"The FARMSMART Podcast": Episode 46

Posted January 10, 2024 | By: Nutrien Ag Solutions

New Features in Agrible That Improve Sustainable Ag Outcomes, with Ryan Adams

Most growers have reached the point in their year when it's time to look back on what they've accomplished, review the records, and start looking for ways to improve their operations in the new year ahead.

Nutrien Ag Solutions can help connect growers to programs that pay farmers for their sustainable agriculture practices.

But it's going to take carefully collected and curated data to back up your sustainability story.

So Agrible is available to make data collection, management and insights easy to accomplish and understand.

And in this episode, we're talking to Ryan Adams, Nutrien Ag Solutions Director of Digital Sustainability, to learn about the new features that are making this sustainability tool even more useful.

Learn more or sign up at agrible.com.

Episode Transcript

Ryan Adams

We need good data to get good outcomes. There's the old adage with data that if you put garbage in, you're going to get garbage out. In order to hit the goals and what's expected of us from a third party audit standpoint, we have to have good data. 

 

Dusty Weis

Welcome to the FARMSMART Podcast, presented by Nutrien Ag Solutions. Every month, we’re talking to sustainable agriculture experts from throughout the industry, along with our very own Tom Daniel, Director of North America Retail and Grower Sustainable Ag, and Dr. Sally Flis, Director of Program Design and Outcome Management. 

As the leading source of insight for growers on evolving their sustainability practices while staying grounded in agronomic proof, FARMSMART is where sustainability meets opportunity. We don’t just talk change – we're out in the field, helping you identify the products, practices, and technologies that bring the future to your fields, faster.

On this week’s episode, we’re taking a look at one of the most powerful tools in the Nutrien Ag Solutions toolbox, our Agrible data collection, management and insights platform. Agrible empowers growers to monetize their sustainability practices, and with new features coming online all the time, we’re taking a look under the hood with Nutrien Ag Solutions Director of Digital Sustainability Ryan Adams.  

I'm Dusty Weis and Tom and Sally, this is the last episode that we'll be doing of the year 2023 as we head into 2024. And so it's certainly worth taking a look back at what's been kind of a weird year for agriculture, not that there's been any normal years for agriculture over the last decade or ever perhaps. But we started the year 2023 with a lot of uncertainty in the markets, but also in the agriculture world.

Maybe the markets have kind of settled down a little bit over the past year, but there's still a lot of unanswered questions, particularly for us here in agriculture. So as we flip the calendar from 23 to 24 here, I guess I wanted to ask each of you what changed in 2023 and what do we expect from 2024 as we move forward here? 

 

Tom Daniel 

I think Dusty, the first thing I would talk about that we saw a lot of change, if you want to call it in 2023, was weather. 

Just think about California that had been in a historic drought pattern for how many years now. And then they went into a historic flood pattern with all the rainfall, what they called the rivers of fronts coming in into California that refilled reservoirs and gave a historic snowpack in the mountains. 

You know, just really unusual weather patterns. And then we saw some of the Midwest get hit with drought. We saw other parts of the country that had hurricanes come across during a crucial time during the cotton season through Georgia and the Carolinas. I mean, we've seen once again, weather being a major influence on our agriculture markets and our agriculture production all the way across the US.  

And I think we said on the last podcast agriculture has a lot of cycles in it. Well, it appears weather is a cycle too. We are definitely seeing some transitional changes in our climate across the US.

 

Sally Flis

Tom, I think another thing that was really obvious in 2023 is how interconnected we are in agriculture around the globe. We saw transitions in a bunch of different things and conflicts around the globe that all have impacts on crop supply, crop input supply, prices, how things move around the globe and what's sourced where. 

So I think that's another thing that really just continues to be demonstrated in 2023 is that global interconnectedness of the agricultural markets and the agricultural supply chain that we really don't operate anymore as just standalone countries in agricultural production.

 

Tom Daniel 

Sally, I would totally agree to that. And I think the supply chain has been sufficiently exposed, if you want to call it that now, from COVID and some of the other things we've had occur, to the point that it creates a nervousness in the marketplace. And I think that creates market pressures on pricing of commodities. 

