The success of farming is directly linked to levels of productivity. Although productivity and farming are synonymous, the concept of productivity is relevant to any business. By definition, productivity is the ratio of outputs to inputs, most often measured in economic metrics. Increasing the quantity of t-shirts produced, keeping inputs (such as kilowatt hours of electricity, or staff-hours of productivity) constant is an example of increasing productivity in a clothing manufacturing company. In the context of agriculture, increasing your productivity means producing greater tonnages off the same, or better still, fewer hectares. This is the goal towards which all in the agri-production industry strive.
Now more than ever, the pressure is on to produce more with less – merely to stay afloat. Almost on a monthly basis, the prices of elemental resources such as electricity and fuel are on the rise. Depending on the available room for adaptation within the business’ behavioral and financial planning structure, these higher input costs can translate into the difference between floating or sinking. There seems to be little room in the current business environment for smooth sailing! How do we gear up for the choppy waters ahead?
The first step in achieving an efficient system is to start measuring. The bottom line: you can’t manage it until you have measured it. Through measurement, and internalizing the results into business practices, certain activities can be prioritized and the shift to a more efficient and sustainable business can be achieved.
The Confronting Climate Change (CCC) Project, in which Blue North is involved, is a project developed around a carbon footprint measurement tool tailored to the South African fruit and wine industry. Through the CCC Project, it has become evident that the most financially costly inputs generally tend to also be the most carbon intensive: these inputs impact the grower both from a financial and an environmental perspective. Simply put, for every activity based on fossil fuels (e.g. diesel consumption in farm vehicles, or use of a kilowatt-hour of electricity for irrigation pumping), carbon dioxide is emitted into the atmosphere. It is these same fossil fuels on which our businesses and economy at large are based and yet they are becoming more scare, and as a result, more costly. It therefore makes sense that through reducing fossil-fuel based energy consumption, your financial burden and carbon footprint will be reduced at the same time. This relationship is critical to the understanding of why carbon footprint assessments have become a key indicator of sustainability and environmental best practice.
Obviously it isn’t all about carbon: there is far more to measure when approaching the environmental aspects of agricultural sustainability, such as indicators of water and soil quality, and levels of biodiversity. In addition, there are various relevant economic and social indicators. However, a carbon footprint measurement tool serves as a powerful baseline of the impacts of key business activities on two of the three ‘pillars’ of sustainability – the environmental and economic aspects of a business.
The bottom line is that measuring and reducing your inputs is the first step to improving your business’ and greater supply chain’s efficiency. There are few “quick fixes” – it is more a journey. But there are many support structures and resources available to help make it a valuable experience rather than sailing through choppy waters. Contact the Blue North team to find out more.