Food safety was the big issue when the sustainability audits started, says Wright, but it has grown beyond that.

“They still swab everything here at the plant as part of the safety issue. It’s a lot more than that now.”

For example, Maring is utilizing fuel management systems on his tractors, and that counts in the sustainability audit. 

“These new systems are changing the way we have always thought we have to operate a tractor.” Changing gears and raising or lowering RPMs as directed by the fuel management systems can make a “substantial difference in the amount of fuel you use.”

Wright says Del Mar’s farming operation incorporates Integrated Pest Management in production, which not only helps in the sustainability audit, but helps keep records of everything used in producing crops.

 “I think we are creating a better quality, safer product, and it gives us and our buyers more confidence in the products we market to them.”

All waste paper and plastic generated in the plant, as well as used oil from machinery and equipment, are recycled.

Maring admits that some areas of the auditing process have not always been on a farmer’s radar, “but, when there is an incentive to do it, it brings it closer to our attention.”

Major food buyers are increasingly demanding more from their suppliers. Many resist that, but Wright and Maring know if they don’t try to conform, sales could be in jeopardy.

“We all try to be progressive in how we do things,” Maring says. Sustainable production is something new and the “learning curve can be a little uncomfortable,” just like learning to utilize fuel management systems on tractors.

But, he says, the line between organic farming and sustainable farming can be blurred. Del Mar does not produce organic products.

“The move to green may not be economically feasible in many crops. Now, there is a new term called ‘blue,’ which means to do reasonable things to produce food at a reasonable price.

“I think the organic frame of mind is carrying it too far,” Maring says. “I think using IPM and things like that in a sustainable point system is the way. It sort of meets in the middle to create a good food value that is very safe and sanitary.

“You can get frustrated with new technology and new issues like sustainability, but if you don’t learn how to utilize it, it will cost you money.”

Drip irrigation is another example. Maring first tried it in the mid 1980s. “It was miserable — we had root intrusion, we had problems installing and removing the lines.”

Today drip and micro-irrigation are standard in Del Mar’s farming operation because new drip technology has been introduced, and farmers have learned how to maximize the advantages of drip.

“GPS has made drip even better,” Maring says. “It allows us to fieldwork the crop and beds with semi-conventional tillage because we know exactly where the lines are and how deep they are because they were installed using GPS. We can cultivate across the top of the beds and still not disturb the drip lines.”

“You have to look around every corner for new things — and solar is part of that.”

hcline@farmpress.com