Farm Bureau: Building Food System Relationships is Critical for Agriculture

Viewpoints / Focus on Agriculture March 23, 2022

Credit: Larson Family Photo 

By Emma Larson @emmallars

With another growing season on the horizon, I think of all the preparation that goes into making the upcoming year successful on my family’s farm in California’s Central Valley. There’s the fertilizer order for the wine grapes, irrigation schedules for the tomatoes and pest management for the pistachios, to name a few to-dos on the long list. It’s certainly no small undertaking for any size or type of operation.

Of the many meetings on the farm, one is becoming increasingly important to our farm’s future: an annual audit with one of the largest consumer goods companies in the world. Their sustainability team visits our farm to better understand how our crops are grown, what products we use and how frequently we use them, the condition of our employee accommodations and how my family has improved our conservation practices, like no-till, cover cropping and others, each year.

Farmers and ranchers are the original stewards of the land, air and water and were improving the way they do things on their operations long before consumer interest in environmental sustainability started rising and corporations began announcing commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and conserve natural resources. Farmers and ranchers welcome the increased interest – sustainability is a shared goal. But food system commitments can have severe unintended consequences if those making the commitments up the food supply chain don’t understand agriculture and how food is really produced.

We’ve established AFBF as a trusted voice and helped guide decisions that impact our members’ ability to farm.

AFBF’s industry relations staff engages companies up and down the food supply chain to build relationships and help them understand how food is produced, as well as the impressive advances in sustainability and consequences of one-size-fits-all climate commitments. We urge corporations to treat farmers and ranchers as partners in their sustainability efforts and in doing so, ensure any commitments made or initiatives launched make sense on the farm or ranch – from both an economic and an environmental standpoint. Just as the benefits of agricultural sustainability – healthy soil, air and water – extend well beyond the farm, the burden of meeting climate commitments must be shared.

AFBF’s diligent work on this front over the past few years has provided Farm Bureau the opportunity to weigh in on not-yet-announced carbon programs and cotton sourcing commitments, gain understanding about the impact of mergers and acquisitions on grower contracts and establish an ongoing dialogue with C-suite executives across the food supply chain. We’ve established AFBF as a trusted voice and we’ve already helped guide decisions that impact our members’ ability to farm.

Yet, we have our work cut out for us. The pace of food supply chain commitments is increasing while the number of people and companies with a true understanding of agriculture is decreasing. While daunting, I’m not discouraged. I’ve seen the impacts of relationship-building. I know it makes a difference. Maybe not every time, but we have an obligation to reach-out as part of our commitment to have our members’ backs. I’m passionate about building strategic relationships in part because I see firsthand the impacts of food system commitments on my own family’s farm, where I’m reminded why I do what I do. Every day I am humbled to represent the folks who are the backbone of this nation – our members. It’s an honor to work for farmers and ranchers who feed our nation and the world.

Emma Larson joined the American Farm Bureau Federation in 2019 as industry relations specialist and was recently promoted to director of industry relations. She grew up on her family’s farm in California’s Central Valley.

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