- Land O'Lakes SUSTAIN, the Minnesota-based cooperative's sustainability data arm, and global ingredients supplier Tate & Lyle have announced a collaboration designed to enhance the sourcing of sustainable corn on Midwest farms.
- The project assists farmers with the latest technology to better target and measure how well their environmental stewardship efforts are doing on the ground, Land O'Lakes said in a release. Tate & Lyle uses a significant amount of U.S.-grown corn, the cooperative added, so the partnership will also benefit the U.K.-based agribusiness.
- "This is a grassroots roundup because there are no other cooperatives doing what Land O'Lakes is doing. It's making a real investment and trying to advance the ball," Jason Weller, SUSTAIN's senior director of sustainability, told Food Dive. "You have to start with economics — helping farmers be successful from a business perspective — or you can’t even get to the sustainability conversation."
Land O’Lakes is mainly known as a dairy foods producer, but the third-largest agricultural cooperative in the U.S. has also developed an on-farm digital platform called Truterra Insights Engine to help member farmers scale their sustainability efforts and measure their return on investment out in the field in real time. The cooperative said it will be integrating the latest metrics from Field to Market's Fieldprint Platform in December to further enhance the system's capabilities.
Besides the benefit to farmers, Weller told Food Dive that manufacturers also stand to gain from enhanced sustainability data. For example, Tate & Lyle might more easily measure its wider environmental footprint and make better decisions about boosting environmentally sound approaches across its supply chain.
Sustainability is not just a fad. Like today's consumers, Weller said food companies, grocery retailers and ingredients companies are interested in transparency and sustainability goals and want to achieve them. This "absolute shift across the food industry" underscores concerns about health and safety and also meets customer expectations, he said.
Some of the tangible sustainability achievements of the system include improving profitability and reducing waste on farms. This means at the soil composition level — which he called "the new frontier" — as well as reducing greenhouse gases, nutrient loss, sedimentation and other problems that can hamper farm operations. Food companies will be able to use this data to track their sustainability.
"Farmers are using [sustainability data] to help them be more productive. Food companies can then take on a macro scale the data and tell how they're taking a broader approach to sustainability," he said.
Weller said this is an opportunity for the agricultural industry and farmers to reconnect with consumers. With most people being several generations removed from the farm, this linkage has become even more important.
"We are particularly excited to tell the farmer story about their stewardship of soil and water. We see this not just as a trend but increasingly as a requirement. Instead of being onerous, we see it as a golden opportunity to tell the farmers’ story," he said.
But this isn't the company's only partnership. Land O'Lakes has also recently partnered with Campbell Soup on data solutions using an interactive on-farm digital platform. Weller said Campbell is interested in understanding sustainability efforts in areas where the company sources wheat and flour for its products.
"We’ve seen that the most effective way to encourage on-farm sustainability is to make data more available to farmers when making management decisions," Dan Sonke, Campbell's director of sustainable agriculture, said in a release.
Over the long term, this sustainability data could help put things into terms of dollars and cents for farmers, suppliers, manufacturers and consumers. If food companies and farmers can use this data to create a more sustainable system, it could be more profitable for them. But that would mean shifting strategies from beyond just the next crop year to those several years down the line.
"It won’t necessarily help this year’s return on investment, but the emphasis is on longer-term field resilience and field productivity," he said.