In recent years, the idea of farmers getting paid based on stewardship has really taken off. Whether that’s the discussion of companies paying for carbon sequestration, soil conservation, water quality or any other number of “ecosystem services”, it seems to be a trend that is not going away any time soon. But how much real demand is there for this vs. just marketing and PR? Obviously, we all want cleaner air and water, but who is lining up to pay for it to create the right incentives to make it happen? And, does this even scale?
Jason Weller is the Vice President of Truterra, LLC, the sustainability solutions business of Land O’Lakes Inc.. Many do not know that Land O’Lakes Inc. is one of the nation’s largest farmer-owned cooperatives. Before joining Truterra, Jason served as Chief of USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, the nation’s largest working lands conservation organization. That makes him uniquely suited to talk about the role of both public and private sectors in this sustainability conversation.
“I was interested in coming to work for a company that was dreaming and thinking big. So Land O’Lakes was building a sustainability team….It felt like a once in a lifetime career opportunity to come work in agriculture for one of the largest farmer co-ops in the country who was thinking big and not just talking, but actually investing in building out the team to help farmers on a scale that's unprecedented. - Jason Weller
Truterra is the name of the business that represents the sustainability arm of Land O’Lakes. Jason highlights that this is a business division and not simply philanthropic. “I think what also frankly is energizing is trying to find that balance between ROI and good natural resource conservation.” So beyond promoting soil health and water conservation, they focus on making it profitable for producers and therefore enticing sustainability on a large scale.
“Our job is to then not just dream big, but to then get tactical and think about how we weave sustainability into that huge enterprise? How do we bring solutions to those local regional retailer owners and individual farming operations that compliment their businesses but also start to address broader issues around soil health, around water quality, water availability and biodiversity?” - Jason Weller
Truterra is blazing new trails in creating incentives, insights and expertise for producers with a goal of financial viability and improved sustainability practices. Jason admits that mandates are not easily accepted or embraced and so his goal is not to force farmers but help them in these efforts with “shared risk and shared opportunity.” The Truterra Insights Engine “connects public information and then private information that the farmer shares.” This information is then amalgamated with management information. This combination then gives farmers a platform to see what adjustments can be made on their operations and what the outcomes could be both financially and environmentally. It also allows them to monitor their progress in these efforts and share them with retailers to improve their value.
“We do view farmers as our customer, but we don't charge the farmer for access to the tool because it's really a decision support tool for the farmer. And we don't want cost to be a barrier to access to the information.” - Jason Weller
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