The Working Landscapes Certificate (WLC) program was created by the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) to promote more sustainable agricultural production for emerging biomaterials sectors, including the bioplastics industry. With the current infrastructure challenges associated with feedstock identity-preservation and chain-of-custody in this new sector, this innovative program allows manufacturers, retailers and other consumers of commodity crops to offer a more sustainable product to their customers by encouraging sustainable crop production, providing additional income to farmers using these practices, and improving the overall ecological impact of agricultural production.
Under the WLC program, participating farmers agree to raise crops according to verifiable sustainable production standards. The farmer then has two products to sell: the crop itself and the quantified ecological benefits associated with the more sustainable production practices—termed the Working Landscapes Certificate. The crop produced under the WLC criteria is not guaranteed to be used in the production of the finished product (i.e. a bioplastic)—it is only the attributes of production that are linked to this finished product—but, the purchase of WLCs does promote the use of more sustainable practices in corn production, while also demonstrating to farmers that a growing market exists for commodity crops grown in a more sustainable manner.
WLCs are intended to serve as a bridge to resolve some of the emerging biomaterials sector’s infrastructure and sustainable feedstock supply issues. The production of WLCs can help “grow” the number of farmers producing commodity crops more sustainably and demonstrate the market demand for this type of production. This approach allows companies—at a much-reduced cost from directly sourcing the materials—to support farmers making changes to their production systems. And as the number of farmers producing crops more sustainably increases, companies interested in directly purchasing feedstocks produced this way will have an increased supply available from which to source.
The WLC program is only intended and available for sectors where there are limited supply and production facilities. The bioplastics industry is a case in point, as it currently receives its feedstock material from a large corn mill, which also supplies other industries, making direct chain-of-custody more difficult and costly. In areas such as biofuels, where the infrastructure and ability to directly source identity-preserved crops are much greater, an offset program such as WLCs is not necessary, nor as effective in promoting the sustainability of feedstock production.
The WLC program is a first, crucial step to create truly sustainable biomaterials. In this phase, the focus is on driving more sustainable production of commodity crop feedstocks for use in biomaterials refining. Further stages will emphasize direct sourcing of these more sustainable feedstocks and, ultimately, a transition toward perennial grasses and other more sustainable feedstocks.
Working Landscape Certificates in Action
WLCs are voluntary and created on a geographic (i.e. per acre) basis. This approach avoids the incentive a “per bushel” payment would create to produce more than may be appropriate based on other landscape considerations (water quality, wildlife habitat, etc.). Farmers selling WLCs take specific, measurable steps to improve the environmental impact of their commodity crop production. Some of the production criteria include:
- Use of non-Genetically Modified (GM) crop varieties to protect biodiversity
- No continuous annual crop production on WLC acres
- Soil testing on contracted acres and fertilization according to test results and state agronomic recommendations to assure that nutrients are used efficiently and are not likely to leach or run-off
- No use of chemicals that are known human or animal carcinogens, including atrazine
- Use of cover crops or assurance that at least 70 percent of crop residues remain in the field to minimize soil erosion
- Creation of farm plan that includes information on biodiversity, energy use and greenhouse gas emissions to help identify and encourage improvements in sustainability areas not currently addressed by WLCs.
Production based upon the WLC practices will not, in isolation, lead to full sustainability on the farm or in the biomaterial production. But within the current agricultural system, these practices represent achievable and proven first-steps that can improve the environmental performance of commodity crop production in some of the key areas of water, soil, habitat and biodiversity. As the WLC program continues to develop, participating farmers will take additional steps towards improved farm sustainability, including measures to increase biodiversity, reduce energy and resource utilization, and minimize greenhouse gas emissions.
Working Landscapes Certificates in the Marketplace
The Working Landscapes Certificates program was created by the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) in 2006. From 2008-2011, IATP and Green Harvest Technologies (GHT) collaborated to build the program into its present form. For 2012, IATP is excited to announce that it is now partnering with the Nebraska Farmers Union for the Working Landscapes Certificates program. Farmers Union is responsible for farmer outreach, WLC sales and contracting, while IATP is responsible for WLC criteria and certification development and oversight. Interested companies buy WLCs from Farmers Union, which contracts in the winter/spring with farmers. IATP and Farmers Union set prices, in consultation with WLC farmers and agricultural experts.
The program expanded significantly in the 2010-11 season, based on the involvement of Stonyfield Farm and Danone Germany, with total production in 2011 encompassing over 1,300 acres (550 hectares). All WLC production in 2010-11 occurred near the bioplastic production facility, which allows for a more direct, local offset of GMO production in the field, and can potentially allow for more direct feedstock and WLC connections with bioplastic production in the future. IATP and Nebraska Farmers Union are willing to work with current and potential customers to explore how to ensure that the WLC program best meets needs for the future growing seasons.
As a sector that is billed as environmentally-preferable, it is crucial that the biomaterials industry incorporates sustainability criteria into the entire life cycle of its products (such guidelines are available from the Sustainable Biomaterials Collaborative, www.sustainablebiomaterials.org). WLCs are a potentially valuable tool for addressing the “front end” issues, by providing a traceable system that can be used to promote and verify commodity crop production that meets specific sustainability criteria, and to compensate farmers willing to take these steps.
If you are a manufacturer, retailer or another type of biomaterial user and you want to link more sustainable production to your product, then Working Landscapes Certificates may be an important option for meeting some of your sustainability concerns.
Want to Know More About the Working Landscapes Certificates Program?
Contact Anna Claussen, Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, firstname.lastname@example.org, (612) 870-3423
The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) works locally and globally at the intersection of policy and practice to ensure fair and sustainable food, farm and trade systems. Learn more at www.iatp.org.
Nebraska Farmers Union is a general farm organization that has been advocating for the economic well-being and quality of life of family farmers and ranchers and their rural communities since 1913. Learn more at nebraskafarmersunion.org.