Wow, well here is the new catchphrase that you will see more and more, especially with relation to produce, but what is it you might ask. Sustainability is a multi-layered method in which you farm. Its main components include:
The main goal of sustainable farming is to maintain a farm that will provide food for the masses while being certain to sustain the viability of the soil for future generations.
- This is a simple thing, take care of the land. Plants utilize nutrients from the soil to produce its product, each turn of the crop, each harvest season, takes away another bunch of nutrients. It is our job to be sure we replenish these nutrients to the soil. This ensures us of a long future of agricultural crops.
- Proper drainage is important to the land as well. Anytime you add in a manmade element, such as an irrigation system that changes the natural environment, it is important to make certain that the soil is receiving what it needs to produce your product without jeopardizing the integrity of the soil.
- Which brings us to the next important part of environmental stewardship which up until recently was really disregarded. Of all the issues that farmers face, this is one that is on the forefront of issues that will be imposed upon us shortly as part of the daily farming practices. That is RUNOFF. Part of caring for the land is not only to be concerned with your land, but that of your neighbors as well. It is becoming increasingly important to contain your ground water. Runoff, any excess that comes from your land is essentially your responsibility and as such, this will become a new consideration for all farmers as it will be, and in some areas is, monitored by local bureaus, with fines for those who do not comply. As an example in our industry, avocados are very susceptible to root rot; this can be a devastated and non reversible disease. Its conduit is the soil that it lives in, therefore, in a rainy year; runoff can leave your property with root rot and infect your neighbor. This is the reason it is becoming important to monitor.
- Most importantly in stewardship is making the best decision for the land, but also taking into consideration the overall impact you will make on the world as well. This is the biggest difference between Organic and Sustainable. With Organics, you MUST use organically certified products only on your property and for your crop. With sustainability, although the goal is to be as natural as possible, the far reaching affects are more important. How far did that product have to travel to get here, how was the product produced? Input to output and the journey, the application methods, the care it takes and finally the harvest, is all considered in sustainability. There are many factors to take into consideration and it will differ from crop to crop as well. The best decision for one crop in an area may not be the right choice for another situation.
- It doesn't do much good to go to the trouble of protecting our growing environment if we can keep up with it financially, therefore in the decisions of sustainability, profitability must be part of the decision when choosing the best practices for your farm. The end result of profitability is so key and so much more than making money. Those you employ benefit and obviously that is a good thing, but having the ability to sustain your farm for a long period of time has socioeconomic and environmental impact that is much more far reaching then you would imagine. From putting more money into your local economy, and in the case of an avocado tree, offsetting our carbon footprint. Each year one avocado tree absorbs as much as 2.6 tons of carbon dioxide per year. That equates to as much carbon as is produced by a car driven 26,000 miles. This is impact!
Good Farming and Labor Practices
- Well it would just be a complete contradiction to be responsible as a farmer and caretaker of the land and then treat those who work for you poorly. It is important to provide for your employees and offer a fair, clean and responsible work environment. They must be paid fairly, have restrooms to use, and treated with dignity.
- Safety practices must be in place and education of those practices must be employed. Compromise of those practices is not negotiable!
Sierra Pacific Farms is doing their part to practice Sustainable Farming.
So now that this is all laid out for you, you wonder what that has to do with Sierra Pacific Farms, Inc.? Well we were sort of amused when the catch phraseology started to take flight. When organic farming began to gain popularity, we didn't jump on that band wagon. Although we make every effort to use natural products and methods where and when we can, we know there are certain things in the organic world that we didn't quite agree with. One of those things was organic fertilizers, while for some crops this may be a better choice, we feel for avocados and citrus it is not. The avocado tree needs a certain amount of nutrients in order to produce a crop that has the ability to be profitable. Even more importantly it needs nutrients to push new growth and create the next year's crop. In our research, to substitute organic fertilizers would mean we would use up to 4 times as much and in the sustainable equation it just doesn't pencil out. The reason for the need for the added amount of fertilizer is the nutrients just aren't as potent in an organic fertilizer. Our main focus with this particular situation is the health and longevity of the tree and the best way to protect this is to get it the nutrients it needs as quickly as you can. I like to compare this to the vitamins we take. A vitamin C tablet is not a million oranges pounded down into a pill, it is a synthetic vehicle to supply you with your daily recommended allowance for Vitamin C. Well synthetic fertilizers work the same way. Your body sees vitamin C when it hits your system, not a pill or an orange, just the net effect.
Another issue we have already been working with is water. In addition to worrying about containing your excess water to your property, it is important to not waste this precious resource. About 10 years ago, Sierra Pacific Farms invested in a water probe system that essentially watches a tree take a drink of water. This way we can see what a tree needs to get the water to the root system where it is needed and how long it takes to get there and how long it stays. This enabled us to build an irrigation program that is efficient.
Here at Sierra Pacific, we recognize the importance of sustainability and leaving the land in as good or better shape than it is now. It is our standard practice to have our own research projects to promote the health and betterment of our trees, to find ways to conserve water without compromising profitability, and to find more efficient and socially responsible ways to conduct our business. A good example of that is when we do a redevelopment or a new irrigation system; we recycle the plastic hose from the old system. When trees are taken out of an old property or we prune, we invested in a mulcher, so we can mulch the cuttings and use them for erosion control and ground cover. We are always looking toward the future, but always have an eye on the past for tried and true methods. This is why sustainability is so important to us, it employs both the old and new to create a future for the farming community!