Produce Marketing Association (PMA) Vice President of Technology, Vonnie Estes, submitted comments to answer USDA’s “Solicitation of Input from Stakeholders on Agricultural Innovations.” The comments will aid in crafting the USDA’s Agricultural Innovation Agenda which will detail the department’s commitment to the continued success of American farmers, ranchers, producers and foresters.
“PMA applauds USDA’s work to streamline research efforts and develop new tools that will increase sustainability of agricultural production,” said Estes. “Sustainability must include economic sustainability for commercial operations. This gives our industry the time and means to focus on responsible stewardship of land and water that will allow farmers to grow crops with minimal environmental footprint while feeding our growing world. Innovation is at the heart of that.”
The comments stress the importance of fostering creative solutions that will help minimize packaging waste and promote wise energy use while also supporting ethical and responsible labor practices. There is a need for smart scientifically validated tools to assess the positive impacts of horticulture on the environment especially in an age where consumers grow more and more concerned with the provenance and impact of their food sources.
In describing the biggest challenges and opportunities to increasing productivity and decreasing the environmental footprint, PMA offered industry-focused perspectives that highlight the need for produce-specific standards and sustainability framework due to the highly perishable nature of fresh produce. In addition to illustrating the unique needs of the produce supply chain, Estes stressed that the industry is ready and prepared to be committed and productive partners in supporting the USDA agenda, with the understanding that holistic change will require a national investment.
“The fresh produce industry is committed to step up. However, we need to know that the financial burden associated with the implementation of these practices is not ours alone to carry,” explained Estes. “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 Ag Innovation Agenda 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.”
The comments also emphasized the importance of integrating data and developing accessible tools for producers to integrate weather, soil, plant, and satellite data to minimize inputs and maximize outputs. Overall, Estes stressed that in order for us to achieve climate-smart horticulture, we must unlock the genetic potential of crops and develop modern breeding tools to not only increase yields but to reduce post-harvest crop loss; increase pest and disease resistance; and increase drought, heat, frost, and flood tolerance.
PMA’s comments are available on their website and they will continue to monitor the development of the USDA Agricultural Innovation agenda and offering input where possible.