Mike Martinez, Aaron Reber – OMG and Natural Plant Products, US SUSTAINABILITY
Sustainability within specialty crop farming
Sustainability is an inconsistently defined term, and not solely in the personal care industry. For the purposes of this article, we will accept a commonly accepted definition as laid out in The Future of Sustainability:1 “The core of mainstream sustainability thinking has become the idea of three dimensions, environmental, social and economic sustainability.”
In 1983, a collaboration of seven farms in the Willamette Valley of Oregon, US, began commercial production of meadowfoam seed. In 1984, these seven farms joined with eight more to form the nonprofit Oregon Meadowfoam Growers Association (OMGA) and licensed the first commercially viable varieties of meadowfoam from Oregon State University (OSU).
By 1997, the increasing number of growers involved in meadowfoam crop production necessitated the reorganisation of OMGA into an agricultural cooperative named OMG. This cooperative was the driving force behind the commercialisation of meadowfoam seed oil and is best known to the cosmetics and personal care industries through its subsidiary, Natural Plant Products (NPP). Today, OMG consists of over 50 member farms dedicated to the sound production of meadowfoam and daikon radish seed. OMG/NPP’s position as a farming company provides it with a unique perspective on and an ability to evaluate and affect sustainability in local agriculture.
Sustainability in agriculture Limiting the discussion to sustainability in agriculture removes some, but not all of the complexity from the subject area. For example, it is difficult to completely separate an evaluation of agricultural practices from land use. Zoning choices represent a major factor in the ultimate environmental benefit or cost that will result from a given parcel of land. Additional areas of research, policy, and discussion focus on technology sharing and intellectual property transfer, social justice and global food needs, and the global regulation of transgenic organisms.
The issue of global hunger represents an intersection of these high level topics. Superior yet expensive germplasm (both GMO and non-GMO) and new agrochemicals could increase food production in areas of the world that struggle to achieve food security. The agricultural community is asking how these technologies can be shared around the world while maintaining intellectual property and technology rights for those corporations that have spent millions of dollars on research. The global regulation of transgenic organisms is an integral part of any transfer of this technology. With such a breadth of research, it has proven difficult to identify relevant and feasible frameworks for evaluation and improvement of NPP’s own operations. In an effort to simplify the scope of our sustainability projects, we have accepted the scope limitations implied by the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) definition of sustainable agriculture. USDA identifies a number of criteria for sustainability in agriculture: satisfying human food and fibre needs; enhancing environmental quality and the natural resource base; making most efficient use of non-renewable resources and on-farm
resources and imitating, where appropriate, natural bio cycles/controls; sustaining the economic viability of farms; and enhancing the quality of life for farmers and society as a whole. This article will focus primarily on environmental and resource topics, economics, and quality of life in our local agricultural system. We will assume that the satisfaction of human needs is demonstrated by the ongoing market for natural oils in the global personal care industry.
Agriculture in the Willamette Valley Oregon’s Willamette Valley is one of the most fertile agricultural regions in the world. This fertility is the result of Ice Age floods unleashed from glacial Lake Missoula located in what is now Montana. These floods moved across the plains of eastern Washington scouring the landscape and filling the entire valley to depths in excess of 300 feet (91 m). After the floods drained, the Willamette Valley was left with vast expanses of highly fertile sedimentary soils. In general, the northern part of the valley has superior, better drained soils. Moving south, drainage worsens and crop choices become more constrained.