But you've got to remember, we've got a lot of countries like China and different ones are importing lots of grain now to support a meat industry, whether it be poultry or pork. There's a lot of grain that has to go into that country today to support that. And as we've seen across both the North and South America, weather events and different things will impact those supply chains. 

And prices seemed to fluctuate almost daily based upon who got a rain in South America. So we're just seeing a lot of small things that can happen that have big impacts in the market today.  

Sally, one thing else I would say too, I think we've seen a lot more movement, especially in 2023 around what the consumer base is starting to ask for or starting to at least talk about as information and stuff that they want from how their commodities are grown and where they come from. And I just see that becoming more and more of a player for the future. What are your thoughts on that?

 

Sally Flis

Yeah, Tom, so many of the companies, including ourselves, have 2030 goals and to report on something in 2030, we only have six crop seasons left to get there. If you think about it, if we're talking about it as something in 2030, we only have six cropping seasons to get there.  

And so we all have on the ground a lot to do to keep expanding these programs and impacting growers and measuring and getting to the change that a lot of these companies have set some pretty serious goals around. 

So it's going to be interesting to see how this keeps accelerating over the next couple of years, because it's going to be a big lift to meet the different goals that companies have out there for 2030. But I am pretty excited because we are over 2 million acres enrolled in the 2024 cropping season across US, Canada, Australia, and Latin America in sustainable ag programs. 

So it's really exciting to see that growth. That's double the size of our program last year. And some of that's the same growers enrolling year over year, but that's really unique practices happening on 2 million acres that our crop consultants are working with in the field, which is a really exciting number.

Puts us pretty high and pretty far ahead of some of the other programs that are out there in the marketplace today. What have you seen in the field, Tom, as you've talked to growers about why we're seeing that growth in our programs in 2023? 

 

Tom Daniel 

Well, yeah, Sally, and definitely we are seeing the growth. You just mentioned the acres increases over just the last year that we've seen. I think there's just a lot more pressure on the grower community. I visited with a wheat processor the other day, one of the larger wheat processors in the area. And he was mentioning that there's a lot of pressure from the consumer side of the market for information.  

And the only place that information can come from is a grower. Now it's interesting to me that growers are being asked for this information, but they have not engaged in either a digital platform or some type of system that allows them to do this reporting. In fact, a lot of them are just doing random surveys and those types of information pieces to provide information back. It's not any really detailed information.

It's more about yes or no on survey questions. And Sally, one of the things that I think is really unique in this marketplace, and I was talking to that, like I said, was talking to this wheat processor. Most of those processors do not recognize Nutrien as a go-to resource for these things. They view Nutrien very much as a retail fertilizer, chemical, seed type retailer to the grower. 

And that's about all they view us as, is just a logistics or support for growers, for crop inputs. When in fact, we have digital platforms for both agronomic solutions on the acre, but we also have the ability to measure those acres. So, I know that you've talked to a lot of downstream companies before. And look, you were instrumental in working the partnership out with Bunge. 

It's just funny to me that some of these companies don't view Nutrien as a viable source.  

 

Sally Flis

Totally agree. We run into that. I think every call that we have with the downstream is, well, what are we talking to you guys for? There's either a lack of trust there that we're just out to sell product and we're not really interested in sustainability.  

There's definitely, once we explain to people what all of the different things that we're doing and how we're operating in this space, there's a lot of surprise, I would say, of people realizing that we can supply this carbon or sustainable outcome marketplace, for lack of a better way to put it, from end to end. 

From design of the program, all the way through verification and validation of what's happening on that acre so that growers and the downstreams and ourselves over time as Nutrien and Nutrien Ag Solutions can meet our reporting needs and requirements.  

So, it's been exciting in the last six months to really talk about the things we're doing and get in front of some of these groups and share the different things that we've achieved this year with the Scope One credits, with our Scope Three insets in Canada, getting verified. 

We have a lot going on this year, and I think one of the key things we're going to need to do in 2024 is really tell everybody what we're doing so that we can get past that view of ag retail can't be trusted because we're just trying to sell product.  

