Sustainability And Soy: Guided By Precision Ag

Growing U.S. soybeans using sustainable production methods is now a major factor impacting the attractiveness of U.S. soy to our domestic and international customers. They want to know that U.S. soybeans are grown in a sustainable manner, and they want to see the data that supports this. The use of precision agriculture tools and methods is a key part of implementing best management practices for sustainable soy production.

The U.S. Soybean Sustainability Assurance Protocol

Recognizing the value of a sustainably grown product to U.S. soy customers, the American Soybean Association (ASA) joined with the United Soybean Board and the United Soybean Export Council in establishing the U.S. Soybean Sustainability Assurance Protocol.

In many ways, the Sustainability Assurance Protocol provides clarification to U.S. soy customers of the high level of standards by which U.S. soybeans have already been grown for years. It demonstrates how the nation’s 279,110 soybean producers already grow soybeans based on a national system of sustainability and conservation laws and regulations combined with careful implementation of the best farm management practices. In fact, more than 95 percent of U.S. soy-producing lands are already participating in USDA Conservation Programs.

While it’s very important to make sure our customers know the high standards and extensive regulations by which U.S. soybeans are grown already, the U.S. Soybean Sustainability Assurance Protocol takes this one step further by establishing a certified aggregate approach audited by third parties that demonstrates sustainable soybean production at a national scale. This approach is quantifiable and results driven with mass balance international certification available.

The U.S. Sustainability Assurance Protocol describes the regulations, processes and management practices that ensure sustainable soybean production. This Sustainability Protocol is one part of the overall U.S. soybean producer sustainability program which includes a national measurement system of the positive environmental outcomes by producers.

The U.S. Soybean Sustainability Assurance Protocol includes four key directives:

  • DIRECTIVE 1 — Biodiversity and High Carbon Stock Production Control Measures and Regulations
  • DIRECTIVE 2 — Production Practices Control Measures and Regulations
  • DIRECTIVE 3 — Public and Labor Health and Welfare Control Measures and Regulations
  • DIRECTIVE 4 — Continuous Improvement of Production Practices and Environmental Protection Control Measures and Regulations

More information on all of the Directives of the U.S. Soybean Sustainability Assurance Protocol is available by clicking on “Sustainability” on the USSEC Website at www.ussec.org.

Precision, Soy, Sustainability

The growing use of precision agriculture technology is a positive attribute of U.S. soybean farming that supports the Sustainability Assurance Protocol Directive 2 – Production Practices Control Measures and Regulations. Other factors supporting this directive include the increased use of conservation tillage methods, crop rotation and compliance with the Federal Seed Act and the Plant Protection Act.

The growing use of precision agriculture and other progressive farming practices have helped farmers become more efficient and environmentally friendly. Precision farming using GPS technology allows producers to precisely apply field inputs within millimeters, enabling farmers to make the most efficient use of natural resources and significantly reduce the chance of over-application of crop protection products. As a result of innovative farming methods, such as precision agriculture and conservation tillage, U.S. farmers increased soy production by 96 percent, while using 8 percent less energy since 1980.

In 2012, ASA worked with the PrecisionAg Institute to survey the use of precision agriculture tools by U.S. soybean farmers. The results of this survey showed that more than 70 percent of farmers are using at least one precision farming tool. Most farmers, especially those with over 500 acres, are using several precision farming technologies. Many farmers are using anti-drift nozzles on sprayers, GPS controlled spray booms and variable rate planting to improve accuracy and avoid overlaps. These technologies and others are helping farmers avoid over-application of products, reduce input costs, protect the environment and demonstrate the sustainability of U.S. soybean production.

The survey conducted by ASA and the PrecisionAg Institute also pointed out the importance of making precision agriculture technology more easy to use. Farmers who observed the most return on their investment in precision ag tools were also those who thought the technology was easy to use.

While using precision agriculture technology can help farmers grow soybeans in a more sustainable manner with valuable environmental benefits, it can also provide significant cost savings. On average, the farmers surveyed reported saving about 15% on several crop inputs such as seed, fertilizer and chemicals. The savings on these input costs often pay for the precision ag technology within one year for larger operations and two to three years for smaller operations.

Moving forward, it will be important for advancements in precision ag technology and ease of use of these products to continue to improve. Farmers are demanding the same ease of use of these tools as the consumer technology products they use, such as smart phones and tablet computers. As precision agriculture tools become more user-friendly and more farmers use this technology, the more sustainable the U.S. soy crop becomes, and demand for U.S. soy by international customers should increase.

A full report on the ASA and PrecisionAg Institute’s survey of Precision Ag Use in Soybeans is available by contacting the ASA office at 314-576-1770.

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