From the Editor: February 2011

January 28, 2011
Written by
How “sustainable” is your farm? Environmentally speaking, how would you rate your operations against those of colleagues across North America? Was improved “farm sustainability” measures among your resolutions this year? If it wasn’t, it probably soon will be if consumer/marketplace pressures evolve here as they have done in Europe.

There is a “sustainability” movement within today’s consumerism. Many people want to know how things are produced, and whether they are brought to market in the most environmentally sensitive way.

In Europe, the movement is well established and growing, and retailers have had to respond. On this side of the pond, the movement is a little less vocal, but it has potential to grow.

In Europe, many retailers insist on MPS certification for ornamental producers. There are rumblings retailers here are having similar thoughts on product certification.

MPS is a third-party auditing program, based in the Netherlands, that helps companies maintain a balance among “people, planet and profit.” It offers an environmental scorecard, and now includes over 4,000 participants in more than 55 countries, including Canada.

An option for North American producers is VeriFlora, another agricultural sustainability certification and eco-labelling program.

We’ve noticed a number of MPS registrations by major U.S. growers over the past few months, including Battlefield Farms, C. Raker & Sons, Elzinga Hoeksema and D.S. Cole Growers. There is also at least one Canadian registrant.

According to Mark Elzinga, his company, Elzinga Hoeksema, has long worked at creating eco-friendly practices in its five locations, including geo-thermal, solar panel and wind energy applications. The company has reduced its trash by half over the past two years. He investigated certification programs and was most impressed by MPS. “I liked the European way of looking at the environment,” said Elzinga, “and of involving our associates and getting a comparison of how we are doing versus other North American and European growers.”

Certification offers the ability to compare operations to similar greenhouses to help increase efficiencies and reduce inputs. The costs of certification and ongoing registration are often paid for with some of those savings.

“We look forward to the reports which we will receive from the MPS program that will provide comparisons and become a management tool for us,” said Battlefield Farms general manager Anthony van Hoven.

Growers should be proactive and assess the merits of certification. It may never be mandated, but it will be encouraged from the marketplace. It’s better to be on the leading wave of this movement, than to be left to scramble over the wake.

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