ISGP Podcast: Local and Lucrative

Sustainable agriculture and locally sourced foods may be trendy, but they still lack prevalence in the food system. This week, the co-hosts discuss ways to increase consumer demand for and profitability of sustainably produced foods.

Sustainable agriculture refers to the concept of choosing agricultural practices that have lower environmental impacts than other, more conventional practices. Sustainability is achieved when natural systems are considered and even protected, so a sustainable agricultural system would put emphasis on managing soil and water resources, protecting biodiversity, and minimizing pollution. However, the idea has been complicated because we lack a universally accepted definition of what constitutes a sustainable system.

Sustainable and/or local food producers generally aren’t making enough profits to substantially expand their sustainable and/or local production practices. Basically, if a farmer is not paying the bills with sustainably managed corn field, that farmer is not going to be able to expand into sustainable tomato, lettuce, or carrot production anytime soon. Without understanding the barriers to profitability that sustainable and local agriculture is currently experiencing, the entire concept of sustainable and local food will remain at the demonstration-scale.

But that doesn’t mean abandoning the idea — these products will do better if they can find an appropriate niche to fill. One might consider whether sustainable production will be a “better fit” for commodity crops or specialty products…consider corn versus habanero peppers, or soy versus avocados.

These arguments and ideas were part of a discussion by a paper, Profitability: The Key to Sustainable Agriculture, written by Mr. Henry Talmage, the Director of the Connecticut Farm Bureau Association, and presented at an ISGP conference, Socioeconomic Contexts of Sustainable Agriculture. This ISGP conference was convened with the help of students at Western Connecticut State University (WCSU) October 14-15, 2016 at the WCSU campus in Danbury, CT.

For more podcasts on this topic and others, visit ISGP’s The Forum and please consider sharing this episode with others.