Growing Returns

Selected tag(s): United Suppliers

Nature inspired my career in conservation, but farmers and family keep me going

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My husband and 10-year old twins – keeping me dedicated to a sustainable future.

Whether I’m out shopping, preparing a meal for my husband and 10 year-old twins, or visiting a farm with one of our agricultural partners, I’m continually reminded of why I’m so passionate about agriculture. The food supply chain touches all parts of our lives, and my job gives me the opportunity to make sure the farm to plate journey is as sustainable as possible.

Growing up in Connecticut, I spent a lot of time exploring the outdoors and I’ve always had a deep love for animals. Although most of my time in nature is now spent protecting it, I still find the time to run outside every morning before I wake up my kids. Along with all of the farmers and partners I work with, my children – and their cousins (also twins, born on the same exact day as mine) – are the ones keeping me dedicated to building a sustainable future.

Here’s why I couldn’t imagine working anywhere else. Read More »

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How this ag retailer is helping farmers scale the sustainability mountain

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SUSTAIN-authorized retailer Jake Rechkemmer

Eighteen months ago, I’d never heard of United Suppliers – a cooperative of 560 locally owned and controlled agricultural retailers who operate nearly 2,500 retail locations that serve 45 million acres in the U.S. and Canada.

Now, I spend 75 percent of my work day focused on the SUSTAIN™ platform, developed by United Suppliers in coordination with Environmental Defense Fund. SUSTAIN works to train and authorize ag retailers on tools, technologies and practices for fertilizer optimization and improved soil health – without sacrificing yield.

And SUSTAIN is on fire – by the end of this year, over 200 ag retail employees will be authorized as SUSTAIN representatives, and General Mills, Campbell’s Soup, Unilever, Kellogg’s, and Smithfield Foods are all using or will use the platform in their sustainable sourcing efforts.

Part of the platform’s success is due to its unique model – it’s deployed through existing, trusted relationships that growers already have with their ag retailer. That’s why I asked SUSTAIN-authorized retailer Jake Rechkemmer, agronomy manager at Dunkerton Coop in Dunkerton, Iowa, to tell me about his SUSTAIN journey. Read More »

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5 steps to move food production from transparency to sustainability

Credit: Flickr user Brian Talbot

Credit: Flickr user Brian Talbot

A new survey from the Center for Food Integrity suggests that transparency is no longer optional for food companies. Consumers want to know what’s in their food, where it’s from, and how its production helps or harms the planet.

“Consumers increasingly expect their favorite brands to assure more than quality and safety,” said the center’s CEO, Charlie Arnot. “They now expect those brands to assure the supply chain is also transparent.”

Transparency will bring companies’ environmental impacts to light– which can then motivate improvement. But it doesn’t guarantee sustainability – especially when it comes to agriculture. That’s because it’s up to food companies themselves to do the heavy lifting – to address the actual environmental impacts of food production.

For food companies to reach their sustainability goals, transparency is often just the first step. Here’s what follows. Read More »

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Agriculture doesn’t have a seat at the Paris climate talks, but we can’t wait for an invitation

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Credit: Flickr user Domenico

The CEOs of 14 major food and beverage companies have now signed a joint letter asking the 190 governments attending next month’s United Nations climate change negotiations in Paris to act decisively in order to protect global food supplies. In the letter, sponsored by sustainability advocate Ceres, these businesses pledged to accelerate action on climate change and asked U.S. and world leaders to do the same.

Other stakeholders are also pushing for crop production and food security to be a major topic of discussion at the upcoming negotiations, but agriculture isn’t in the draft text for a new climate agreement. Most of the focus will be on emissions from deforestation and land use changes.

These are pressing and important issues that are very closely tied to agriculture – but they don’t capture the emissions and environmental impacts that result from food production. This is problematic, since there’s a lot at stake for farmers. Reports on how climate change will impact the global food supply and crops will suffer from higher temperatures are everywhere.

That’s why we need investment, research, and tangible actions to help farmers and protect our food supply – and we need it now. Fortunately, the private sector can help – their pledges are a great step in the right direction, but it’s the demonstrations of agricultural innovation from within that can spark real change, at scale. Read More »

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How “plant doctor” Dan Sonke is making Campbell Soups’ ingredients greener

Dan Sonke, Manager of Ag Sustainability at Campbell Soup.

Dan Sonke, Manager of Agricultural Sustainability at Campbell Soup.

The Campbell Soup Company, along with a growing number of major food companies, is taking action to implement and support sustainable agriculture measures. It’s in their best interest to decrease the risk of supply chain disruptions.

Plus, there’s increasing consumer demand for transparency. A new report from the Chicago Council on Global Affairs found that 78 percent of Americans are interested in how their food is produced.