I think I've said this many times to you, Tom, specifically, and I don't know if I've said it on the podcast before, but I was, I've heard for years and years, and you probably have too, that we can't trust ag retail to do programs like nitrogen management because we're just trying to sell the most pounds of nitrogen fertilizer. 

And then we introduce a program like sustainable nitrogen outcomes, asking growers to reduce nitrogen rate. And nobody even comments on it. The same people that are upset that we are selling product, didn't even recognize a program where we're asking growers to use less fertilizer and be more efficient and use the right product on the acre, not just put more nitrogen on the acre. 

 

Tom Daniel

That is amazing, Sally. And I have to agree with you 100%. The very same people that were screaming at us, because all you are is retail, and all you want to do is sell more pounds of fertilizer, don't even recognize when we start offering programs and we start communicating to growers that we need to reduce the amount of nitrogen we're using on a given acre. We're trying to reduce that greenhouse gas footprint of that particular crop.  

We're trying to promote no-till, which preserves the soil quality that we have. And we're trying to push things like cover crop and keep green and growing crops on those acres for long periods of time. And so it is amazing. But one thing we have to know is we are, and I'll brag about it a little bit, we are the largest ag retailer in the world. 

And if there was one company that can have the impact on environmental resources, even social sustainability. It's Nutrien. Nutrien can have that impact today. And Nutrien as a company has that desire to help growers navigate through this. And because we want to continue feeding the world, but we also want to do it in a sustainable way. And that's our focus. That has been our focus since I came to this team in 2020. 

All the programs that you're designing that our retail are implementing today are all programs around reducing rates of inputs or using correct rates of inputs or helping our growers record the data that tells the story of how sustainable they really are on the acre. So to me, retail is the way to get into these markets.

It's the group that has the best contact with the grower. It's the group that's on the farm on a regular basis, watching and helping growers with their programs. And just the ability to create those agronomic solutions that we know are going to lead to sustainable benefits and sustainable outcomes. I can't think of a group better than retail. And if it's going to be retail, then Nutrien obviously to me, Sally, is the best choice. 

 

Dusty Weis

Well, and Tom, you know, Nutrien Ag Solutions also supports a little program. It's called Agrible. You may have heard about it. We talk about it on the program occasionally here. But Agrible has been through a lot of evolutions and improvements recently as well.  

And so coming up after the break here, we're going to be talking to Ryan Adams, Nutrien Ag Solutions Director of Digital Sustainability about those changes. That's all coming up in a moment here on the FARMSMART Podcast.

This is the FARMSMART Podcast, presented by Nutrien Ag Solutions. I'm Dusty Weis along with Tom Daniel and Sally Flis, and we're talking today with Ryan Adams, Nutrien Ag Solutions Director of Digital Sustainability. Ryan, thanks for joining us today. 

 

Ryan Adams

Yeah, thanks for having me. 

 

Dusty Weis

So Ryan, the last time that we had an episode specifically focused on Agrible, I guess it's been a minute, October of 21 is what I'm seeing in the notes here. So it's probably about time that we had a little refresher as to what Agrible is and what role that it plays in our sustainable ag programs. So can you tee that up for us? 

 

Ryan Adams

Yeah, absolutely. So Agrible’s our digital tool set that we use to collect the data that we require to create our sustainable outcomes. So there's a whole range of different types of sustainability projects we can participate in from a footprint measurement type project through to a scope one or scope three carbon offset, which you've probably heard Sally talk about on the podcast. 

So, Agrible is the tool that we use to make sure all that data gets collected in a single spot and is in a form that we can then take it and package it off to different groups to run calculations or assessments on what's happening on the farm or just create an impact assessment of how that operation is performing.

 

Sally Flis

Ryan, there's a lot of digital platforms out there in the field. I don't think either of us or any of us on the call could probably list all of them, but we know there are a lot of them available for growers and for crop consultants, for data collection. So what makes Agrible a little bit different than some of those other platforms? And how are we connected to some of the ways that growers are already collecting data? 

 

Ryan Adams 

Yeah, it's a great point, Sally. And there's probably platforms we've never even heard of because the landscape is full of them. I think the piece that differentiates Agrible from the rest of the pack is the fact that we connect both the grower and the crop consultants or the trusted agronomists together in the same platform. So they can collaborate together on collecting the data that's required to create our sustainable outcomes.  

