The U.S. is a leader in agriculture production, with a significant economic footprint both at home and abroad. However, the shifts associated with climate change, ongoing population growth, changing diets, and the impacts of COVID-19 on public health and the global economy have all led to new opportunities and challenges for the sector to help deliver a sustainable world by 2030.

At such a crucial time, U.S. Farmers & Ranchers in Action (USFRA), who represent farmer and rancher-led organizations and others in the sector with a shared vision to advance global sustainable food systems, decided collaboration was needed. Partnering with the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), USFRA aimed to define agriculture’s contributions to this vision for a sustainable world and to identify how the food value chain can better collaborate to help deliver it.

To do this, WBCSD recommended ERM based on our combination of broad technical capabilities and deep sustainability expertise, as well as our work to develop WBCSD’s SDG Sector Roadmap Guidelines, which help companies articulate a common vision for how their sector can both contribute to the SDGs and optimize business value. ERM has experience helping both industries and individual companies in this articulation through our work developing SDG Roadmaps for the Forestry, Indian Cement, and Chemicals sectors, among others, and our expertise in mapping, analyzing, and assessing company approaches to the SDGs to identify common solutions, opportunities, and potential partnerships.

Our Approach

As outlined in the guidelines of the report, ERM’s approach to this work was based on robust research with key stakeholders across the U.S. agriculture value chain, to both collect evidence and data, as well as facilitate broad engagement and buy-in.

Leveraging our technical and sustainability expertise, ERM worked with USFRA and WBCSD to understand and investigate current challenges and opportunities in the sector. Our findings were developed through a detailed literature review and rigorous stakeholder engagement process comprising of 41 interviews. ERM validated the findings and analysis by facilitating a review workshop with stakeholders from across the food value chain.

The final report was published in September 2020 and delivered by ERM on track with the desired timings so as to launch as the focal point of USFRA’s signature Honor the Harvest Forum that same year. The work highlights the key trends impacting the sector today and outlines the sector’s existing contributions and challenges related to each of the SDGs, in addition to the key opportunities for collaboration and action.

Benefits and Value

The insights in the report developed by ERM enable U.S. Agriculture and the food and farming value chain to better collaborate by outlining a common approach to helping achieve the SDG agenda. The opportunities outlined also make business sense, helping the sector strengthen its collective license to operate, manage operational and regulatory risks, and to open up new growth markets while helping bring about a more sustainable and resilient world.

Our work recognizes tradeoffs and highlights both the positive and negative contributions U.S. Agriculture has on society, the economy, and the environment. ERM adjusted its approach throughout the project and expanded the research to ensure that COVID-19 and the racial justice movement unfolding in 2020 were adequately incorporated and embedded into the findings alongside pre-existing opportunities and challenges for the sector.

The report highlights specific actions the sector can take to have the greatest impact on people and the planet. It serves as a basis for members of the food and agriculture value chain to acknowledge their own positive contributions, align on challenges that remain, and advance opportunities to take action on the key environmental, social, and economic impacts the sector has in the U.S. and throughout the world.

The opportunities identified through ERM’s research and analysis define the key areas where collaboration is needed across food and farming to drive sustainability. Organized into three pillars: People, Planet and Process, these opportunities span ambitions to build and empower the workforce by achieving racial and gender equity, reverse biodiversity loss by encouraging and providing habitat for wildlife, accelerate climate action by scaling the adoption of climate-smart practices, and to eliminate waste through value chain collaboration and by scaling up the infrastructure needed for data management.