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November 17, 2010

Agriculture lecture speaks on sustainability

Cal-Poly Mustang Daily
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Cal Poly’s College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences (CAFES) welcomed Cliff Ohmart on Tuesday as part of their Sustainable Agriculture Lecture series. Ohmart is the vice president of professional services at SureHarvest, a company which creates sustainability management software.

Each quarter, CAFES hosts a free public lecture to discuss advancements in sustainability in various fields of agriculture.

Professor and director of the Center for Sustainability Hunter Francis said Ohmart has been impressed by Cal Poly’s agriculture programs and has been working with faculty and around San Luis Obispo for about four years.

Ohmart, who received a Ph.D in forest etymology from the University of California, Berkeley, joined SureHarvest in 2009 and prior to that was the Sustainable Wine-growing director at the Lodi Winegrape Commission for 13 years. Ohmart established the commission as a national and international leader in sustainable farming.

SureHarvest’s website refers to sustainability as a business strategy. Its goals are to promote sustainability and show farmers how to make it profitable. They highlight the five “P’s” of sustainability: principles, processes, practices, performance and progress.

Francis said Ohmart’s accomplishments in the field of sustainability are impressive and innovative.

“Ohmart created a certification for sustainability,” he said. “He made it a certifiable, measurable thing.”

Ohmart discussed an overview of SureHarvest, the challenges sustainable agriculture faces, ways to develop sustainable farm strategies and the future of sustainable agriculture.

“We need to get our arms around sustainability,” Ohmart said.

Ohmart highlighted the importance of making sustainability a quantifiable measurement and said it is a very data-based measurement — “And I love data!” he said.

Ohmart said the future of sustainable agriculture will soon be more self-directed.

“Five years ago, growers weren’t even thinking about this,” he said. “Now, growers are saying ‘for better or for worse, we have to focus on (sustainability).”

The agricultural businesses across California have adopted programs implemented by SureHarvest. Their publication, “The Lodi Winegrowers’ Workbook” lays out a process by which farms and agricultural businesses can become more sustainable.

Cal Poly tries to focus on sustainability in the curriculum, especially within CAFES, according to the college’s website.

Environmental science freshman Suzi Rozga said sustainability is a major part of her curriculum.

“My concentration is climate change,” she said. “So it’s pretty important to me. My major classes are things like environmental law and climate and humanity.”

Professor Douglas Piirto, head of the natural resource management department, said sustainability isn’t a new concept in agriculture. He also said the recent spike in sustainability research is inspiring.

“I hope it’s not just a fashionable thing. Because nothing is going to change unless people are actually willing to work,” he said.

Francis said he hoped to fill the room in the Construction Innovations Center, which seated roughly 45 people, with students and faculty as well as a few local farmers.

Cal Poly’s Sustainable Ag Lecture Series began two years ago and has hosted prominent figures in various agricultural fields. One notable was Michael Pollan, author of “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” and sustainable food advocate, spoke in October 2009 at the Sustainable Ag fundraiser dinner.

Francis said the lectures are primarily advertised within CAFES majors, but he encourages anyone interested in learning about sustainability to attend.

“It’s a whole different way of thinking,” he said. “You can apply sustainability to architecture, engineering, anything.”

Agricultural business sophomore Wil Dasovich said he attended the lecture for credit in his viticulture class but was also curious about becoming more sustainable.

“I’m actually thinking of minoring in sustainability,” he said. “And I’m really glad I came because I learned a lot more about it.”

Piirto said sustainability is really a way of thinking, and learning about it can be applied to every aspect of life.

“So many things we don’t even think about revolve around sustainability,” he said.

Fruit science junior Hillary Lind said her interest in the presentation stemmed from her interest in getting her Pest Control Advisement license. She works as a wine grape grower.

“I’ve been working in the viticulture industry and have been using sustainable practices,” she said. “This was a really good opportunity to learn how to improve our sustainability.

Ohmart closed his presentation comparing agricultural farming to art.

“An artist told me that art is a world where the horizon is always receding,” he said. “And I thought, that is exactly what sustainable farming is.”