In 2013, Walmart launched an initiative with the potential to optimize fertilizer use on 14 million acres of U.S. farmland by 2020. This was a great step in the right direction for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and water pollution by improving nitrogen fertilizer use. Momentum on this work grew in April when Walmart suppliers including Cargill and General Mills stepped up and made joint agricultural commitments at Walmart’s Sustainable Product Expo.
Now, a little over a year since this work kicked off, it’s great to see another major boost of momentum. On Monday, Walmart hosted their fall Milestone meeting, which included an announcement from United Suppliers to join the fertilizer optimization work – committing to enroll 10 million acres by 2020.
This is a big deal for two reasons. First, this commitment is significantly larger – more acres – than any other we’ve seen so far. Second, this is the first time a major agricultural retailer has joined this initiative.
Often, when we talk about sustainability efforts in the supply chain, we gloss over how complex the system is and the number of players involved. To date, the fertilizer optimization work lead by Walmart has been primarily focused on its direct suppliers. From there, it was the food companies’ responsibility to tackle that complexity and figure out how to connect with the farmers.
That’s what makes this pledge from United Suppliers so exciting. Rather than waiting for the Walmart signal to trickle down through the supply chain, United Suppliers saw an opportunity to engage proactively and help their retail owners become more efficient with farmer customers.
Founded in 1963, United Suppliers is a cooperative of agricultural retailers – the companies that sell supplies and services to farmers in their communities. United Suppliers has over 700 locally controlled ag retail owners with thousands of retail locations throughout the United States and Canada. In order to meet its commitment, United Suppliers is rolling out a new platform called SUSTAIN™, which will harness cutting edge technology and practices to optimize crop nutrients.
Agricultural retailers are the trusted advisors that farmers know well and work with regularly. Having them join Walmart’s fertilizer optimization initiative is incredibly powerful, and hopefully more of them will follow United Suppliers leadership and help their farmer customers become more profitable while reducing their environmental impact.