Partnership designed for sustainability of local grain
ANNAPOLIS, Md. (Feb. 20, 2018) — A collaboration between a major food company and agriculture service companies has developed to secure local grain — primarily wheat — grown under specific ecological and agronomic practices.
Partnering with The Mill and Land O’ Lakes, Campbell Soup Company has committed to sourcing ag commodities from growers certified through Land O’ Lakes’ Sustain program, a suite of tools and research-based practices that promote sustainability. Locally, The Mill, an agriculture products retailer with six locations in Maryland and Pennsylvania, administers the Sustain program.
Prompted by consumers wanting to know where their food comes from and how it is grown, Andrea Chu, sustainable agriculture analyst at Campbell, said the company’s connection to the Sustain program dates back to 2015 when it was being developed by United Suppliers later acquired by Land O’ Lakes.
“We found the approach of leveraging the role of ag retailers to be very innovative and wanted to be the first to pilot it, using our demand signal as a buyer of grain to really accelerate sustainable agriculture,” Chu said.
In 2015, Campbell announced a goal of getting 70,000 acres under a fertilizer optimization program by 2020.
In the Mid-Atlantic, Chu said wheat is key to Campbell’s ability to manufacture products such as Goldfish and Milano cookies under the Pepperidge Farm product line but when considering crop rotations, the company is also looking at “the whole acre.
“And overall, we hope through this work that we drive momentum for sustainable agriculture, in general, throughout the region.
“With two bakeries in Pennsylvania, we rely on the Chesapeake area for sourcing and it’s important to us that agriculture continues to thrive in this region,” Chu said. “Furthermore, consumers are looking to better understand where their food comes from—they’re seeking more connection to how their food is grown. Given the complexity of grain supply chains, we needed to think creatively about how to approach this.”
Though there’s not a premium for marketing a Sustain-certified crop to Campbell, Chu said the collaboration provides “economic value for the farmer in the tools, practices, and products that the Sustain program recommends and The Mill can work with farmers to demonstrate just that.”
Launched by Land O’ Lakes in 2016, the sustainability platform involves many practices farmers in the Mid-Atlantic are well-accustomed to including no-till and splitting fertilizer applications, and integrates precision agriculture technology and other emerging practices such as crop modeling for nitrogen use and using nitrogen stabilizers.
Ben Hushon, agronomist and partner in The Mill, said an attractive component of the program is its emphasis on continuous improvement, increasing yields while being more efficient with crop inputs.
“As new technology unfolds, they’re going to be encouraged to adopted new practices,” Hushon said. We must do things better, everyone must. We all have to manage nutrients better than we were and with the new technology, we can.”
One example is in split applying nitrogen in corn production, a practice that in past years didn’t show a benefit in the Northern Maryland region under lesser yield goals, Hushon said.
But after conducting a demonstration plot in 2016, the number of farmer clients adopting the practice the following year doubled.
“They’re all telling us it works, that what you said was real,” Hushon said.
At The Mills’ recent winter grower meetings, Hushon said some farmers raised concerns about the program restricting what they can do on their land, but the program balances economics with environmental sustainability.
“They talk about all the time, it must be economical for the farmer or it’s not going to work,” he said of those individuals in the Sustain program.
“The last thing we want to do is tell farmers how to farm,” Chu said at one of the winter meetings.
Hushon said several of The Mill’s farmer clients have been using practices in the Sustain program, but only recently has The Mill acquired the means of gathering and recording data on farms for certifying growers that already meet the program standards.
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