Initiatives Help Growers Show Sustainable Farming Practices

Syngenta Sustainable Solutions initiatives help growers tell the story of their farms in a meaningful way to downstream companies and consumers.

Syngenta Seedcare Institute in Stanton, Minnesota
The most basic definition of sustainability is the capacity to continue something indefinitely. For Jill Wheeler, no industry carries a greater burden of living up to the meaning of this word than agriculture. As the head of Sustainable Productivity at Syngenta in North America, Wheeler understands that agriculture must continue to meet the food, fuel and fiber needs of a global population.

“At the same time, the industry is charged with improving the ability of future generations to meet their own needs,” says Wheeler. “That’s where sustainability, from an agricultural perspective, comes in. By 2050, the world’s population is projected to reach 9.6 billion people—more than 2 billion more people than we’re feeding today. We simply can’t afford to ignore the challenges that future generations will face. We must start implementing changes now that will pave the way for their success.”

Good References

To this end, Syngenta is working with farmers across the U.S. on a series of sustainability initiatives. In addition to coming up with practical solutions to produce more food using fewer resources, these farmers are helping increase food industry awareness of sustainable agriculture practices already in place throughout the country. One of those farmers is Chad Rubbelke from Minot, North Dakota.

“One thing consumers don’t know about farmers is that we’re the most environmentally conscious people you’ll ever meet,” Rubbelke says. “We live on the land where we farm. It’s our home and our career, so we take all steps possible to treat it properly.”

“One thing consumers don’t know about farmers is that we’re the most environmentally conscious people you’ll ever meet. We live on the land where we farm. It’s our home and our career, so we take all steps possible to treat it properly.”

Chad Rubbelke

Consumer-package-goods companies are joining Syngenta and farmers, including Rubbelke, to provide the transparency consumers are demanding about how their food is produced. Liz Hunt, Sustainable Solutions lead at Syngenta, helps connect these downstream companies to growers.

“These collaborations not only enable the food and beverage companies to satisfy the consumer requests for transparency, but they are also helping growers make their crops more marketable and sustain their farming businesses for generations to come,” she says.

Measureable Results

As part of the sustainability initiatives, growers use data collected for farm management decisions and reporting within Land.db®, the cloud-based software that is part of the AgriEdge Excelsior® program, a whole-farm management program from Syngenta. Collecting and analyzing this data on a per-field and regional basis help the growers better understand the impact of their farming choices when it comes to crop protection products, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, tillage, water usage and more.

“The growers are at an advantage because they develop a relationship with their customers downstream and set themselves up to be well-prepared as reporting becomes more of the norm,” Hunt says. Additionally, participating growers own and have access to their data collected through Land.db, which can help them pinpoint the practices and inputs that can make their crops more productive and profitable.

Stewart Opland, a farmer from Des Lacs, North Dakota, says one of the pivotal moments for him was when he understood how fertilizer impacts GHG emissions, after using Land.db. “We obviously need fertilizer to grow our crops and sustain our business,” he says. “But by understanding how applying it can impact the environment, we’ve been able to make sure we’re using it as efficiently as possible.”

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Yearly Check-Ins and Improvements

Syngenta is always looking for progressive growers to join its Sustainable Solutions initiatives, Hunt notes. “Getting the right folks to participate who are ready to tell their stories is important,” she says. “The growers who are most likely to do that are often the influential leaders in their communities. At annual grower meetings, I’ve heard these growers tell their peers, ‘We’ve held our stories too tight for too long, and that’s why we’re in the situation that we’ve been facing recently.’ The value chain partners want to team with growers who recognize the need to tell their farm stories.”

Held in each region where a Syngenta Sustainable Solutions initiative is underway, the meetings encourage open conversations and storytelling among all parties involved, including downstream collaborators, the Syngenta technical support team and farmers. These groups also invite other local growers to learn about the initiative. Participants take deep dives into analyses from data that Land.db records. Some of the most recent findings include the following:

  • A 21 percent increase in soil conservation efficiency among Idaho reference farmers since they joined the initiative
  • A savings of $5 to $7 per acre on cultivation costs when North Dakota growers switched to no-till practices
  • A decrease in energy use and GHG emissions—the equivalent of 28 pounds of carbon dioxide per acre—when farmers in the Red River Valley used cover crops on 31 percent of their fields

Global Impact

Initiatives from @SyngentaUS offer insights to help farmers grow more from less. #GoodGrowthPlan

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The Sustainable Solutions initiatives and their positive impact on both farming and nonfarming communities alike fit well into The Good Growth Plan. This Syngenta strategy for helping to address global food security contains six measurable commitments, one of which is to increase productivity of the world’s major crops by 20 percent without using more land, water or inputs. The Sustainable Solutions farms will help Syngenta monitor its progress toward this commitment by 2020.

“Our network of farmers, who represent a variety of crops and regions, is working with our field experts to trial new solutions and raise productivity,” Wheeler says. “They are helping us tell their story of sustainable productivity with aggregated real-world, field-based information.”

Syngenta expects the number of farmers involved in Sustainable Solutions initiatives to continue to grow. In the U.S. alone, farms in three different regions— southeast Idaho, central North Dakota and the Red River Valley—participated in the initiatives two years ago. Farmers in these regions typically grow wheat, potatoes, barley, sugarbeets, canola, sunflowers, soybeans and corn. Today, additional U.S. farmers—representing corn in Wisconsin, wheat in Michigan, barley and sugarbeets in the Plains, and Syngenta Seed production in Nebraska, Iowa and Minnesota—are being recruited. Wheeler says this growth is not only good for measuring the success of The Good Growth Plan, but also good for sustainably producing crops—period.

“The true success of The Good Growth Plan happens at the grower level, where our Sustainable Solutions initiatives and AgriEdge Excelsior technology empower growers to get a more detailed look at their operations,” she says. “The information generated from these reference farms will help us map out strategies designed to overcome food security challenges—today and tomorrow.”

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