"The Future. Faster": Episode 10

Posted December 1, 2021 | By: Nutrien Ag Solutions

2022's New Sustainability Program Offerings for Nutrien Ag Solutions' Grower Partners

Growers enrolled 575,000 acres in Nutrien Ag Solutions' sustainability programs this year.

And while that's an impressive milestone worth celebrating, the company is setting even bigger goals for next year, and rolling out new program offerings for growers who want to capitalize on the increasing supply chain value to be found in sustainable practices.

In this episode, Tom and Sally revisit some of the big wins they had in 2021, and unveil new goals and new program offerings for next year.

Plus, they recap some of the key takeaways from the Sustainable Ag Summit in Las Vegas, where they met with a number of industry figures and made a splash presenting the results of Nutrien Ag Solutions' sustainability efforts.

Episode Transcript

Tom Daniel:

That grower relationship is something that's going to be absolutely necessary for some of these companies to reach their goals. And we're the ones that work with growers every day on field level solutions. And I think they just got excited about that.

Dusty Weis:

Welcome to The Future, Faster, a sustainable agriculture podcast by Nutrien Ag Solutions. With our very own Tom Daniel director of retail sustainable ag, and Dr. Sally Flis, senior manager sustainability field. This is your opportunity to learn about the next horizon in sustainable agriculture for growers, for partners and for the planet. To us, it's not about changing what's always worked, it's about continuing to do the little things that make a big impact. On this week's episode, Tom and Sally are just back from the Sustainable Ag Summit in Las Vegas. They have lots to recap from that. Plus they discuss some impressive results from Nutrien Ag Solutions Sustainability Program enrollment this year, and unveil some of the new program offerings for 2022.

Dusty Weis:

But if you haven't yet make sure you're subscribed to this podcast in your favorite app, also make sure you follow Nutrien Ag Solutions on Facebook and Instagram. I'm Dusty Weis, and it's time once again, to introduce Tom Daniel and Sally Flis. And Sally, I understand you all gathered at the Sustainable Ag Summit a couple of weeks ago, to learn more about sustainable ag initiatives that other agriculture suppliers are downstream partners are conducting. Can you tell me a little bit more about this summit for any of us who are familiar with it?

Sally Flis:

The Sustainable Ag Summit I want to say is about 10 years old now. It started out as Field to Market, which is the group that's been trying to figure out how to track and trace and collect the day data and set sustainable ag numbers on commodity crops for a long time. So Field to Market brings together the whole supply chain. You've got farmers there. You've got companies like us there as ag retailers. You've got ag retail suppliers, and you've got the downstream food companies, all gathering in one place. That where it started, but now it's really grown into an even bigger industry initiative. It's a really unique meeting that brings together all the players in the field that need to build this sustainability story, to get it out for what the consumers are demanding. Dusty, I've attended this summit for probably the last six years or so, excluding last year, obviously when nobody attended much of anything. Tom, this was your first time attending the Sustainable Ag Summit. How did you feel about it? What did you find for value? What was your impression?

Tom Daniel:

Well, Sally, it was quite an event. That conference had just about everyone from people that are actually putting products on the shelf for the consumer all the way back to suppliers like Corteva and Syngenta and BASF and those guys. But all of us were in the same conference together. And I think it shows the strength of the field to Market Concept. And I think it shows how they have the ability to create an industry wide cohesiveness around certain subject matter. And I thought that was very well done and it also shows that they are the accepted subject matter experts in lots of cases on some of the things we're working on. That to me was very impressive. I very much enjoyed the opportunity to actually see in person a lot of the people we've been visiting with and actually do some discussions. I guess, one of the key components, you can always pick a theme, but there seemed to be a lot of discussion around regenerative ag, which is the buzzword going on right now around sustainability.

Tom Daniel:

But the other part was, how do we bring value to the grower level? In other words, when we're looking at these consumer based products that are carrying labels for sustainability or other different certifications that are being placed on the label, most of those labels are being placed for value add to a particular product, whether it be flour or meal or whatever it may be. And I guess one of my biggest takeaways was that there was a clear push to create awareness in the field, that there was value from the consumer side, the consumers are now starting to speak with their wallets and they're willing to invest in sustainability at the farm level by purchasing products that were sustainably sourced or sustainably grown.

