During an uncertain time, profitability on every acre is critical

Guest commentary by Matt Carstens, Senior Vice President of Land O’Lakes SUSTAIN

It’s no secret that across America, farmers face tremendous economic volatility from near-record low prices, trade conflict and beyond. As agriculture faces a rapidly-changing landscape and new challenges, the ways in which we plan our work and measure our success are evolving, too.

For decades, we’ve been able to measure success on the yield monitor. In Guthrie County, Iowa, where my family has farmed for four generations, corn and soybean yields have more than doubled during the past 50 years. Farmers are proud of what they’ve achieved through innovation, and rightly so.

In addition to yield, farmers now must be laser-focused on profitability, balanced with the long-term sustainable productive capacity of their land and operation.

We see this complexity every day at Land O’Lakes, Inc., the nation’s third-largest farmer-owned cooperative, where we strive to help farmers succeed. That is why our co-op created Land O’Lakes SUSTAIN, a new business that is focused on bolstering farmers’ natural resource stewardship and economic well-being. For those farmers we serve in partnership with our network of agricultural retail advisors across the nation, that means leveraging technology in new ways.

Ag tech is already helping farmers grow more on every acre. But to be successful, we must also provide solutions on other, equally important questions – not just farm-by-farm, but field-by-field and acre-by-acre. These considerations include:

  • Was the application of fertilizer carefully analyzed and optimized in a targeted way, using all appropriate ag tech tools and the expertise of a trusted ag retail expert?
  • Are crop production plans and conservation practices aligned to work together to encourage both profitability and environmental benefits to the soil and water?
  • How is farmers’ stewardship measured in a way that empowers farmers to take action while also helping other companies in the food supply chain – like grocery retailers and families?

Generating impactful, data-driven answers to these questions isn’t always as easy as looking at bushels per acre. But the profitability lens is critical for long-term business success, especially when we can’t count on a market that’s here today to be here tomorrow.

It’s a big challenge, but like many times throughout history in our industry, innovation holds solutions.

Last year, Land O’Lakes took a major step forward in this arena when we launched Truterra™, a new suite of tools and services to help farmers advance their stewardship while advancing profitability. Its cornerstone technology is the Truterra™ Insights Engine, an on-farm (and in-field) digital platform that provides the kind of acre-by-acre, field-by-field insights that are critical in this discussion.

Using the Truterra Insights Engine, farmers can visualize crop production and conservation practices in a targeted way, while analyzing potential conservation benefits and profitability impacts. It’s designed to help keep farmers productive and profitable, while helping to ensure long-term soil health and water quality that can position farms for long-term success.

In addition, the Truterra Insights Engine is helping them meet the need for results metrics in these areas. By tracking key metrics within an easy-to-use dashboard, the Truterra Insights Engine allows farmers to see the results of their in-field management and helps their supply chain partners visualize progress using information that comes right from the farm field.

This matters from a business perspective because demonstrating results from stewardship will be key to meeting consumer demand in the future – and overcomes a major hurdle long-faced among food retailers.

For just one example of how this works, Land O’Lakes SUSTAIN is working with a local agricultural retailer, The Mill, headquartered in Bel Air, Maryland, along with Campbell’s Soup Company and the Environmental Defense Fund. Together, we’re using the Truterra Insights Engine to support agriculture while advancing soil health and water quality goals in the Chesapeake Bay region, by benchmarking farmers’ stewardship across 10,000 cropland acres that grow wheat that ultimately ends up in Pepperidge Farm Goldfish Crackers.

For local farmers in Maryland, this pilot project provides a unique, insights-based view of every field, helping them to plan their practices in a way that’s good for the environment, while keeping profitability front-of-mind. Campbell’s benefits from a more robust view of stewardship practices used in their Maryland wheat supply chain. And EDF is able to work in partnership with farmers and ag retailers to target and improve stewardship in the Chesapeake Bay region.

Every day, farmers are leading the world with innovation to grow more using less, and Land O’Lakes SUSTAIN is here to support their efforts – leveraging technology in even more ways, starting with a closer look at acre-by-acre profitability driven by precision conservation technology.

It’s exciting work that holds tremendous promise for the future of agricultural stewardship. Just as important, it’s sustainability that’s viewed through the lens of long-term profitability and business success in an ever-changing, complex landscape.

 

Matt Carstens is from an Iowa farm and is senior vice president of Land O’Lakes SUSTAIN.

Photo by Jake Gard on Unsplash

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Trust In Food’s Conservation Op-Ed series reflects thought leadership about the promotion and scaling of conservation agriculture . The opinions expressed in this editorial are those of the authors. They do not reflect the opinions or views of Trust In Food or its partners. To submit an editorial for consideration, email Drew Slattery at dslattery@farmjournal.com.

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