Sustainability is without a doubt one of the most important topics in the food industry today. A growing number of food companies are committing to taking action against climate change — not only because it’s the right thing to do for the planet, but also because consumers are increasingly demanding it. A recent Nielsen study found that sustainable products in certain categories are vastly outpacing non-sustainable products in sales growth.
A main challenge for food companies is gaining visibility into sustainability practices across the supply chain. At the same time, farmers need insights into farm management practices that will enhance their sustainability and, just as importantly, their profitability.
These are the challenges Land O’Lakes SUSTAIN seeks to solve with Truterra™ Insights Engine, an interactive on-farm digital platform the company launched in September. The platform helps farmers quantify their environmental stewardship activities while also helping food companies measure their sustainability progress. Just last week, Land O’Lakes SUSTAIN announced a new collaboration with Tate & Lyle that allows the ingredient supplier to enhance their sustainability efforts by connecting with the farmers supplying their corn.
If you’re wondering why a butter company is involved in corn sourcing, here’s a little history on Land O’Lakes. The company started in 1921 as a dairy cooperative. Today, it’s the largest farmer-owned cooperative in the United States, comprising a network of local farmer co-ops and independent ag retailers. It’s also #216 on the Fortune 500.
A couple of years ago, the stakeholders got together and decided to create their own ag sustainability program. The result was Land O’Lakes SUSTAIN, which senior director of sustainability Jason Weller describes as “a North American network of very proactive, progressive agricultural retailers and farmer co-ops that, in turn, are working with thousands of farmers…to help them advance their stewardship of soil resources and optimize their use of fertilizer in the field to help protect water and air resources.”
Truterra is the tool Land O’Lakes SUSTAIN developed to reach that goal. It allows farmers and food companies to measure sustainability progress, as well as identify actions farmers can take to improve their stewardship. Crucially, it also provides insights into the profitability of those actions. Earlier this month, Truterra became the first platform to be fully integrated with the latest version of Field to Market’s Fieldprint Calculator, which is the industry standard framework for talking about sustainability.
What distinguishes Truterra from other players in the space is that the platform is farmer-focused, Weller explains. Other technologies focus primarily on outcome metrics, like soil indicators. Farmers need to know these metrics, but what they’re really interested in is how to improve them, and how those improvements will boost their bottom line.
“We have a profitability component to our tool which puts into true dollars and cents how different stewardship practices can improve [farmers’] return on investment and their acre-by-acre profitability,” Weller says. “We can also help benchmark their overall level of stewardship through a scoring algorithm….It’s like a credit rating for their field.”
From there, the tool helps farmers drill down into management and conservation practices. For example, a farmer may be doing well with nutrient management but have an opportunity to improve soil health. Through Truterra (and with the help of the Land O’Lakes SUSTAIN network), farmers can work through different management scenarios and assess their profitability.
“We want to have this platform ultimately drive value back to the people who we depend upon to feed us,” Weller says. “If we solve for that, I think it will accelerate and expand the adoption of sustainability data systems…[and provide] positive feedback so we can then help farmers do an even better job to increasingly produce food in a way that’s best protecting our natural resource space.”
And that, Weller says, will generate all the downstream benefits that food companies and the broader public are interested in, like improving water quality and fighting climate change.
After all, Land O’Lakes is still a food company, facing the same pressures as other food companies. “How do we ensure long-term that the resource space is productive and resilient? This is something consumers are concerned about [and] the food industry is concerned about. So, it is, for us, not just a fad or an inquiry or a curiosity. It’s table stakes for the industry. We have to meet the demands of our customers and the public, and we have to demonstrate how agriculture is contributing positively to the solution….We’re trying to get on the ground, get dirt on our nails, and do the right thing.”