Tom Daniel:

To me, that was one of the key points that I walked away with. I will have to give us one little tag on the carbon side, Sally. Because there were some groups there presenting on carbon. I still believe carbon's a long way to go, is the way I would put it on, on getting to a place that we understand what's needed and find ways that growers can participate in it and actually create revenue. What were your thoughts?

Sally Flis:

Yeah, Tom, like you said, it was nice to get back, to see some people and it was nice to get to interact with some older friends and colleagues that I've known in this space for a while now and share with them what I'm doing in my new role here at Nutrien Ag Solutions and how we might build some more partnerships going into 2022 with some of these groups. Another one piece that I found interesting was, there's a lot of projects already going on and they're going on in places where we have customers. We've got to figure out how do we know when our customers are involved in other projects, even if we're not an official partner, but there was some really interesting new projects that I wasn't aware of that I think we can find some connections into. And there were a lot of sessions on carbon.

Sally Flis:

I think we tried to be pretty honest in the session that we did with some of our partners. We brought a grower down with us that talked about why he enrolled and what it took for him to enroll. And he got to bring his crop consultant along, that was really great for both of them to be able to join us on our panel, but also to be able to share in that experience and get to meet some of these people and see the reality of what we keep hearing, being asked to them in the field. There were a lot of new sustainability initiatives that were discussed or announced by companies in 2021. I think we heard about what some of the hurdles are that these companies are having in getting to these goals that they've set at the summit. I think we've heard this before, that connection to growers and the complications of validating these credits, what are some of the outputs or feedback you heard about challenges of meeting goals that some of these downstream or even other ag supplier companies have met?

Tom Daniel:

It definitely came out in the conference, especially in the breakout sessions, Sally, that there are a lot of companies that have set goals or have projects in pilots running right now that they are really having difficulties getting grower engagement. I look back on that and I think to myself, is that because growers are not interested in these projects, whether it be carbon or other projects? Or is it just that some of the qualifications and requirements around some of these are just not currently acceptable to what growers are really looking for?

Tom Daniel:

But I guess the big component that I walked away with, or the big talking point that I walked away with is that everyone, everyone is needing to have some type of direct contact with a grower. And that's where it appeared that we were getting a lot of attention. Suddenly, it appears that grower relationship is something that's going to be absolutely necessary for some of these companies to reach their goals. Whether it be signups in carbon programs, or whether it be reaching their overall environmental goals that they've set, knowing that they've got to get grower engagement to make those things happen.

Tom Daniel:

I think, if I took away with anything, it was a real feeling of being wanted. I felt like they wanted us, because we were the ones that had strong grower contacts and we were the ones that work with growers every day on field level solutions. And I think they just got excited about that. They suddenly view us as being a real good opportunity to be able to bring unique opportunities to the grower. And we are the ones with that relationship. Sally, that's what I saw in the conference and what I took away from it. But I know that you attended other breakout sessions and talked to different ones. What were some of the reoccurring, what we would call hot topics that you heard discuss in the different speaking session you attended?

Sally Flis:

Traceability was a big one, Tom. How do we trace these practices and these products right back to the grower. And I think that goes to how do we really drive the value back to the growers is once we're able to really trace where the end product is ending up and where it came from, then we really have a little more leverage in driving the price back to the grower too. Because, the grower is going to be on that package and recognize. They have a strong part in bringing that extra value to the grocery store. The other piece that I heard from some of the downstream food companies is they really want to validate this data, but they want to get away from manual data entry, because of all the errors that we've seen, or you can see from that type of data entry. It's a big lift to get there, but it's something to think about as you're considering different opportunities over the winter of how can you have more automated data entry and collection that can be validated so that you can get into one of these traceability projects.

