The Department of Agriculture has just announced the administration’s Agriculture Innovation Agenda. Below, Dr. Max Teplitski, PMA’s chief science officer, has provided the following statement.
USDA is rolling out an initiative that will take the next bold step that will reshape agriculture. By focusing research and data efforts in agricultural sustainability, the USDA will seek to support American farmers to adopt new technologies and practices while lessening industry’s environmental footprint. Just as the healthcare industry benefited from tens of billions of dollars of federally supported research each year, it is time to afford an opportunity to do the same for agriculture.
We applaud USDA’s efforts to streamline research efforts and develop new tools that will increase sustainability of agricultural production. At PMA, sustainability means first of all, that commercial operations are economically sustainable. This gives our industry the time and means to focus on responsible stewardship of land and water that will allow farmers grow crops with minimal environmental footprint while feeding our growing world. We foster creative solutions that will allow to minimize packaging waste and promote wise energy use; we continue to support ethically responsible labor practices. We recognize a need for smart scientifically-validated tools to assess the positive impacts of horticulture on the environment.
While we welcome efforts to promote agricultural sustainability, our production practices are distinct from those of row crops and our industry is unique in another important way: produce and floral are highly perishable. Market fluctuations and even minor weather events mean million-dollar losses. Sustainability and viability of our operations critically depend on demand creation and predictable opportunities to sell produce and floral at fair market values. Conversations about sharing data have to include provisions for responsible data management so that the industry has real incentives for sharing proprietary data with our federal partners. Importantly, we need to be clear-eyed about the fact that the implementation of new practices will have a real cost. Without a doubt, conservation practices will benefit the environment and the generations of urban and rural dwellers alike. Because we will step up, we need to know that the financial burden associated with the implementation of these practices is not ours alone to carry. Everybody along the supply chain, who plays their part, needs to know that their efforts are incentivized through responsible government programs. PMA welcomes the USDA announcement and recognizes it as an investment not only in our industry and our environment but also in our consumers who deserve fresh, delicious and healthy fresh produce all year round.