Takeaways from PASA’s Sustainable Agriculture Conference.
By: Taylor Cox, Inside Sales & Customer Care at Utopihen Farms.
Attending PASA‘s Sustainable Agriculture Conference always increases my excitement (if that’s even possible!) for agriculture and our food system. This years event sparked a lot of questions that carry me into a part of the year that is all about pondering, cultivating new viewpoints, watering creative ideas, and gaining a fresh perspective.
Pondering and Defining Sustainability
Some of the “ponderings” I came away with after this year’s conference beg for answers. How can more sustainable techniques be incorporated into a laying hen operation? How can we help our farmers decrease the herbicides, pesticides, and fertilizers they so often put into their soil? What does it look like for a pasture raised egg company to truly farm sustainably?
The USDA defines sustainable agriculture as “practices intended to protect the environment, expand the Earth’s natural resource base, and maintain and improve soil fertility”. Their definition widens to say that conventional and organic techniques can also be considered sustainable if they align closely to sustainable principles.
To be considered sustainable, a farm’s practices must:
- Increase profitable farm income
- Promote environmental stewardship
- Enhance quality of life for farm families and communities
- Increase production for human food and fiber needs
In Western Culture, we often think of traditional farming as large fields of monocultures that are taken care of with large tractors, pesticides, herbicides, fertilizer, etc. In the last 80 years or so, many farmers using this method have failed to improve their soil or surrounding environment. Instead, many focused on income, causing many small farmers (potentially using sustainable practices) to go bankrupt. Whether they ended up increasing production for human needs is up for debate.
Challenges in Sustainability
During the conference, Ken Meter, the author of Building Community Food Webs, spoke about the challenges farmers face and how the U.S. food system has changed over recent history. Some examples of these challenges include social isolation due to rural nature of farming, low food prices, high supply costs, the encouragement to take on large amounts of debt, and so on. All these challenges are things a sustainable practice seeks to correct, reverse, and even heal.
Meter gave examples of farming groups that have successfully changed their local food system to have a smaller radius. This has proven to be a more successful and sustainable model because it decreases transportation costs, refrigeration costs, spoilage, and increases the farmer’s profit margin, community involvement and cohesion, improving the surrounding environment, etc. Meter continues to advocate for changes to our food system that will promote local and regional partnerships, because these are foundational to a strong sustainable system.
Beyond Crop Farming
Sustainable agriculture goes beyond crop and produce farming though. When we look at sustainable agriculture through the lens of poultry farming — specifically with layer hens — the day-to-day practices will vary slightly, but the sustainable principles remain the same.
The best way to raise laying hens in a sustainable way includes treating the hens well (raising them either Free-Range or Pasture Raised), raising them in a more natural way that works with nature rather than against it. It also means helping the farmer succeed by allowing him to maintain control over his farm and flocks. We do this by partnering with family-farms in a cooperative style that allows the farmer to operate independently. Our standards are still met, and the hens are best cared for when the farmer can care for them in ways only, he knows best.
Tree Planting is Important for Good Agriculture
Planting trees is another easy-accepted sustainable practice. Our farmers plant trees along streams or in the fields. These trees act as a riparian buffer, prevent water run-off, and soil erosion and even provide shelter and eventually food for hens. The fruit trees specifically will act as supplemental food for the hens and act as a money saver and potential income stream for our farmers soon. Frolicking in the field and pasture for hours each day, means the hens can fertilize the earth and lay healthier, tastier eggs because of all the natural nutrition they consume.
Moving Forward on the Sustainable Agriculture Journey
Making our farms more sustainable could look like many things in the future. Utopihen Farms continues to evaluate the sustainable benefits of regenerative agriculture, silvopasture techniques, and even carbon neutrality. These would all be next steps to bring us even further along our journey towards a more sustainable future.
While it may be unrealistic for the world to convert fully to sustainable farming practices overnight, there are many people who continue to stand as advocates for this important movement. Utopihen Farms will continue to amplify sustainable agriculture and its many benefits for our farms, finances, soil quality, environment, production of nutritional food and eggs.
We’ll reach out soon to loop you in on our efforts. We are stronger together. Will you join us on the journey?
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
INSIDE SALES & CUSTOMER CARE
Taylor spends her workday talking with grocery store and dairy managers to make sure they know about all the eggs Nature’s Yoke has to offer. She also fields questions from consumers and is one of the people you’re likely to speak with when you call Nature’s Yoke. Taylor has also taken on the very important role of helping to plan and implement Nature’s Yoke’s corporate responsibility and sustainability programs.