Dusty Weis:

Well, and Sally, as we all know, the sustainable ag landscape continues to evolve. It's still growing and there are a lot of moving pieces there. We certainly never want to forget that our Nutrien Ag Solutions' sustainable ag team is here to help. If you're a grower or a crop consultant that has heard of, or is participating in a sustainable ag project with a partner outside of our retail network, we're happy to help you along a little bit further with that project. And you can connect to us by sending an email to sustainableag@nutrien.com or click the contact us link in the description of this podcast episode. But guys it's getting to be about that time of year, where we look back at the major accomplishments of 2021 and look forward to what's in store for 2022. And so coming up in a moment, we're going to do just that with a preview of what Nutrien Ag Solutions is offering in its sustainable ag programs next year. That's here on The Future, Faster.

Dusty Weis:

This is The Future, Faster, a sustainable agriculture podcast by Nutrien Ag Solutions. I'm Dusty Weis along with Tom Daniel and Sally Flis, and we're looking back on the impressive accomplishments of our grower customers and retail employees in 2021, plus announcing our 2022 sustainable ag program offerings. And I'm sure most of us are chomping at the bit to hear what's in store for next year. But first let's take a look back and recap our achievements in 2021. Tom and Sally, how many acres were enrolled sustainable ag programs with your team this year?

Sally Flis:

Dusty, I'm really excited about this number. We had 575,000 acres that were involved in some sort of sustainable ag project or program with Nutrien Ag Solutions this year. And I think from what we've heard, that blows a lot of the other programs out of the water, even though they made some pretty big announcements on what their goals were. I think our team and our crop consultants and growers in the field have just done an amazing job, really showing up and getting these acres enrolled and data collected, and really going to be able to make some cool statements in the coming months.

Tom Daniel:

Sally, I think the other piece there too is that 575,000 acres, it's a lot of acres for sure. But that's broken up a lot of different smaller pilots that we're doing learnings from. A lot of it's around the carbon programs we have in the US. I think we've got six pilots going here. We've got three in Canada that are running right now. There were just lots of great learnings that came from that. And then plus we had a lot of measurement pieces where the Agrible platform was being used. And we had downstream companies that were working with us, making sure their customer that they're buying grain from, they were entering their production measurements into Agrible so that they could be tracked. All of that was good, but I guess we've got to remember too, we have a little bit of a bigger goal in front of us right now.

Tom Daniel:

We have the announced 75 million acre goal by 2030. 575,000 acres, that was a tremendous accomplishment for 2021. And Sally, this is a young team that we have in sustainable ag, without our retail partners, those retail branches and crop consultants working with us, that never would've happened. We're just very happy that we had that cooperation within the field. But we've got a bigger challenge in front of us. Not too many months ago, it was announced that we're going to strive to have 75 million acres enrolled or involved in some type of sustainability project between now and 2030. 570 sounds great, but 75 million is a little bit bigger number.

Sally Flis:

Yeah, Tom, it's going to be a big lift. But I think we're working with some really great crop consultants and producers in the field that, like we mentioned in the earlier segment, there's projects going on out there that we may not be directly related to, and we've just got to figure out how do we fit all these pieces together as we work towards that 75 million. Just a little bit of a breakdown of where those acres in that 575,000 came from. We had 170,000 acres that enrolled in our end to end carbon pilot, in 14 different states across the country, working with everything from sweet potatoes to corn grain and wheat and milo. We got a little bit of everything in there, really trying to fit out what works for who. In those Canadian pilots that you mentioned, Tom, we had 70,000 acres enrolled there, and then we had 40,000 acres. We're still working on some enrollment there with the soil and water outcomes fund.

Sally Flis:

And 20,000 acres that we're still working on some enrollment for as well, because of the way the projects are set up the ecosystem service market consortium. You mentioned the whole acre solution or measurement projects, that's 250,000 acres that we're working on that we've talked about in previous episodes with Ardent Mills and the work that we're doing there and how that project will transform in the next year. And then finally, we've mentioned traceability in the earlier part of the podcast. We are working on 25,000 acres of traceability with cotton growers in the south. We really had a big variety and not just a big number of acres, but we really tackled a big variety of project types, of crop types across the US, as we endeavored on these 2021 projects.

