On Monday, after several years of working with the Leonardo Academy to produce sustainability standards, over 50 commodity and farm organizations representing U.S. production agriculture interests withdrew from the effort en masse.

According to Leonardo Academy’s Web site (http://www.leonardoacademy.org/) the objective of the sustainability standard initiative “is to establish a comprehensive, continuous improvement framework and common set of economic, environmental and social metrics by which to determine whether an agricultural crop has been produced and handled in a sustainable manner.

"A national standard for sustainable agriculture has the potential to address a range of stakeholder needs, including supporting producer efforts to adopt sustainable production practices, establishing a framework for continuous improvement along the agricultural supply chain, providing a means of clear communication of sustainability achievements and harmonizing the myriad of sustainable agriculture standards that are currently in place or in development.”

Among the many groups that pulled out of the process were Farm Bureau, the American Soybean Association (ASA) and USA Rice Federation.

Ron Moore, an Illinois soybean producer and ASA board member who had been active in Leonardo committee leadership, said the pullback decision “was not made easily. It means walking away from nearly two years of investment … in an effort to produce an ‘on-farm’ standard. However, it is clear based on actions this past summer that any continued effort cannot and will not overcome the serious systemic limitations and chronic biases that are inherent in the structure the Leonardo Academy has set up for this initiative.”

Leonardo Academy, says Reese Langley, USA Rice Federation vice president of government affairs, “tried to bring in stakeholders including production ag groups along with various environmental groups and NGOs (non-governmental organizations) to develop an industry-wide sustainability standard for agriculture.”

The USA Rice Federation wasn’t a formal member of the group.

“We were more of an allied partner, if you will. We were involved in some of the work groups but had no actual vote. Some of the larger agriculture groups like Farm Bureau were voting members.

“So, we worked through the process for several years trying to come up with sustainability standards. There were particular focuses on social standards, economic standards and others.”

At the end of the day, the environmental and NGO groups strong-armed the process, say those Farm Press has spoken with.