I asked Dan Sonke, manager of agricultural sustainability at Campbell’s, to explain how his company is working with farmers to reduce environmental impacts, why they’re working with Environmental Defense Fund, and about the unprecedented demand he’s seeing for sustainable grain. Read More »

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Collaboration can save the Mississippi River watershed

By Suzy Friedman, Director, Agricultural Sustainability, Environmental Defense Fund and Max Starbuck, Director, Market Development, National Corn Growers Association

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Credit: America’s Watershed Initiative

Today, a diverse group of more than 400 businesses, associations, government agencies, science organizations, academic institutions and non-profit organizations released the first-ever report card evaluating the condition of one of our nation’s most storied and central waterways. This effort, known as America’s Watershed Initiative, was undertaken to provide information on the challenges facing the waters and lands that make up the 31-state Mississippi River Watershed and the 250 rivers that flow into it.

The overall mark was less than stellar, a D+. However, the process of grading has yielded a pathway to improvement.

Why the poor rating? The watershed continues to experience increased pressure from the demands of urbanization, agriculture, transportation and land development.

Fortunately, moving from a “D+” to an “A” grade is achievable – with new levels of understanding and collaboration. That’s why the Environmental Defense Fund and the National Corn Growers Association have a real desire to work together on this and similar initiatives. Read More »

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How to overcome big data’s barriers

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Credit: Flickr user Marcos Gasparutti

As I wrote earlier this week, data analytics technology has the potential to dramatically change the way we produce food, making it more abundant and sustainable. But a number of obstacles remain.

Here’s how we can address some of the biggest challenges and hasten ag’s big data revolution for the benefit of people and the planet.

1. Protecting privacy

Many growers have told me they are willing to share data – if they know exactly where it’s going and how it will be used, and if they can benefit from the data analysis that occurs. However, big concerns remain about data being used for regulatory compliance purposes, given to rival farmers, or shared with seed and fertilizer companies that would gain a competitive advantage. Read More »

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Agricultural carbon markets get yet another boost

farmIn the past three months, three new revenue opportunities have emerged for growers. In June, the first ever carbon offset protocol for crop-base agriculture in a cap-and-trade market was approved for U.S. rice growers by the California Air Resources Board (ARB). The “rice protocol” announcement was followed shortly after by approval of a voluntary grasslands protocol, which rewards farmers for avoiding the conversion of grasslands to cropland.

And now, USDA has demonstrated its interest in and support of another market-based approach for growers: increasing fertilizer use efficiency. Thanks to a new grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), EDF and partners will be helping almond and corn farmers reduce fertilizer runoff and nitrous oxide emissions, and earn greenhouse gas credits that can generate revenue.

Here’s what this project will entail: Read More »

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Strong market signal for sustainable grain

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Walmart, Smithfield Foods and USDA discuss sustainable agriculture in St. Louis.

The agricultural supply chain is shifting towards demanding more sustainably produced grains, according to some of the country’s biggest food companies and retailers.

Representatives from Walmart, Smithfield Foods, and USDA recently discussed the importance of and increased consumer demand for agricultural sustainability in front of 100 agricultural retailers in St Louis. They were there for a meeting convened by United Suppliers, Inc., with a primary focus of the company’s SUSTAIN™ platform.

Three messages were clear:

  • Demand for more sustainable crops is here to stay.
  • Growers’ connection with the consumers of their products is increasing.
  • Fertilizer optimization and soil health offer a business opportunity for growers, ag retailers, and food companies alike.

Read More »

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Taking the bloom and gloom out of Lake Erie

NOAA Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory .

Green algae in the Great Lakes. Photo credit: NOAA

It’s been one year since a massive algae bloom in Lake Erie contaminated the drinking water of more than 500,000 Ohio residents.

Since that time, we’ve seen an increase in legislative actions and governmental commitments to reduce fertilizer runoff. Yet the harmful algae that showed up last summer have bloomed again. This summer’s catastrophic rains have caused farm fields to flood, sending fertilizer into Lake Erie. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, this year’s algae bloom could be the second largest on record.

Nutrient efficiency and soil health practices can create a powerful antidote to Lake Erie’s bloom and doom cycle. But farmers need more support and guidance in making changes on their farm. And they need to know that these practices won’t reduce yields.

That’s why an innovative platform called SUSTAIN™ is taking off. SUSTAIN provides agricultural retailers with training on the best tools and practices for reducing fertilizer runoff and increasing soil health – but also focuses on maintaining productivity. Earlier this summer, a group of central Ohio retailers became SUSTAIN authorized – and while it’s not a silver bullet, this effort has enormous potential to keep Lake Erie’s algae blooms at bay.

Read More »

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