Tom Daniel:

Yeah. I would say overall, Sally, we would say that 2021 was a successful year. Really is what I would describe as the first startup year for field engagement in sustainable ag. With all of that said, I want to thank our retail partners that helped us with this and also with the growers that were patient working with us through carbon pilots and those type things. Without the retail and our grower engagement, none of this would've been possible.

Sally Flis:

Yeah, for sure. And in that carbon end to end pilot, Tom, we had really went out to talk to growers about five different practice areas that they could engage with us in 2021, looking at either changing a source of nitrogen, changing timing and placement of their nitrogen applications, looking at those tillage reduction practices, adding cover crops or using other optimized productivity products. We do have numbers on what we got enrolled for each of those, which I'm excited about how many acres we've touched with some of these practices. We had 78,000 acres that changed the source of nitrogen that they were using either added a nitrification inhibitor or other stabilizer product to their nitrogen management to help improve nutrient use efficiency. 94,000 acres that changed timing or placement of nitrogen or used variable rate application. Some of those were timing and placement changes that were already on the ground. And they just used those to continue to improve their efficiency. And some of those acres are brand new split applications or use of variable rate.

Sally Flis:

In tillage reduction, those were all brand new practices because of those additionality requirements we've talked about previously. It's almost 64,000 acres that did a tillage reduction practice in this project, which is pretty exciting to see the practice change we were able to drive on the ground there. And same thing with cover crops, where that has to be a new practice with those additionality requirements. And we had 61,000 acres in new cover crops as a part of this project. Those are pretty exciting numbers for those soil, organic carbon type projects. And then in the optimized productivity, it was a catchall for other products that growers could use in order to improve their nitrogen use efficiency, but probably aren't considered technically a nitrification inhibitor or a slow controlled release fertilizer. 109,000 acres of optimized productivity product use in this project. Lots going on, lots of different practices tried and a pretty good chunk of those acres getting brand new soil, organic carbon or emission reduction through nitrogen management practices on the ground this year.

Tom Daniel:

Dusty, a lot of times when we talk about a whole acre solution, exactly what Sally just described is what we would call components of a whole acre solution. Whether it be working with a grower on seed selection and then taking a look at which type of nitrogen product will fit on that acre that he's wanting to work with. These particular growers were looking for an outcome based probably, or mostly on carbon or lower greenhouse gas emissions. They were looking at what could they do in their solution, their whole acre solution on the farm that would meet that outcome need. They looked at nitrogen stabilizers, the VRT, reducing rates of nitrogen applied to the acre by applying it to the acres that have the best production capacity, and then lowering the rates to areas that don't have the great production capacity. Tillage reduction, which is something that the farmers implement themselves along with cover crops.

Tom Daniel:

And then the optimized productivity, you say, "Well, how does that relate to an outcome for carbon, for instance?" But if you're looking at particular programs that look at, let's say nitrogen use efficiency, the more bushels produce per hound of nitrogen that's applied, then you increase your nutrient efficiency ratings, your nitrogen efficiency rating. In that case, then we improve our outcome when it comes to a carbon piece through nitrogen use efficiency. But this is a great example of a whole acre solution, where we're taking different components, different farming practices, tillage and all the way through the practice for the entire cash crop. And even when the cash crop's not in the field, when we talk about cover crops that we're treating that acre 365 days a year, and we're making sure that we're leading to an outcome, that's going to create some type of revenue generation for the grower.

Dusty Weis:

Well, Tom, there's a lot to get excited about here too, particularly when you're talking about those acreage numbers. But I know the topic of carbon did come up and I know that that's something that we've talked about a lot before. That's certainly an opportunity area, but there are also challenges that you guys encountered, particularly as it pertains to soil, organic carbon versus emission reductions, right?

Sally Flis:

Yeah. Dusty, there's a lot of differences in the field in what we need to collect and how we implement practices. And some of that additionality and permanent stuff that we've talked about on previous episodes, when we look at generating credits around soil, organic carbon versus emission reductions. Soil, organic carbon is a big data lift. And I know we've touched on that in the past. You're looking at 10 or 13 years with the data, depending on what you're doing in the field. In order to participate in that, you've got the high soil sample costs that we've discussed on previous episodes versus the emission reductions, which are really focused on what happens in that crop that year and related to the grain crop or other crop that's removed from the field that year.

