Cool Heads Prevailed

As Leonardo Academy was getting ready to convene the first meeting of the 58-member committee appointed to reach consensus on developing national sustainable agriculture standards, we had no idea what the outcome would be (see page 12). Challenges were filed by leading agricultural organizations, including USDA and North American Horticultural Supply Association. The table was set. A draft standard was served. Would the meeting be a pleasant meal or a food fight?
We were impressed the group had the wisdom to start over and see what the true market interest is and if there is enough buy-in from affected stakeholders to pursue national sustainable agriculture standards.

Scientific Certification Systems (SCS), which developed the VeriFlora certification program for cut flowers and potted plants, developed the draft standard and hired Leonardo Academy to facilitate the process. The idea was that it would be easier to begin with a draft than to start from scratch. The draft will continue to serve as a reference but the committee is going to start from scratch.

One fundamental question was whether the standard should be a pathway for continuous improvement or a goal with an end target? We heard organics groups were insisting any sustainable certification program begin with organic production, which would dramatically reduce the number of growers that would or could participate. VeriFlora is a path for continuous improvement with organic production being the end goal.

One thing our Dr. Will Carlson keeps saying related to sustainable recommendations is “show me the science.” Prove these methods are better in achieving sustainable outcomes. This is one reason I like the MPS (Milieu Project Sierteelt) program developed 14 years ago by the Dutch Flower Auctions. It’s based on real data. Every four weeks, more than 4,000 operations in 55 countries enter data on their chemical and energy use, and they receive an environmental scorecard. 
Over a 10-year period, MPS was able to quantify a 23 percent reduction in chemical usage and 25 percent reduction in energy consumption while production of plants and flowers increased 30 percent. These are real results that show each company’s and the collective industry’s movement in the right direction. Isn’t that what we’re really looking for? A path for continuous improvement and recognition for the good we already do?

So far, I know of one grower in the United States trying the MPS system – Doug Cole of D.S. Cole Growers in Loudon, N.H. “We are sending in our monthly use reports just like any other MPS grower,” he says. “At the end of the year, we will see where we rank. This gives us a starting point to improve ourselves over time. The whole idea is to do better both for us and for our customers. It is not to ‘pass the certification process’ and then move on to other issues. We are now able to see what our pesticide use, water use and energy consumption is in a true quantitative way and then try to improve in these areas, which can then save us money.”
To establish a benchmarking system that makes sense for growers in the United States, more growers need to get on board. “They can always switch (to another program), but we need to get some mass on this project,” Cole says. “We need to get a track record for both systems (MPS and VeriFlora), so that we have something to compare and discuss.”

As sustainable standards committee members review other global certification programs, I hope they take a good look at MPS. It has a proven track record of demonstrating meaningful results and achieving sustainable aims that work for growers.

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