Posts By Jon Christian
Socially responsible investment is the idea that investments are social as well as financial. What role can that longstanding movement play in the development of sustainable agriculture?
“Within sustainable agriculture investments we have definitely focused on local enterprises where we understand the food system and can get to know the management,” said Eric Becker, chief investment officer for avowedly socially responsible investment firm Clean Yield, in an email message. “We also are looking at how the business can have an impact on the local or regional food system as a whole. We want to invest in businesses that are going to make a difference.”
Growing concern over the depletion of world oil reserves, carbon emissions and global warming have created a strong incentive to develop viable alternative energy sources. The technical convenience of fossil fuels – and the sheer international infrastructure built around them – have entrenched the established technology. Some experts and entrepreneurs think that they have found a solution – in algae.
Microalgae are small, aquatic organisms which have fascinated energy researchers for decades due to their high energy content and rapid growth cycle. Algae doesn’t compete with existing food crops, and can be nourished with waste and saltwater. But as with all alternative fuels, the primary challenge is to get the cost of production down.
Riggs Eckelberry, CEO of California-based OriginOil, is as conscious as anyone of the barriers that need to be overcome for algae biofuels to become competitive with fossil fuels. And just as important, he says, is to expose the public and potential investors to the promise of algae.
Congressional subcommittees are now working on the legislation which will set agricultural policy for the next half decade – and they are doing so under unprecedented public scrutiny of federal spending. Sustainable agriculture advocates and policy experts hope that lawmakers will seize the opportunity to push the long-term local farming and food security agendas, but in the current fiscal climate they remain realistic.
Could contemporary technology let growers enter field data on water, nutrition and pests into an algorithm – and receive predictive results more consistent and accurate than traditional record keeping? And can high tech agricultural software bring cost savings into line with the model of sustainable agriculture?
Agricultural information technology firm SureHarvest is based on the idea that they can. Founded in 1999 and based in Soquel, CA, the company aims to provide holistic management and software services to improve growers’ efficiency and impact – often in accordance with the sustainable agriculture standards established by SureHarvest president Jeff Dlott’s non-profit sustainability certification program ProtectedHarvest, a sister project which sets standards for an “eco-label” which appears on conforming products.