Sally Flis:

And so it's a shorter term commitment. It's a lighter lift on data, and it really just lets us get out in the field, have that conversation with growers about what is the spectrum of carbon programs to participate in. And here's one that might work. A lot of growers are already working on improving their nitrogen use efficiency. So it's a nice way to fit in that discussion on carbon and sustainability to practice discussions you're already having with growers at this time of year about what are we going to do with nitrogen management next year. Especially in a year like this Tom, where nitrogen prices are just crazy.

Tom Daniel:

Yeah. They're just crazy this year. And it goes back to what you said a minute ago on the soil, organic carbon, that is a long term commitment. I don't care how you look at it, it's going to be a long term commitment. Because, sequester carbon doesn't happen first year, second year, it happens over a period of time. When we talk about selling the value of that sequester carbon, then you have to make a commitment. This is going to be something long term, something you're willing to commit to, where the emission reductions piece, especially around the nitrogen emissions reduction, there's an opportunity there to make in-season cropping decisions that actually can reduce that amount of nitrogen usage and overall give you abatement type credit that comes back through the emission reduction. Those are things that can happen in season and can be yearly type agreements where the soil, organic carbon piece is a much longer term relationship. That's a focus on 2021, but let's talk about 2022. Sally, do you want to go ahead and introduce where we think we're headed in 2022 and where we're going to be engaging growers in these different projects?

Sally Flis:

We're going to really have three project areas or program areas in 2022. We're going to continue working on carbon market programs around that reducing emissions is really going to be the big focus for us this year. And we'll get into a little bit more of the details on where we're headed with that carbon program. We're going to expand that sourcing and traceability program, trying to add in some other crops, maybe looking at wheat and rice in addition to cotton on that sourcing and traceability, so that we can really start to build out a nice portfolio for both our growers and our downstream partners, to be able to add in that traceability value to growers. We've discussed on earlier podcasts, the 70% increase in value in the marketplace, Tom, is that right for that rice that we had some of those traceability aspects to it?

Tom Daniel:

Yeah. That's really on the low side of it. We've seen all the way up to some of the higher certified rice labeling goes all the way up to 150, 160% of value over a standard bag of rice that you'd buy on the shelf. There is a lot of value that can be created around this traceability or these sourcing discussions with food products.

Sally Flis:

So we'll continue to expand those with some new crops involved and some new regions of the country involved in that. And then we'll have our whole acre solutions program where we're really looking at measuring the impact of these different solutions on the ground and what the advantage to the way we've structured things this year is. Once we have that data collected in our Agrible tool, then if there is a fit for a grower in one of our other programs, whether it's sourcing and traceability or it's carbon market stuff around reduced emissions, we've got that data collected into Agrible and we can always shift them into a program that fits for them. Even if at the beginning, they maybe weren't interested in that aspect of sustainability, they really just wanted to talk about solutions or get data collected. I think we've got a lot of flexibility in the program we've designed for 2022 that crop consultants and farmers are going to be able to really find the place that fits best for them and for their operation.

Tom Daniel:

I would say this too, we talk about the carbon markets. We talk about sourcing traceability programs. I would love to say Sally, that that's going to be available to anybody in north America. That we can go to any grower in any spot. But we both know that these programs don't fit that way, that there are certain areas that have a better success rate working around a carbon program. And there are certain areas that sourcing traceability will be easier to do because of the commodity we're working with or whatever different parameters that we may have to work with. But the whole acre solution piece is something that anybody can do. When they start with their crop planning process and they sit down and they say, "Okay, what am I trying to do?" we do that type of whole acre solution around productivity all the time.

Tom Daniel:

We're trying to get to the maximum yield, because that gives us the most return on our investment when we're looking for yield opportunities. But the whole acre solution can be around all of the environmental different factors we want to look at. But for us to measure the environmental piece, we're going to use that four letter word again, Dusty, that none of us like, it's called data. And it's something we have to deal with. And growers don't like to enter it. And we as crop consultants and our cropping groups don't like to have to deal with it, but without it, there's no value. We can't find value in the marketplace for growers. If we've got a grower that's participating in a whole acre solution, that their crop consultant has helped the grower look at a maximizing productivity solution, for instance on the acre, that needs to be recorded into a data platform.

