(Posted Wed. Nov 16th, 2011)

Nov. 16: Last week, representatives of the National Corn Growers Association attended a National Initiative for Sustainable Agriculture (NISA) workshop in Chicago to discuss the future of the project with representatives from dozens of other agricultural organizations, food companies, retailers and conservation groups. During the two-day meeting, participants reviewed existing sustainability initiatives and gathered perspectives from various sectors about the need for a national umbrella organization that brings farmer voices to the sustainability movement.


“NISA aims to develop a roadmap of farm management systems that will help farmers achieve verifiable sustainability outcomes, improve the environmental services and productivity of their farms, help their rural communities thrive and satisfy performance expectations of the value chain,” said NCGA Past President Ken McCauley, who attended the meeting. “With efforts focused at the farm level, this grower-driven effort will incorporate a framework of tools and technical information from a wide base of expertise and programs.”


NISA, which is facilitated by the University of Wisconsin, was formed in 2010 with McCauley serving as co-chair of the initiative for the past year. Others taking part in the meeting were NCGA Vice President of Public Policy Jon Doggett and Public Policy Director Rod Snyder.


During the meeting, participants discussed options for moving forward, including the creation of a provisional board from producer groups and a communications structure for collaborating with all parts of the value chain.


NISA reiterated six guiding principles for the initiative moving forward. They will continue to emphasize farmer participation and leadership, and will work to strike a balance between environmental, social and economic sustainability outcomes. It will remain science-based and establish regional expert groups, leadership and coordination with national relevance. Finally, evaluation of success will remain data-focused with an emphasis on improvement over time which will be validated with an independent verification process.


Through panel discussions with retailers such as McDonald’s and Walmart, it became apparent that consumers and the companies interacting directly with them have become increasingly concerned with sustainability over the past decade. Many of these companies have taken steps to purchase only sustainably sourced products and have begun discussions about the sustainability of agricultural goods.


The group also explored how it would interact with other sustainability-focused organizations in agriculture while maintaining relevance by offering an approach and goals unique to NISA and possible future collaborations both with such groups and government agencies.