Sustainable Agriculture Practices: From Harvests To Grocery Store Shelves

Everyone hears about sustainable agriculture, but few people know what it is. Agricultural sustainability is the idea that farming should maintain or improve the environment, support healthy food, provide meaningful income for farmers, and create jobs. That sounds like a lot to ask of farming, but sustainable agriculture is easier than it sounds.

Farms can be more sustainable than people realize. You might expect that making farming more sustainable would require huge investments in new technology and the adoption of new farming practices. That’s not always the case, and you can integrate sustainable practices from the moment you harvest crops to the packaging that is used to stock grocery store shelves.

What Is Sustainable Agriculture?

Sustainable agriculture is a system for producing food that, over time, maintains or improves the condition of the environment, social conditions, and the economy. The most basic definition of sustainability states that something can be maintained or improved over time.

Sustainability goes beyond economics. It also has to do with protecting the environment. Is sustainable agriculture better for the environment than the current standard? Or, to put it another way, is sustainable agriculture better for the environment than all the practices that don’t satisfy the sustainable criteria?

The environmental side is harder to evaluate. But there are some generally accepted industry standards. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the World Conservation Union (IUCN) have published guidelines for sustainable food production. These guidelines have three basic principles:

  • Protect the natural resource base.
  • Protect productive capacity.
  • Conserve biodiversity.

The FAO guidelines also say that sustainable agriculture should be “socially equitable and economically viable.” So, where do logistics and packaging come into play in sustainable agricultural practices? They provide economically viable solutions to problems.

Sustainable Harvest Management

Agriculturally sustainable practices are practices that reduce our impact on the ecosystem but are not harmful to the ecosystem. These practices also reduce input costs for the farmer, reduce our dependence on imported agricultural commodities, and provide food for society.

However, sustainable practices have traditionally not been in the purview of farmers because these practices aren’t profitable. In the case of organic crops, farmers must use less fertilizer and pesticides, reducing profits. In the case of small farmers, sustainable practices increase costs because they have to buy more expensive equipment.

This is where sustainable harvest management (SHM) comes into play. It helps farmers integrate sustainable agricultural practices into their operations in economically viable ways. It starts with the management of crops but goes beyond that. SHM means changing the way supply chains are managed too. For small farm operations, reusable containers can be used for everything from water management to shipping and packaging of harvests.

Sustainable Package In Agricultural Supply Chains

In agriculture, as in food, the shelf life of the food is most important. If food can last longer, it can be transported further; if the food doesn’t spoil, people don’t have to buy as much. The shelf life of agricultural products depends not just on factors like climate, terrain, soil, and elevation but also on the packaging.

Agricultural containers make it possible to transport crops farther, further reducing the need for transportation fuels. A few different ways to implement environmentally friendly plastic containers for sustainable agriculture include:

  • Use reusable containers for shipping—First, start with the shipping process. Companies like Flexcon make everything from durable plastic pallets to shipping crates designed for the distribution of produce.
  • Create programs that allow packages to be reused—There are also ways to make the containers consumers use more sustainable. This can include programs that encourage customers to bring their own containers. Small and large agricultural operations can offer their clients durable, reusable plastic containers that they can be refunded for or reuse to buy more produce.
  • Use reusable plastic containers in the harvesting process—There are also areas throughout the growing and harvesting process that can use plastic containers that can be reused over and over again until they are recycled. This can include water tanks, crates for collecting harvests, and pallets that are used to move products around.

Packaging also makes it possible to reuse containers. In the food industry, for example, paper bags are not reused after they have been used to carry food; they are thrown away. But, plastic containers can be cleaned and sanitized so they can be used repeatedly.

Innovation and the Future of Sustainable Agriculture

The future of agriculture depends upon smart adoption and integration of new technology and other agricultural advances that improve sustainability, profitability, and productivity. To find out more about your options for container systems that support sustainable agricultural operations, reach out.  Flexcon can specialize in helping customers choose the right products for operations of any size.