Tom Daniel:

And of course we would like to see it to go into our Agrible platform, because we have the way to take the field history, we record it all. And Sally, if we have downstream processors, downstream customers and consumer packaging groups that are all the time looking for growers in certain geographies for data. And if we have that data already gathered, already analyzed and in the system, then when those consumers call contact us, we can contact the growers that are in the system and say, "Hey, we have an opportunity for you to sell your data." Or in some cases, the grower has an opportunity to participate in some type of measurement project with these consumer groups. And that's where we can create that unique value. But Sally, if we don't have the data in the system, then we don't have any way to start looking for those opportunities. Do we?

Sally Flis:

No. You're right. It all starts with the data. And just to give our listeners a little bit of an idea of where we'll be focusing on the carbon program, which is going to be around that nitrogen management emission reduction for the reasons we discussed earlier, less data needed, easier additionality tied to that rate reduction piece. We're going to look at about 750,000 acres this year. We're trying to up our game a little bit increasing that goal for our team. Like you say, working towards, how do we get to that 75 million goal? We're still a ways off from that, but we're stepping it up and we're going to focus that in cotton, wheat and corn this year.

Sally Flis:

It'll be a one year contract again with the growers. And data collection will be a big part of that, where we're going to need the data to set up the baselines, to collect the yield and see what fields really qualify at the end of the year. And something to keep in mind is, all of these programs are three different categories there, the carbon programs, which will be the nitrogen management, the traceability and the whole acre solutions are all at a field level, Tom. You don't have to enroll your whole farm, if you feel like that's a big lift to enroll a whole farm. We can enroll a few fields here and there and try something different.

Tom Daniel:

Yeah. Even on the field data, it's not farm level data in most cases, it's all field level data. We have the opportunity to enroll just certain fields or maybe just certain fields in a rotation. For instance, if we're working with just corn in a not sure management protocol for 2022, then you may not enroll your soybean acres or some of your other rotational crops. It may just be the corn acres, but that's fine. That's a good start. And that's where we can start having grower engagement and they can understand exactly what's involved then in some of these projects.

Dusty Weis:

Well, and there's certainly lots to wrap our heads around here, but I do think it's important as we wrap up here to answer one question that's on everybody's mind. And certainly as you guys know, I came into ownership of a little bit of ag land in south Wisconsin here. How do I get enrolled in these new program offerings, Sally?

Sally Flis:

Dusty, the first step is to visit nutrienagsolutions.com/agrible, and sign up for a free account. And when you get into signing up for that free account, enter nutriencarbon, all one word, all lowercase as the code when you're signing up. And that gives us a list of who's interested in participating in these different programs. And then we'll be able to go back into our systems and see which of these programs really fit and get you connected, if you're not already connected with a Nutrien Ag Solution crop consultant, with a crop consultant in your area to build out that whole acre solution, or connect with you and your crop consultant you're already working with at Nutrien Ag Solutions to make those whole acre solutions that are going to fit in the programs that we have available this year.

Dusty Weis:

Well, and I'm taking copious notes over here, but Sally, we will drop that link in the podcast episode description as well. So just click into that description, hit the link, the code, the instructions, they'll all be right there for you. Sally and Tom, thanks for a great discussion as always. We will look forward to the next one in a couple of weeks as we wind down 2021 here. Thanks so much for joining us again today.

Dusty Weis:

That is going to conclude this edition of The Future, Faster, the pursuit of sustainable success with Nutrien Ag Solutions. New episodes arrive every other week, so make sure you subscribe in your favorite app and join us again soon. Visit futurefaster.com to learn more. The Future, Faster podcast is brought to you by Nutrien Ag Solutions with executive producer, Connor Irwin. And it's produced by PodCo Media, branded podcast production for businesses, podcomedia.com. For Nutrien Ag Solutions, thanks for listening. I'm Dusty Weis.

 

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