We also enable connection to many of those other platforms out there who have novel ways of calculating what the impact is. So we can capture the data from the growers on the farm and we can connect out to whoever we need for the quantification on the back end, assess the footprint of what's happening on their farm and then send it off for verification or validation down whichever pipe we need to for that specific grower and their specific farm and field.

 

Tom Daniel 

So Ryan, one of the key things that Sally and I talk about a lot, especially on the podcast, is just data collection and how important it is for growers to have a platform that they can put their data into and keep it stored for possible use later when there's revenue sources found forward, or you mentioned just a minute ago, the opportunities to attach it to other platforms that can provide outcome-based measurements, for instance.  

So one of the key pillars to the FarmSmart program is what we call the proof pillar. So, what drives the need for accurate collection of data in a sustainable ag space? Why is that so important?

 

Ryan Adams 

Yeah, ultimately we need good data to get good outcomes. There's the old adage with data that if you put garbage in, you're going to get garbage out. And we're trying to avoid getting garbage out. And so the programs that Sally designs for our team and that her team executes on getting us through verification, validation, in order to hit those, the goals and the, what's expected of us from a third party audit standpoint, we have to have good data. 

I think something else that's key brought up there, Tom, is we do have a platform where growers can store their data. And I think it's always important to bring up in the data conversation that the data belongs to the grower and they have to actively choose which program they want to participate in and where they want their data to go. It can safely and securely be stored in the platform and it doesn't have to go anywhere beyond a platform. 

And if you want it out, you hit delete and it can go out forever. I'll say with the exception of data that we have verified. A bunch of those verifications require us to keep records of the data set for a certain time period after validations that we can, if an auditor needs to come back and check what we did, they can come back and re-audit that data that was submitted.  

So with the exception of that data that's locked for holding in case of re-auditing, it belongs to the growers and it's their choice on where they want it to go and how they want it to be used.

 

Sally Flis

Ryan, we haven't covered, I know Tom and I say Agrible a lot on the podcast, but we haven't really covered Agrible's capabilities as Dusty mentioned for almost two years now. And I know we've made a lot of changes and improvements in the interaction. One of them you just mentioned that I think is pretty unique to this platform is that ability for the grower and their crop consultant to interact on the same platform kind of almost at the same time. 

 

Ryan Adams 

Yeah, that was one of our key pieces of feedback, mostly from our field team, but also from growers, is that they're working on a daily basis with their agronomists to make their plans on their farm. And they needed their agronomists to be able to interact with them in these sustainable data sets and be able to put their input into what's happening on the farm.  

And one of the constraints we have with trying to get verified outcomes is that we have to have an explicit audit trail on who put what data into the system, when they put it in, what did they change. And you can't do that if you have multiple people sitting down at the keyboard. 

So to enable that functionality, we expanded use so that our crop consultants and agronomists can log in. They can input the data for what's happening on the farm or field, be able to help fulfill those records that they're already capturing in their field today. And then be able to have the grower come in as well and they can participate as much or as little as they want to fulfill that record and fill in their field story. 

 

Dusty Weis

Ryan, I think that's actually a really brilliant feature to include in the thing. As a small business owner myself, I know that my QuickBooks is the same way where I log in on the regular, or at least I'm supposed to, to keep track of my expenses. And then at the end of the year or throughout the year, my accountant can log into that same account and see what I'm doing in there and verify or fix the things that I messed up.  

And I imagine that all of those are some of the benefits of being able to have your own crop consultant log in and work with the data that you've accumulated in Agrible. We mentioned at the beginning of this, that this is the first time that we've talked about Agrible in more than two years on the podcast here, at least at length. And so that's certainly one improvement that's been made over that time span.

What are some of the other things that have been added on or improved about Agrible over the last two years? 

 

Ryan Adams 

Yeah, one of the biggest things we've improved upon are the types of programs that we can support within the sustainability space. So two years, when you guys would have talked about Agrible, the focus would have been primarily around measurement and footprint assessments. So those types of programs look at what activities are happening on the farm and it assesses the greenhouse gas or ecological footprints of what's happening on that farm.  

