Sustainable U.S. Peanuts Initiative Seeks to Drive Farm Improvement and Profitability

Sustainable U.S. Peanuts is an industry-born, industry-led and industry-financed initiative that aims to document the sustainability practices that go into producing peanuts.
 
The program, run by the American Peanut Council (APC), will use data voluntarily supplied by peanut growers who want to tell their sustainability story and benefit from program learnings. Using the data supplied, the program hopes to not only tell a consumer-facing sustainability story centered on peanuts but also help growers drive farm improvement and profitability. This initiative will produce tools to help our industry communicate findings to consumers, governments, trading partners and other stakeholders.
 
Grower participation in the program does not require a large time commitment. It’s estimated to take one hour or less every year. But the relatively small-time investment can yield big benefits. Participating growers can compare their self-assessment answers to aggregated responses from all participants. The initiative also aims to include state and national benchmarks from Field to Market, so growers can evaluate their performance and find ways to maximize productivity. The APC plans to develop and share national and regional reports with more insights for growers.
 
With all these insights, the main goal is to satisfy the interest and requirements in sustainability from our customers. Insights will be shared in aggregated form, so farms remain anonymous. For example, a message created from these insights might say, “64% of grower participants implement crop rotations of at least 3 years.”
 
“I think Sustainable U.S. Peanut is going to be an excellent vehicle for us to tell our peanut sustainability story,” said Dan Ward, a member of the APC sustainability committee and former National Peanut Board chairman. “We have an incredible story to tell, and I think we will be able to use the numbers that we get from this to market ourselves, our farms and our peanuts to customers all over the world. Also, I will be able to take the numbers that I get off my particular farm and compare myself to farmers in other regions, and I will see whether I'm successful or whether there are improvements I need to make. So far with the sustainability stories that I've read and listened to and been a part of, along with what I understand Sustainable U.S. Peanut to mean, I think we will have a very good measuring stick to base and compare our successes with each other.”
 
Having this information about our sustainability practices is crucial. For years, the industry has highlighted the sustainable practices our industry uses, but now we have the chance to back up this claim with data from our farmers, which will support future growth in demand for U.S. peanuts.
 

Q&A With Eric Coronel

The APC hired Eric Coronel to be its first sustainability director late last year. Based in Tifton, Georgia, Coronel’s first project is Sustainable U.S. Peanuts.
NPB: What’s your background, and what will you be doing with the APC?
I developed a strong interest in the agricultural industry in my early teens. I pursued bachelor’s and master’s degrees in environmental science and earned a Ph.D. in crop sciences from the University of Illinois. My first professional experience out of college was being a research agronomist at the John Deere Technology Innovation Center in Champaign, Illinois. I provided agronomic expertise, conducted data analysis to support business needs and led on-farm research projects across the Midwest. After spending six years in the Midwest working on research topics for corn, I wanted to learn about other cropping systems. In 2018, I was fortunate to join the staff at Field to Market. This organization developed a platform to estimate the environmental footprint of 11 commodity row crops, including peanuts and cotton. At Field to Market, I learned about how a crop supply chain can come together to support farmers and improve the environmental outcomes of agriculture. In 2021, when this position at the APC became available, I knew I wanted to do my best to get the job and help the peanut industry.
 
Under the umbrella name of Sustainable U.S. Peanuts, APC has launched a significant initiative in the form of a grower platform developed by following the template from the cotton industry. The grower platform will use voluntary information entered by farmers to document, verify, and communicate the sustainability story of U.S. peanuts. A significant part of my work at APC is to promote the grower platform, assist growers in enrolling in the program, and share insights from the information collected.
 
I will also gather and share information about the sustainability of peanuts from other sources, such as the National Indicators Report from Field to Market and insights gained from the scientific literature.
 
As the program develops, we want to help connect peanut farmers with carbon markets and other incentives to adopt conservation practices, technologies, and best management practices.
NPB: What are the benefits of this program to the industry and specifically farmers?
Farmers that enter their information into the grower platform are given field-level scores for eight sustainability metrics, including soil erosion, soil carbon and greenhouse gas emissions per acre and per pound of peanuts harvested. Farmers will also receive state and national benchmarks for five of the eight metrics. It is valuable to know how a farming operation compares to the benchmarks to find areas of improvement and celebrate how well a farmer might be running their farming operation. For the self-assessment questionnaire, farmers will see the aggregate responses from all participants to learn about best practices from across the peanut industry.
 
In addition, APC will develop reports for growers only, with more insights at the national and regional levels. These reports will become more valuable as the number of farmers sharing their information grows.
 
It is also essential for growers to learn what information the supply chain is asking for and why they are increasingly requesting sustainability data from domestic and international markets. The grower platform provides a unified framework for the entire peanut industry to avoid multiple competing surveys or assessments.
 
For the peanut industry in general, the main benefit is to use the information from the grower platform to satisfy the sustainability interests or requirements of peanut buyers. By providing a level of assurance for the environmental outcomes and farm management practices in U.S. peanut production, we hope to ensure market access for peanuts to all manufacturers in all markets.
NPB: What are the risks of the program?
Insights and messages developed from the information entered by farmers will only be shared in aggregate form. The data entered is confidential and will never be shared at the farm level. Farmers retain ownership of their data, which means that they can delete their information at any point. We hope that farmers see the value of this program and return every year to enter their information.
 
The grower platform is a voluntary self-assessment, and there are no negative consequences for any of the information entered. The program is designed to meet farmers where they are. If a farmer has adopted lots of conservation practices and another farmer has adopted none, both can participate and learn from the program. This program will have verifications of randomly selected farmers to build trust in the messages created from the data entered. To verify this data, 25% of growers will receive a Zoom call, and 10% or fewer growers will receive an on-farm verification. 
NPB: Are there government programs available now or are in the works for producers that reward sustainability practices?
This industry-wide sustainability framework for peanut growers helps us position the industry in a favorable spot to attract funding to reward growers or to help adopt conservation practices and technology. It can also help us invite collaborations from other crop groups, NGOs and the private industry. Securing grants and collaborators takes time and trust, and we hope that farmers participate in the program to improve the peanut industry’s chances of success.
NPB: How will this program help with maintaining export markets by showing U.S. farmers use sustainable practices? What about for domestic markets?
Domestic and export markets have one key attribute in common: consumers who want to know how their food is produced and what farmers are doing to protect the environment. Our framework for sustainability can help satisfy these market demands and serve as a tool to highlight the great work American peanut farmers do every year.
 
For most questions, there are no right or wrong answers. Farmers can respond to all questions without fear or doubt and engage in the journey of continuous improvements for their farming operations. To sign up for the Sustainable U.S. Peanut program or for more information, visit www.sustainableuspeanuts.org.

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