May We Be Excused?

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You know there’s something wrong when four highly respected leaders get fed up and walk away from an effort to shape national standards for sustainable agriculture after investing nearly three years in the process.

In February, Will Healy from Ball Horticultural Company, Mark Yelanich from Metrolina Greenhouses, Jim Barrett from the University of Florida and Doug Cole of D.S. Cole Growers resigned from participating in the National Agricultural Sustainability Standards Committee and subcommittees. Leonardo Academy is facilitating the process to develop a national standard for agriculture. The end game is for the standard to be approved by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and serve as the benchmark to compare all sustainable certifications in agriculture. Leonardo Academy is an ANSI-accredited standards development organization.

Although these leaders believe in the need to create a national standard and are involved in sustainable certification programs, they resigned because they’ve lost confidence in Leonardo Academy’s ability to develop a meaningful standard or manage the process. They’ve been frustrated by the revolving door of vacancies and endless debates that apply more to large-scale farming and have little to do with our industry. Field agriculture groups resigned last fall, creating holes for vital ag interests that need to be represented to develop a true national standard.

“We do not feel the current committee makeup and established process can lead to the intended outcome of a national standard acceptable to agricultural businesses,” states a letter authored by Cole, Healy and Yelanich. “Some of the current participants have proposed and incorporated issues that, although potentially relevant, dilute and distract the core issues that will lead to a meaningful standard. The implementation of a nationally recognized Sustainable Agriculture Standard is essential for the continued development of a strong and vibrant industry. We believe it is possible to achieve a widely accepted standard using a more focused and relevant process.”

The Backstory
The initiative to pursue National Standards for Sustainable Agriculture began in 2007, when Scientific Certification Systems (SCS), which developed the VeriFlora certification program, drafted the standard, submitted it to ANSI and hired Leonardo to facilitate. SCS drafted the standard to save a lot of time and frustration developing one from scratch, but after a year of deliberation, the appointed 58-member standards committee decided to set it aside and start from scratch.

Floriculture was well represented with at least eight representatives. We wanted a seat at the table to guide the development and make sure our industry wouldn’t be stuck with a standard that didn’t work for us. Since then, growers have gained more experience with sustainable certification programs for our industry–VeriFlora and the Dutch-based MPS. Is a national standard even necessary?

Linda Brown of SCS thinks so. “Right now there are conflicting standards and definitions of sustainability in the market,” she says. “It’s becoming worse and there’s more greenwashing in general. The idea is to have a national standard to weigh claims against, a reference point.” For instance, VeriFlora and MPS could be compared to the national standard, by looking at a matrix of metrics related to water conservation, energy efficiency, etc. The standard would be a tool to develop certification programs or benchmark your own business practices.

The National Sustainable Agriculture Standards Committee will be convening April 13-14 at the Gap’s headquarters in San Francisco. For more information, visit LeonardoAcademy.org.

Delilah Onofrey directs Flower Power Marketing for the Suntory Collection. She can be reached at donofrey@gmail.com

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2 comments on “May We Be Excused?

  1. Anonymous

    Great to see growers working on the many global issues facing all of us like: water conservation, petrochemical use, renewable energy production, etc. Just acknowledging there are problems can begin this process. Many growers who have become frustrated with the “standardization” process have simply moved forward with the “beyond organics” philosophy. Most professionals already know in their hearts what they must do individually to work our way through these global imparitives. If we are going to survive as a species, things must change. There is not a lot of time left, so my suggestion is just do something about it! Stop wasting time. Your children will thank you!

  2. Anonymous

    Great to see growers working on the many global issues facing all of us like: water conservation, petrochemical use, renewable energy production, etc. Just acknowledging there are problems can begin this process. Many growers who have become frustrated with the “standardization” process have simply moved forward with the “beyond organics” philosophy. Most professionals already know in their hearts what they must do individually to work our way through these global imparitives. If we are going to survive as a species, things must change. There is not a lot of time left, so my suggestion is just do something about it! Stop wasting time. Your children will thank you!