And we've taken that and we've gone a few steps further. So now we work in more of the different carbon markets. We've explored soil organic carbon projects and we've expanded Agrible to support that type of project going into both a scope one or scope three. 

And really the difference for that, anyone listening, it's the level of rigor that we have to put the data set through in order to get to verification. It's largely the same data set, which again, we should be picking Sally's brain on exactly how that works.  

But we can support those highly detailed projects for carbon and we can send it to those higher levels of verification and auditing to get those higher level outcomes, which ultimately hold more value for the grower. We've also expanded it to support other types of sustainability programs such as nitrogen management, which is our SNO program that you guys have talked about, I think quite extensively across the podcasts.

 

Tom Daniel

Ryan, I know one of the changes that's happening within Agrible now is that the geography that the platform can service is expanding. Also, can you kind of go into that a little bit? 

 

Ryan Adams 

That's right. So since 2021, we've expanded support of Agrible to cover both all of continental US and Canada. So starting in the new year, 2024, we will be enrolling our sustainable nitrogen outcomes program in Canada in Agrible.  

We've added all of the support we need for that different growing climate and all sorts of different things that we see between US and Canada, like our units of measure and even our farming practices, there's enough difference in the practices. We had to change some of those data collection models so that we could support both geographies.

 

Sally Flis

So Ryan, one of the questions we get from the field all the time, and I'm sure you've heard this too, is does the grower have to have digital data in order to participate or in order to get data into Agrible or to provide evidence? So what have we got set up in Agrible or in some of across with connections to our other digital tools that help accommodate that evidence piece of the data collection we're doing with growers? 

 

Ryan Adams 

Yeah, absolutely. So to answer the first part of your question, do they need digital data? The answer is no. Although digital data definitely helps alleviate some of the lift and some of the work that those growers or crop consultants would have to do to get the program set up. So we integrate today with our Echelon platform, which for those unfamiliar with that, Echelon is the precision egg platform that Nutrien Ag Solutions uses across North America, both US and Canada. 

And in that platform, we can collect as-applied data from any type of machinery that can collect as applied data. We have connections to the Raven Slingshot system to Bayer's Climate Fieldview and we also have access to My John Deere data through Echelon. 

And so we can collect a lot of the field practice information through those digital data sources. And using that, that can create the evidence file for what actually happened on the farm. 

But aside from creating the evidence, it can also create the actual data for what happened. In the absence of that, however, we can still collect field level data for how the fields were managed and what practices were implemented on the farm. And we don't have to get that machine log data if that technology doesn't exist on your farm.

 

Tom Daniel

So Ryan, if I'm a grower today and I want to take a look at Agrible, how do I get to it? How do I enroll in it? And what are some steps I go through that can actually tell me if I can qualify for a program or not? 

 

Ryan Adams 

Yeah, so the easiest way to go to it is just type in Agrible.com, A-G-R-I-B-L-E.com. And that's going to land you on the Agrible homepage. From there, you can create an account if you don't already have a Nutrien Digital Hub account. Any of our customers though that have their Nutrien Digital Hub account, it's another upgrade we've done over the last couple of months. 

Is you can log in with the same credentials you use to access your Nutrien Digital Hub account. And it's also going to bring the data over from your Digital Hub. So any field boundaries, any fields that exist in the Hub also now exist in Agrible. 

Once you get into Agrible, you can self-screen for any programs that are in your area that you're eligible for, or you can also reach out to sustainableag@nutrien.com and get connected with one of our sustainability specialists that can get you into one of our invite-only programs that likely exist in your area. 

 

Sally Flis

Ryan, a big piece of this at the end is the reporting, not just to auditors or downstream that you've mentioned a little bit, but the reporting back to the growers. So what can a grower, when they complete entering their data into Agrible, expect to see about what they've done on their fields for the year? 

 

Ryan Adams 

One of the pillars of Agrible that's existed since that call in 2021 is field level reporting for what the farm is doing in a sustainable way on their farm. So we do field level reporting from either field to market or Cool Farm Alliance today. It depends on your geography and what's available for the specific crop you're growing on your farm. 

