Today’s leading consumer packaged goods companies have access to resources that can help small-scale and large-scale agriculture businesses meet the ever-growing needs of farming communities. Food producers are reliant on the farmers in their agricultural supply chain, and these companies are becoming increasingly transparent in their support of the vital agriculture industry to improve outputs and create harmonious relationships with suppliers.
Spotlight on sustainability
The top concern facing the agriculture industry today is a continued decline of natural resources, according to Mary Jane Melendez, chief sustainability and social impact officer at General Mills.
“Over the last 150 years we have lost 50% of the world’s farmable topsoil -- we used to measure topsoil in feet; today, we measure it in inches,” Melendez said. “That is a problem because today, 95% of all food comes from the soil. Without soil, we aren’t going to be able to feed this population.”
General Mills is working to address that problem through regenerative agriculture, which the company defines as working “with nature to pull carbon from the air (CO2) and store it in the soil.” The company’s goal is to advance regenerative practices on 1 million acres by 2030, and it recently announced a pilot program in Kansas to help wheat producers promote better water quality of the Cheney Reservoir watershed. Melendez added that General Mills is also working with OpenTeam to collect data and conduct an analysis that provides farmers with useful information for management decisions.
“Given our outcome-based definition of regenerative agriculture, measuring these specific outcomes is a really crucial step in meeting our commitments, in addition to providing key scientific learnings about both environmental and economic impact of regenerative agriculture,” Melendez said.
Farmer-owned cooperative Land O’Lakes’ sustainability solutions business Truterra -- formerly known as Land O’Lakes SUSTAIN -- has three main focus areas in sustainability: air, soil and water. The company is working to foster continuous improvement of environmental issues while keeping farmers profitable, said Molly Toot, senior director of Truterra member engagement.
Because Land O’Lakes is a cooperative, Truterra has access to a robust network of ag retailers, also known as member owners, which are crop input providers that supply services, products and technology to farmers. Truterra connects with over 500 ag retailer locations across the country to help farmers produce verified sustainable food, according to Toot. One of Truterra’s missions is to ensure that farmers meet their own sustainability goals, rather than declaring corporate goals that can put onus on suppliers, Toot added.
Today’s agtech toolbox
The Truterra Insights Engine app is a digital platform that helps track sustainability progress by collecting 118 data points for every field entered into the system, according to Toot. Truterra has partnered with agriculture solutions provider WinField United to use their platform, Data Silo, to also collect WinField’s data within the Insights Engine tool, offering even more information to users, Toot added.
“It’s been a game-changer,” said Toot. “We have a state-of-the-art tool that nobody else has. We can show how many farmers are adopting different practices, products and technologies [that are in the sustainability conversation] to help improve stewardship and help reduce their overall environmental footprint.”
The agtech platform isn’t just providing this data to ag retailers, it also offers it to food companies. Through a partnership with Truterra, Campbell Soup Company’s farmers in Maryland, Pennsylvania and Ohio are using the Truterra Insights Engine to collect data on roughly 70,000 acres of farmland of wheat grown for Pepperidge Farm Goldfish crackers.
“We are able to back up claims for food companies and also for farmers on what sustainably produced products really are … [and can give] very specific information on what farmers are doing to make change over time,” said Toot.
General Mills rolled out its own agtech tool in 2019. Version 2.0 of the General Mills Regenerative Agriculture Self-Assessment Tool focuses on the company’s three pillars of ag commitment: farmer economic resilience, soil health and increased biodiversity, and was created with the input of farmers, scientists, practitioners and a diverse group of General Mills employees. Melendez described the regenerative ag self-assessment tool as iterative, and it is an open platform currently available at General Mills' website.
Melendez and Toot agree that the best way for consumers to contribute to sustainability in the ag industry is to become educated about the food they are buying, which many consumers are already expressing interest in. Making conscious decisions about which food products they buy -- a seemingly small action -- can make a huge difference.
“Today’s statistics tell us that consumers want to know how their food is produced, and they want to know food is being produced in a sustainable way,” said Toot.
The support of the agricultural supply chain by both food producers and consumers is crucial -- improving and preserving the health of the environment is what ensures the continued success of food producers and the CPG industry.
“Our business is rooted in the earth,” said Melendez. “We depend completely on the health and wellbeing of Mother Nature to get all the input needed to make and market delicious products all around the world. For us, it’s a business and planetary imperative.”
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