A Meeting of the Minds: Sustainable Agricultural Summit Begins

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Today kicks off the American Business Conference’s 4th part of a global series of Sustainable Agricultural Summits. And what better city for this summit to take place, but San Francisco. California is home to 81,500 farms and ranches and tallied revenues of $36.2 billion last year alone. That figure represents 11.2% of the nation’s total.

Involved in this year’s conference (sadly not me due to the $1,600 price tag) are some of the industry heavy hitters such as sustainability representatives from Dole, Mars, Nestle, the California EPA, Rainforest Alliance along with various scientists, lawyers and a few government figures. Clearly a wide breadth of stakeholders will be represented.

Perhaps even more interesting are those participants on the other side of the aisle so to speak. Much of the attendees will be made up of various growers and small-scale producers. The goal is obviously to have representation throughout the entire agricultural supply chain.

My first thought was, why are they simply inviting small farmers to such a huge event concerning this nation’s food supply. Isn’t the agricultural industry run by big agri-business? Turns out the answer is sort of. According to a recent USDA report, 98% of US farms are family owned. And while small farms (grossing less than $250,000) make up 88% of the total, the other 12% of the farms (large and non-family) account for 82% of the total agricultural output. So while companies such as Archer Daniels Midland are an important part of the agricultural supply chain, they are not actually producing food (they do process products into animal feed and more recently fuel and therefore hold considerable power in the agricultural sector).

The final interesting point to throw in the mix is that small farms have achieved some growth recently for the first time in many years. Perhaps, the local food movement is slowly taking off, which is why event organizers focused on these growers, or perhaps they new that small scale growers were both more able and more willing to implement sustainability measures.

My final question is, how come Monsanto didn’t show up?

Image Credit by flier-flier via Flickr under a CC license

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