Grow On: Bayer’s Grower Sustainability Initiative

Published online: Aug 30, 2017 Articles Tyrell Marchant, Editor
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This article appears in the September 2017 issue of Potato Grower.

The further we wade into this 21st century, the more questions seem to be directed toward those involved in production agriculture. Historically, the industry’s reaction has been to dig in and say, in effect, “This is the way we do things. Trust us; we know what we’re doing.” And historically, that position has gotten us pretty much nowhere. But the conversation is changing.

Perhaps more than anyone, farmers and ranchers understand the importance of wise and caring stewardship of natural resources. A healthy environment is essential to a profitable farming operation. Producers intimately understand that connection; many consumers simply don’t. So they ask questions—which is entirely understandable. With its new Grow On sustainability initiative Bayer Crop Science is helping growers keep the dialogue with buyers and consumers congenial rather than adversarial.

“We kept hearing from growers that they were getting more questions about how they’re using inputs on their operations,” says Bayer food chain and sustainability manager Jennifer Maloney. “Potato growers are already sustainable in a lot of the things they do. But they’re busy farming. They don’t have time to sit down and put together stories around sustainability benefits in key areas.”

Grow On is an initiative from Bayer whose goal is to provide growers with tools to identify, implement and, importantly, communicate their sustainable farming practices. According to a recent sustainability report by the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance, 81 percent of U.S. producers agree that their customers a growing increasingly focused on the environmental sustainability of the products they buy. Maloney says these questions may come from different sources, depending on growers’ respective locations and markets. Most process potato growers, for example, are required by their contracted processor to complete the Potato Sustainability Initiative. Fresh market growers and shippers may be required by their customers to submit sustainability or safety questionnaires. The folks at Bayer realized agricultural sustainability is mostly viewed through three different lenses—environmental, social and economic—depending on one’s position along the supply chain. (Growers, for good reason, spend most of their time focused on economic sustainability.) To satisfy all three concerns, the Grown On initiative focuses on six key areas of sustainability:

  1. Integrated pest management (IPM) practices to manage pests with minimal environmental impact;
  2. Optimizing plant water usage and water quality;
  3. Improving soil health and plant nutrient uptake;
  4. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions and fuel use;
  5. Ensuring safe work environments; and
  6. Reducing food waste by preventing pre-harvest loss and extending post-harvest shelf life.

“Beyond the efficacy of our products, I think we’re seeing an increase in information consumers want about the food they eat,” says Maloney. “Generations of growers have rapidly embraced new agricultural technologies that not only have improved their environmental sustainability but also increased yields and farm productivity. With increased consumer demand for information, Bayer has been active in helping tell the overall story about modern agriculture and improvements that have been made in agriculture over the last 50 to 100 years.”

To be clear, the efficacy of its products on the farm is still foremost on Bayer’s list of goals. Maloney says there is no more important information to share with growers. But there are other messages that also need to be shared, and Bayer is offering growers the tools to communicate those messages effectively.

“As we enter into a different era of consumers requesting transparency, we need to be prepared to have conversations beyond our business-to-business conversations about product efficacy,” says Maloney. “In this new era, we need to be ready to talk about some of these benefits that are a little more consumer-facing.”