What do rockfish and cheesy Pepperidge Farm goldfish have in common? One can be found swimming around the Chesapeake Bay, and the other is made from wheat that is grown in the surrounding region. Now, a retail member-owner of Land O’Lakes Inc, The Mill, and Land O’Lakes’ sustainability arm, Truterra LLC, are working to connect these “fish” even more, through a sustainability initiative whereby wheat farmers are improving their local environment — with amazing results to show for it.
The initiative started with a shared vision between Truterra and Campbell Soup Company, the owner of Pepperidge Farm, to make every farm sustainable. Truterra already had a tool to offer farmers best-in-class sustainability data in order to track the outcomes of their on-farm stewardship practices, in the Truterra Insights Engine. But, it would take a monumental effort to enroll farmers throughout the area to achieve their short-term goal of reaching 10,000 acres. To reach farmers, Campbell and Truterra needed to tap into the farmers’ trusted advisor: the agricultural retailer. That’s where The Mill entered.
“From my perspective, this partnership is the first to connect farmer, to retailer, to the Truterra team — plus the Campbell Soup Company, who distributes food and information about how that food was sustainably produced, to consumers,” said Tim Hushon.
Hushon is a sustainable ag tech manager at the Mill, an agricultural retail-owner of the Land O’Lakes Inc. cooperative, located around the Chesapeake Bay region and throughout Maryland, Pennsylvania and Delaware. Agricultural retailers support farmers with the inputs for their fields — seed, fertilizers, crop applications, and these days, technology, data and insights.
The Mill’s agronomy division began in 2003, offering farmers a combination of practices, products and technologies to help improve the land and minimize environmental impact. For example, practices such as conservation tillage or no-till management, planting cover crops, and diversifying crop rotations, can all help protect soil from erosion and disease, keeping plant nutrients in fields — not letting them leak into waterways where they can endanger wildlife.
By January 2020, farmers’ needs for smart tools to track stewardship practices grew so much, that it became Hushon’s full-time role at the Mill. He supports farmers in using the Truterra Insights Engine to help determine what on-farm sustainability practices they can incorporate, then to measure the results in their fields and their bottom line.
“Within the tool, there are some features that you can customize and compare your current practices versus a potential,” explained Hushon, “Say you’re not currently planting cover crops or you're curious about no-till management, you can simulate those practices, then you can estimate the differences from your current norm in terms of outcomes and cost.”
When it comes to the Campbell-Truterra Chesapeake Bay initiative, Hushon worked with farmers to build on their environmental practices and implement new ones. For example, Jeff and Rick Holloway of the Holloway Brothers Farm use cover crops when they can and operate a farm that is 100% no-till. They’ve noted benefits from their stewardship practices including healthier soil, less soil erosion and better crop yields, all without increasing the cost of production. (You can hear more farmers’ experiences in as part of the initiative on Truterra’s website.)
Over the course of two years, the initiative met its goal of enrolling 10,000 acres and achieved incredible early outcomes, including:
The participating acres were greenhouse gas emissions-neutral.
Nitrogen use efficiency improved between 2018 and 2019.
Soil erosion declined between 2019 and 2019, a step towards improving soil health.
According to Truterra Vice President Jason Weller, “The insights from this project suggest that smart farm management practices can help slow and mitigate the results of climate change.”
Hushon’s hopeful about how the initiative has gained momentum and spread awareness in growers’ local communities.
“I’ve had two different growers tell me that they were getting calls from neighbors about the informational signs we had put up in their fields highlighting the partners in this project,” Hushon said. “They had a chance to share what they were doing in stewardship of the land, and why they got involved. It’s been an awesome platform for growers to then share their story and the success of conservation.”
Campbell and Truterra have already scaled the program outside of the Chesapeake Bay region — in total, 70,000 Campbell-affiliated acres are enrolled in the Truterra Insights Engine, and they aim to continue scaling around the Chesapeake Bay.
For Hushon and the farmers he partners with, the commitment to sustainability must be for the long-term: “It’s not a ‘check all the boxes this year and we’re good for the next five,’ sort of thing. It’s about continuous evaluation of where we’re at and where we need to keep progressing.”
As a cooperative that reaches from farmer to fork, we recognize that it’s not just the responsibility of one group of people to steward the planet. It takes us all — agronomists and ag retailers, growers, technologists, food companies and eaters — to make a positive impact on the planet and ensure a secure, sustainable food system for generations to come.