August 16, 2021

Sustainability is a System


Global corporations have been weaving sustainability efforts into business plans for the better part of a decade. As early as 2011, McKinsey published a report that emphasized the value of sustainability efforts for companies, not just in building corporate reputation but in making operations more efficient and more profitable.

This focus on sustainability has gained traction exponentially over the last 10 years. In fact, Coyote Logistics published a report late last year showing that 81% of companies are more focused on sustainability today than they were just three years ago.

What does this mean for agriculture, an industry with a complicated supply chain, countless stakeholders and differing priorities in food production? 

It means the corporations must work closely with growers and other food producers to ensure sustainability across the entire supply chain.

We recently attended a panel discussion at Tech Hub LIVE, an agriculture technology conference hosted by Meister Media Group. The discussion featured Jason Weller, President at TruTerra, Inc. and Jamie Dingley, Commodities Manager for North America at Corbion, among others. Together, the experts discussed the value of sustainability for food companies, and the necessity of collaboration in food systems.

Adding Support at the Roots

Members across food and ag retail companies agreed: in order to implement sustainable practices, growers must be supported on the ground level. Jason Weller of TruTerra put it clearly: “From an economic perspective, we understand how important it is to promote a new, innovative sustainable process that supports the farmer on the front end.”

Many growers are hungry to incorporate sustainable, conservation-minded practices on their farms. In fact, CropLife’s 2021 Precision Ag Dealership Survey showed that 77% of growers with dealer partnerships are interested in exploring sustainability practices within the next three years.

However, growers need partnership, expertise and support from further down the supply chain. 

“Growers aren’t reluctant to try conservation practices,” said Jason. “They just don’t know where to start."

"We need to understand what growers need to achieve, and build a process that’s sustainable for the grower. One field at a time, based on specific management practices.”

Implementing these sustainability efforts on the grower’s side of the supply chain rather than on the consumer’s side ensures that sustainability practices are viable, attainable and resilient for food producers.

Ag Retailers Propel Innovation

In addition to growers, ag retail companies also play a key role in implementing sustainability efforts for global companies. These dealers bear much responsibility in finding and promoting new tools, systems and practices, in facilitating practice adoption with growers and in encouraging financial support with global companies.

Jamie Dingley from Corbion emphasized this point: “[For example], the future of sustainability lies in precision, and dealers are in the best position to make that happen.” Dealers have a unique insight into the future of agriculture, with an eye on both growers’ perspectives and corporations’ goals. 

However, dealers will need to be intentional about curating industry knowledge and providing value to grower partners. “That’s the biggest challenge,” Jamie added. “As with anything in our industry, growers look to us for our expertise. If we’re not providing that service, growers will look elsewhere.” 

Understanding at the Corporate Level

In addition to growers and ag retailers, food companies also have a significant burden to bear when implementing sustainability efforts across the supply chain. 

“We see an opportunity to create a pipeline of services that bring revenue to the farmer,” said Jason from TruTerra. “One that promotes soil health, but also creates a new revenue opportunity for farmers.”

Global companies often have the resources to spur innovation in sustainability, explore new markets and advance technology at scale. The next frontier for many companies? Environmental markets.

“We see environmental credits as an additional crop for farmers to produce on the acre,” said Jason. “This is starting to knock on the door, and we see this growing very substantially.”

Of course, in order for these global companies to create meaningful change, they’ll need to explore these markets and opportunities with the entire supply chain in mind, from the food producer to the consumer. “Sustainability is becoming a right to operate for global companies. It’s not just a marketing approach for companies, it’s a core capability that we’ll need in order to scale their business”

In all, it’s clear that there’s a yearning for sustainable and climate-smart practices across the food supply chain. Collaboration, partnership and shared resources will bring sustainability goals to life for growers, retailers and global corporations.

Interested in learning more? Read our take on the trajectory of climate-positive food and farming.

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