Sustainability: A Good Business Practice

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Sustainable farming practices pay off for farmers and end users

According to Marty Matlock, professor of biological and agricultural engineering at the University of Arkansas, U.S. farmers own the concept of sustainability. Their history of improving conservation and reducing inputs can be traced all the way back to the Dust Bowl. Here, Matlock explains why U.S. soybean farmers need to keep improving on their own sustainable farming practices and suggests one area for that improvement.

Why is sustainability so important to customers of U.S. soy?

Folks who buy soybeans from the United States and from other sources around the world are very concerned about the safety, stability and security of the materials they use, and that includes the reputational risks associated with how those products are produced. Nobody wants to have their product associated with a bad thing, such as being unsustainable. And if your product is being produced in a way that’s not sustainable, eventually you won’t have your product anymore.

Why should sustainability matter to U.S. soybean farmers?

Sustainability is good business for farmers because sustainability means increasing efficiency and decreasing risk.

Sustainability today is different than it was 20 years ago, because we have a global economy and everything is changing fast. Sustainability today means understanding your connectivity to all those other things going on in the world; for example, energy prices drive nitrogen prices, and energy prices are driven by geopolitical conflicts. Understanding your connectivity to those things helps you understand how to manage your risk more effectively. If you can manage your risk more effectively, you can be profitable and stay in business, and that’s the first step toward being sustainable.

What’s the biggest sustainable-farming challenge U.S. soybean farmers must overcome?

We still have way too much soil erosion even in soybean fields, which are treated with some of the most sustainable production practices in the world. We are losing too much soil. And the reason I am saying we’re losing too much soil is because losing any soil is losing too much. I know that’s a hard statement to make, and I say this with the deepest respect for the farmers who work every day and value and build that soil up – they understand the cost of losing soil. It’s the very thing we depend on for production.