When it comes to agricultural sustainability for cotton and other crop growers, there are short-term wins and long-term processes that lay a stronger foundation for the future. Nutrien Ag Solutions focuses on both for its 500,000 grower customers—from selling nutrients that yield a healthy crop all the way to helping manufacturers highlight sustainability to their consumers via Applied DNA Science’s tag, test and track technology.
“As the world’s leading retailer of crop inputs, we’ve always focused on agronomic solutions, which I like to call ‘whole-acre solutions,’” said Tom Daniel, director, North America sustainable ag retail and grower. The difference, he added, is a shift from just selling crop inputs that increase productivity, to really looking at the whole farming system 365 days a year—looking at how to link those crop inputs to create overall outcomes for the grower, from implementation, to tracking and verification, and to helping them share that story with the end consumer.
“A lot of our outcomes in the past have been focused on productivity, which is important. How do we create more yield on a given acre?” Daniel said. “But today, in addition to productivity, we’re also focused on outcomes delivering sustainable impact. And it’s not necessarily all about the implementation of sustainable ag practices—a larger majority of our growers are already implementing them. It’s about capturing and verifying the data, and then enabling our grower customers to get credit for it—creating both economic and environmental sustainability.”
To that end, Nutrien Ag Solutions recently created Common Thread, a proof-of-concept project that addresses transparency to help the end consumer make more informed buying decisions. The traceability project focused on a Nutrien Ag Solutions grower customer and the company’s own ginning facility in Georgia, highlighting “Made in America” cotton from “seed to shirt” and making sure increasingly conscious consumers are able to verify that a cotton garment was produced the way it says it was.
It’s all about looking at sustainability through a lens of linking process with product, which is a win-win for all parties. “Once you create the linkage that allows the crop to be tracked all the way through the system, then there’s going to be an opportunity to create value back to the grower,” Daniel said.
‘A feel-good story’
Consumers can read all they want about cotton farming sustainability efforts, but until they understand how that translates to the clothing they might want to buy, it often feels too abstract. Common Thread proved the concept, creating one more avenue for downstream partners to collect and report verified sustainable crop production practices on their ESG reporting in the future.
Using The Normal Brand as a case study, Nutrien Ag Solutions showed how the apparel company produced a hoodie that was 100 percent traced and verified to the Dyna-Gro cotton seed that was grown on Heath Farms in Soperton, Ga., a grower customer. The result was a blueprint comprised of products, processes and partners that will be scaled and leveraged to provide grower customers and downstream partners with additional revenue opportunities.
“Brands want to be associated with these types of stories,” Daniel said. “It makes the end consumer feel good about the product or service they are investing in, and our ability to partner with our customers to capture and share that story (due to our relationships) provides value for everyone involved.”
Now that Common Thread has proof of concept for its downstream partners, and growers and brands can trace cotton through the entire growing and manufacturing process, Nutrien Ag Solutions is taking things to the next level.
“To bring the Common Thread initiative into the future, we’re going to take the traceable cotton program that we’re running today and document the steps even further, scaling traceability program offerings to more grower customers,” Daniel said. “The idea is to track all of the certifications, using blockchain, that we pick up on that particular cotton all the way through the shirt. Our ultimate goal is to have a QR code sitting on that consumer shelf where consumers can learn exactly where the garment came from and how it was produced.”
An advisory role
In 2022, Nutrien Ag Solutions increased its acreage and traceable crop offerings to a Cotton Acreage Goal of 50K; Rice Acreage Goal of 50K; and Wheat Acreage Goal of 100K. Cotton remains one of the more complex crops when it comes to traceability, as it touches so many hands between seed cultivation and fiber spinning to garment production.
Nutrien Ag Solutions takes on the role of a trusted advisor to help its thousands of growers not just meet their respective sustainability goals, but partner with them to define what they are in the first place.
“Sustainability is local and each crop has its own metrics to define it. Every part of the country has a different climate, different soil type, and so many other variables to the point that their sustainability goals will all be different based upon the crops and how they manage them,” Daniel said. “Nutrien Ag Solutions has many boots on the ground and people working in local communities with growers, so we have the ability to help growers navigate through sustainable solutions and traceability to understand the requirements for data gathering.”