Food companies turning to sustainability tracking service

Nutrien Ag Solutions is working with food companies that have made commitments to proving the environmental impacts of their supply chain, and because a large portion of their environmental footprint is generated by the agricultural portion of the supply chain, they want agricultural data to better understand their current footprint.

The ultimate goal is to show progress towards sustainability goals and that data starts at the farm and field level.

“Companies look to producers to provide that farm level data and helps them back up their claim to things like land use, soil carbon, energy use and greenhouse gas emissions, for example,” said Dave Stanko, Nutrien Ag Solutions’ sustainable agriculture senior director.

“Sustainability is a big issue and what we’re trying to do from a big-picture standpoint is help connect growers to downstream and help them deliver results that the supply chain is asking for.

“That starts with measurements, so we have some tools that allow us to take field level data and then analyze that from a sustainability perspective so that we can footprint the agricultural outputs for that grower that are then inputs for the supply chain.

“Secondly, we’re working on input solutions that help us target better environmental outcomes for growers by really using inputs that are focused on things like nitrogen use efficiency and water use efficiency. We’re doing that in partnership with some of the downstream companies that we’ve been doing business with for years.”

Measurable Impacts

Stanko previously served as president of Agrible until Nutrien Ag Solutions acquired the digital farming startup in 2018. As part of the acquisition, Agrible’s sustainability tracking service is now part of the Nutrien offerings.

Stanko believes that because environmental impacts are measurable, improving sustainability in agriculture means using data to support grower decisions that positively impacts both the environment and farm economics.

In addition, credible data will be the first line of defense for growers under increasing scrutiny from environmental, regulatory and consumer groups.

To address questions about greenhouse gas emissions, soil health, carbon sequestration and nutrient run-off, growers can use sustainability analytics to show how agricultural practices can drive positive environmental outcomes.

“Agrible had established a bit of a niche in doing sustainability analytics for the supply chain. So, in many ways we’ve been doing this work for years. Now, we have the ability to start to move the needle on some of these metrics. For some of our customers, we’ve been measuring for two, three, four years. Now, we have the ability to see what we can do through an input strategy to help them achieve some sustainability goals they’ve set,” Stanko said.

Data collection may include seed type, planting date, planting population, along with types and dates of fertilizer and crop protection applications, harvest data, tillage practices and any other conservation practices that growers may already have in place.

“You kind of think of it holistically from planting to harvest and everything in between that helps the supply chain understand the sustainability footprint of that grower’s operation,” Stanko said.

“There are several established protocols that we use. Field-to-market has a calculator that we utilize in some of the sustainability analytics. Cool Farm Alliance has one, as well, and there are other ongoing efforts in how do we use field level data in order to calculate things like greenhouse gases per bushel. We use all of those available calculators.”

Generally signups for the program begin with a downstream company seeking to understand the environmental footprint of ag inputs for that specific product.

“We start with measurement. In many areas, because we are Nutrien and we have locations just about everywhere, we’re able to engage our field and help them problem solve for some of the sustainability metrics that somebody like Pepsi is looking for. But a lot of times it starts with the downstream,” Stanko said.

“One of the other things that we’ve found in growing through this process and becoming part of Nutrien is that there are pockets of this innovation that are already taking place and they’re just about everywhere. So, a big part of our job right now is to unearth some of these that are taking place independent of a downstream partnership.”




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