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    New Group to Measure Sustainability for Specialty Crops

    The project, supported by dozens of industry players, targets the entire supply chain for measurement and improvement.

    More than 30 growers, suppliers, buyers, technical experts, and environmental and public interest organizations have banded together to form the Stewardship Index for Specialty Crops, which will develop and share a comprehensive system for measuring sustainable performance across the supply chain at farms, processors, distributors, food service providers, and retailers.

    The project will address the unique needs of the stakeholders of specialty crops - which are defined to include fruits, vegetables, nuts and horticulture -- while demonstrably improving environmental and social impacts.

    "We're finding that very diverse stakeholders want a workable system for measuring sustainable performance in this industry," said Jonathan Kaplan of the Natural Resources Defense Council, a founding participant. "As businesses measure and improve, profits, people and the environment can all win."

    Unlike other sustainability initiatives, the Stewardship Index will not seek to prescribe standards or define a specific level of performance as "sustainable," but instead aims to provide a system for measuring stewardship performance by focusing on desired outcomes.

    The project, which seeks to reduce the potential for duplicative monitoring and reporting systems, will allow operators to engage in the sustainability journey regardless of their current level of performance. It's also currently seeking public comment on an initial list of issues it believes should be measured to assess sustainable performance. The proposed issues and a list of current participants may be found at the project's web site at www.stewardshipindex.org.

    Other founding participants also emphasize the potential benefits of metrics that are both clearly defined and developed cooperatively via a consensus approach to measuring sustainable performance to measure performance using common terms.

    Tim York, president of Markon Cooperative, is also spearheading efforts on behalf of the newly formed group. "As we learned from working to improve our industry's food safety, the absence of accepted, industry-wide standards will allow proliferating standards to add unnecessary costs to the system," said York. "And we need science-based data. It's to everyone's advantage to collaborate to develop metrics that are specific, measurable and verifiable."

    For more information, visit www.stewardshipindex.org.

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