially family farms) take care of their land, water, etc. religiously, as these natural resources have been the source of their entire existence over hundreds of years. This success has been based on using all methods that prolong and increase the health of their industry. That includes crop rotation, proper land use, water conservation, energy efficiency, regulated and controlled use of pesticides and fertilizer (which are very expensive and are used sparingly because of cost). These farming practices have proven to be effective in protecting their assets and promoting the health of the land and environment.
Retail is contributing to sustainability in many ways, including:
- Maximizing transportation by optimizing the load size
- Limiting the number of pickups
- Minimizing miles traveled
- Utilizing new developments and alternatives, such as electric vehicles, computer and data usage, and advanced communications/tracking.
Warehouse and buying work together to minimize the time in the warehouse to reduce refrigeration costs and energy use. By utilizing temperature zones for families of products, they can maximize the benefits of refrigeration while controlling energy use.
Three positive methods used in warehouse and tracking are: assembling loads for a maximum load; concentrating delivery areas to eliminate unnecessary miles; and picking up products and returning them to warehouses to spare fuel.
Store operations also play a part by protecting the value of the produce received. This includes proper rotation, culling, precise ordering and temperature control — all designed to reduce waste and limit energy use. Proper care and technology on display, which is enhanced by new equipment, can maximize efficiency of energy use and protect the products.
Sustainability is nothing new in the produce industry. The notion of protecting our collective livelihood and future success of the industry is second nature and one that has proven to be successful over time. It will continue to be a priority as long as the environment and fresh produce are valued.
It seems obvious that, in the produce industry, sustainability is inbred in its operations and continues to be a priority through all levels of the operations across the country and the world. The fact that sustainability is so ingrained in the operation of the produce industry, it seems like it would be just common sense that all the operators will continue to lead the world in the practice of sustainability.