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Column: Activating whole supply chain critical for sustainability – Opinion – The Columbus Dispatch

Taking steps to safeguard the air, land and water is central to any farming business in Ohio. Through constant evaluation of the most promising conservation practices for their operations, farmers are able to look out for environmental health and their long-term economic viability.

By bringing the whole supply chain together, we can support farmers in this important work.

Since 2017, Campbell Soup Company and Land O’Lakes SUSTAIN, the sustainability solutions business of Land O’Lakes Inc., have joined forces to support farmer-led stewardship in Maryland and Pennsylvania, leveraging agriculture technology and the expertise of trusted agronomy retailers. Recently, we were proud to announce a major expansion of this effort into Ohio.

As two companies with a strong connection to Ohio agriculture, Campbell and Land O’Lakes believe that they can make an impact on the ground, engaging the entire food and agriculture supply chain. Here’s how.

First, we bring a farmer-led perspective to sustainability. Land O’Lakes is among America’s largest farmer-owned cooperatives, with a network that reaches half of America’s harvested acres. In 2019, Campbell celebrates its 150th anniversary of creating quality food from farm-supplied ingredients. We know that for farmers, sustainability on the farm means balancing both environmental health and economic resilience.

Farmers care about the environment and want to pass down their operations to the next generation. Sustainability is a business decision, and they must be supported in the freedom and flexibility to make the right decisions for their farms and families. Often, more environmentally conscious means more economically viable long term.

Second, we support deploying technology to support stewardship. For farmers, the ability to pinpoint exactly what parts of a field aren’t currently profitable is critical, and new tools are equipping farmers (and their trusted agronomy retail advisers) to do so like never before.

For example, working together we have deployed the Truterra Insights Engine, an on-farm digital platform developed by Land O’Lakes, across more than 10,000 acres in Maryland and Pennsylvania. Pulling from 30 years of weather, satellite and agronomic data, the platform analyzes how each part of a field is performing and recommends specific actions that a farmer could take to bolster stewardship and optimize the business.

Importantly, this technology allows us to benchmark at the county level what farmers are doing right now. This also reveals areas where they might be able to improve.

In Maryland and Pennsylvania, for example, Campbell found that more than half of the participating acres use cover crops to reduce erosion and soil nutrient loss, and three-quarters of participating acres used split application of fertilizer. We also found areas where we can work with local ag retailers to drive adoption of other practices. This is exciting because it gives everyone – from farmer to food company – useful information that can support improvement.

That brings us to the final piece of the puzzle: demonstrating the impact that farmers can have for the consumers we serve.

The work of farmers is critical to the food companies that ultimately use their crops as food ingredients and to the families that enjoy the end products. We are most effective when we are working together toward the same goal and tell the story of what we have achieved.

In our case, the wheat acres that we are benchmarking produce wheat that is used in the cookies and crackers families enjoy every day, produced at our bakeries in Ashland and Willard, Ohio.

By starting on the farm, relying on technology and bringing the results back to consumers in a transparent way, we are able to support agriculture’s leadership on environmental issues. Farmers are able to use new technology to focus on growing their businesses, and Campbell is better able to progress toward our ambitious goal of sustainably sourcing half of our wheat volume by 2025.

With a successful pilot on 10,000 wheat acres under our belt, we are excited to expand this effort to Ohio across 60,000 acres. We welcome the opportunity to work with local farmers and Heritage Cooperative, an expert Ohio ag retailer, to expand this promising model of whole-supply-chain sustainability that benefits both the farmer and the consumer.

Daniel Sonke is director of Sustainable Agriculture for the Campbell Soup Company.

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