But we look at field specific metrics around the nitrogen use that's occurring on your field. We look at the water use efficiency that's occurring on your field and the general greenhouse gas emissions from the practices that you have on that field specific dataset. 

However, we also look at how that aggregates across your farm and we even compare it to the other farms that are in your local geography growing the same crops. So you can see how your operation is comparing to similar farms which are totally anonymized, so you can't go picking on your neighbors, but it does let you know how your farm performs or how your specific fields perform relative to the pack around you. 

 

Tom Daniel 

Ryan, if I'm a grower out here today that's getting some pressure from whoever I may be selling my commodity to, whether it be corn going into an ethanol facility or maybe wheat that's going into a flour mill, but they're asking about sustainability metrics.  

Can Agrible provide that type of information back that could be used to supply to a downstream buyer or a processor that may be buying my commodity product?

 

Ryan Adams 

Yeah, so Agrible can definitely provide the current footprint of that farm operation. I would say for those specific providers, we should get those growers set up in a project that's already set up with those downstream providers.  

And the reason I say that is each of these downstream operators generally need a specific piece of data that works for whatever reason is causing them to come to your farm and ask for this impact report. And knowing that minutiae or fine point detail what they're actually looking for can help us tailor what we're actually collecting on and give the right report to actually fulfill the need. So we can do the footprint analysis. 

We can absolutely look at kind of what's going on your farm and give an assessment of where you sit. similar to your neighbors and those around you. But I think it is best that you engage through a setup campaign or project that works with that downstream supplier. And we can make sure we're getting them the right data for what they need to satisfy their downstream customers. 

 

Sally Flis

Ryan, there is a lot of data required for a lot of the programs that we're running, especially the carbon facing programs. And we often get asked in the field, is there like a data light version that we can do to provide this reporting?  

And just curious your thoughts on what is the value of having this really complete data set that we asked for in Agrible versus having to cherry pick or pick and choose what elements we record from the field?

 

Ryan Adams 

Great question, Sally, and we are on this perpetual hunt for the data light version that's going to enable us to complete these programs without having to sit in front of a keyboard for hours collecting data. The biggest piece of value behind collecting the curated data set, that is what actually happened on the farm, is it gives us the highest chance of getting to a verified outcome.  

A lot of these remote sensing or remote source data sets that we're seeing hit the market, they are fairly accurate, but so far most of them haven't been accurate enough to actually fulfill the need of what an auditor or a downstream partner wants to see to complete a true sustainability assessment on a field or at a farm level.

As we get some of these automated data sets coming in, we can use that detailed data set as a springboard to launch us into checking that the automated data sets coming in actually makes sense relative to what happens on your farm. 

 

Dusty Weis

Well, Ryan, it's certainly a great reminder, not only about the value of data, but the rate at which the world of technology is changing all around us. And certainly, it's worth popping back in to take a look at Agrible again here after everything that's changed over the last two years, so we appreciate you walking us through all of that. 

Ryan Adams, Nutrien Ag Solutions Director of Digital Sustainability. Thank you so much for joining us on this episode of the FARMSMART Podcast.

 

Ryan Adams 

Thank you. 

 

Dusty Weis

That’s going to conclude this episode of The FARMSMART Podcast. New episodes arrive every month, so make sure you subscribe to The FARMSMART Podcast in your favorite app and visit (nutrienagsolutions.com/FARMSMART) to learn more.  

And of course, we wish the very best to Tom as he prepares for his retirement in a few weeks. I can speak for the entire sustainability team when I say what a rare pleasure it’s been to work with him and learn from him. Thank you for all you’ve done, and best wishes for well-deserved relaxation and great memories with your family in the years to come. 

The FARMSMART Podcast is brought to you by Nutrien Ag Solutions. Our executive producer is Connor Erwin, and the show is edited by Matt Covarrubias. The FARMSMART Podcast is produced by Podcamp Media, branded podcast production for businesses, podcampmedia.com. I’m Dusty Weis. For Nutrien Ag Solutions, thanks for listening. 

 

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