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Industry Viewpoint: Leading the way for a sustainable future

We have all seen reports of rising temperatures, plastics littering our oceans, water shortages, floods and the destruction of natural habitats. As the list of environmental issues grows, the need to address the challenges that our home, planet Earth, faces seems to become more urgent every day.

Acting sustainably should be a priority for every business, but agriculture-based businesses should lead the way and create momentum for other industries to follow. After all, all of our futures depend on conserving our natural resources.Drone-Preparing-to-Survey-Pineapples-Costa-RicaA drone preparing to survey Del Monte pineapples in Costa Rica.

The sheer scale of the challenge can seem overwhelming. For many produce businesses, it can be hard to determine where to start when it comes to devising and implementing a sustainability strategy. Often, the immediate impact is generated by identifying areas where you can reduce the day-to-day use of natural resources.

At Del Monte Fresh Produce, we are acutely aware of the need to be good stewards of the land we farm. Sustainability is a focus for our business and, like many other businesses, we began by introducing programs that reduced our consumption of resources. We were early adopters of plastic recycling on our banana farms, working collaboratively with competitors to implement solutions to shared challenges. We subsequently introduced drip irrigation systems on our pineapple farms to reduce water consumption and went on to identify ways to support biodiversity by creating nature reserves bordering arable areas. During this time, through our global sustainability programs, we are proud to have been able to supply more than 11 million trees for reforestation, support to local communities and create sustainable forestry for pallet production. We have also set aside more than 8,600 hectares of land for conservation, and we are proud to support more than 3,000 students each year through scholarships or other school support.

Every step that reduces use of resources is a step in the right direction, and easy to implement initiatives can quickly transform the way your organization approaches sustainability. Sustainability initiatives can inspire your employees and often take on a life of their own as staff recognize the collective impact of the local decisions they make every day. Empowering your employees to own your initiatives and drive progress toward your targets is a great way to make sustainability central to your business’ day-to-day activities and drive meaningful results.

Making small changes or improvements to the way your business works today is a great starting point for your sustainability strategy, but solving global challenges like rising sea levels or increases in CO2 levels will require more than small reductions in the resources we consume today.

Technology can help us reimagine how agriculture works. As leaders in the produce industry, our role is to champion and become early adopters of new technologies. It is imperative to disrupt and reimagine our own business approaches to make use of the latest thinking, as well as continue to implement more sustainable solutions. It is important that we consistently challenge ourselves to be more sustainable than we are today, and while every step in the right direction is a positive step, we recognize there is always more we can do.

Del Monte Fresh Produce is committed to using technology to make our own business more efficient in our drive toward our sustainability goals. One example of how we are bringing technology into our operations to use resources more efficiently is through the use of drones. Drones offer many benefits. They are small, lightweight and easily deployed to survey crops. The data gathered by drones can be used to identify specific areas — even specific plants — that require attention and so enable the highly targeted use of water, pest management solutions and fertilizers. The previous approach may have meant that a whole field would have received the required treatment when the need was much more localized.

This is just the beginning. As we look toward the future, technology will enable our industry to revolutionize the way we farm, creating practices that require the use of fewer natural resources. Existing technology can radically reduce the use of water, limit the need for pesticides and increase crop yields. As leaders in the produce industry, it is our responsibility to lead the way by demonstrating how our actions today can secure the long term future for our industry and the consumers we serve. We all have an exciting opportunity to build the future of agriculture.

(Hans Sauter is the senior vice president of corporate R&D, QA and agricultural services for Del Monte Fresh Produce)