A change in career from art department chairman at Southern Methodist University to Newellton, La., agricultural producer wasn’t really that much of a stretch for Jay Hardwick, who farms part of Somerset Plantation.

For Hardwick, Somerset is a living canvas of biodiversity, rich soil textures and plant life. He has felt right at home within the swaths of cotton, corn and soybeans there ever since 1981, when a summer-long stint on his father-in-law’s farm somehow turned into a 30-year farming career.

These days, Hardwick has been looking closely at another important element of the farm canvas, its sustainability. Hardwick is participating in a project called Field to Market, the Keystone Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture. The project has gathered representatives from throughout the food and fiber chain, including grower organizations, agribusinesses, food companies, conservation organizations and land grant universities.

Hardwick, representatives of the cotton industry, the Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Keystone Center discussed the project during a tour of Hardwick’s farm this summer.

The Keystone Center, established in 1975, organized the Field to Market initiative three years ago, after representatives of agribusiness as well as conservation organizations expressed concern that commodity agriculture was not a part of the discussion on sustainability. The Keystone Center is a neutral, non-profit organization specializing in collaborative decision-making processes for environment, energy, and health policy issues.

Sarah Alexander, director of sustainability and leadership programs for Keystone, said, “We recognized that several different models would be needed. So we decided to sit down and figure out what the conversation should be about sustainable agriculture for commodity crops.”

The Field to Market tour introduced a new tool on Hardwick’s farm tour, a Web-based, field print calculator. The calculator can generate a footprint measuring the environmental impact of various crop inputs and practices. Data is generated for five areas: soil loss, irrigation water use efficiency, climate impact (greenhouse gas emissions), land use and energy use.

According to Andy Jordan, vice president of technical services for the National Cotton Council, the calculator “allows the grower to benchmark his own practices against national averages. It’s an educational awareness tool. We’re looking at ways to make the tool more useful for growers.”

Producers can create “what if” scenarios with the field print calculator, which is available online at http://www.fieldtomarket.org. For example, the user can calculate the impact of terraces, grass filter strips, etc., on the soil loss component.

Jordan said the footprint picture, like precision farming maps, “might bring out questions on how the images can be used. That’s a concept that is still being worked out.”