DECATUR, Ill. — The word sustainability has been tossed around like a leaf on a windy fall day, but is there proof in the pudding?
“Just saying the word sustainability loses a lot of people. Everyone glazes over, but where we’re seeing it work, we’re seeing conversations change,” said Trent Wimmer, key account sustainability manager for Syngenta’s North America Sustainable and Responsible Business Team. “You can’t improve what you don’t measure. It is a very nebulous word.”
Wimmer likened sustainability to a hospital where different needs can be met.
“What is it that we’re trying to focus on? Is water the most important thing and you’re worried about the outcomes around water? Well, now let’s talk specifically around water and what we need to do to improve from where we are today. The same way with soil health. We’ve got to dig deeper and we need to measure,” said Wimmer at the Farm Progress Show.
Syngenta’s efforts in the sustainability space has been ongoing for over a decade.
“We were pulled into field-level metrics by a lot of different consumer packaged goods companies over a decade ago. So, we’ve been helping farmers tell their sustainability story for people downstream — the value chain of food and energy — for quite some time now,” Wimmer said.
“As data has been progressing, we’re learning more and more on how farm ag data can help tell a story, not just for those people in the value chain, but for the producer, as well.
“So, our tools continue to evolve with that need, and we’re really in support of farmers helping them collect field-level and farm-level data to give an understanding to the people that may ask of that data from them.”
Syngenta Sustainable Solutions offers two approaches to allow farmers to track and measure stewardship and conservation practices like nutrient management plans, soil health practice, resistance management plans, buffer zones and environmental indicators.
“You can’t improve what you don’t measure.”— Trent Wimmer, key account sustainability manager for Syngenta’s North America Sustainable and Responsible Business Team
The Cropwise Sustainability app offers a whole-farm self-assessment of the farming operation. The simple tool prompts users to answer questions about their farm production practices, quickly calculates their sustainability leadership scores and shares actionable, farm-level insights and opportunities for improvement.
Cropwise Financial, available through AgriEdge, offers a more detailed, field-level look at sustainability and standards like Cool Farm Tool by Cool Farm Alliance or Field Print Platform by Field to Market. The data collected is the property of the grower and is only shared if authorized by the grower.
“We can measure a number of different things, and we do that in two different ways,” Wimmer said. “One is what I’d call our shallow end of the pool, and that’s usually perfect for somebody that is just learning about sustainability. They don’t know how it fits into their program or their rotation, and we give them a simple way to engage and get started.
“We can go all the way to the deep end of the pool with deep quantitative detailed type metrics. We have tools that can measure that, as well, in our farm management software.
“Between our Cropwise Sustainability app measuring quantitative high level crop level information to our Cropwise Financial farm management software measuring detailed targeted heavier-type data we can tell the story across the board.
“When it comes to sustainability, even though there’s a lot of people looking at different things, we have to dial in on something and we have the ability to measure that.”
Conservation practices such as strip-till, no-till, cover crops and nutrient management typically flow to the top when measuring sustainability metrics, but other factors are also measured in Syngenta’s program.
“For example, we can measure outcomes that go beyond just yield because everybody wants to talk yield and sustainability. It is the No. 1 sustainability metric that ever farmer has been talking for 100 years. We actually give them the ability to get credit for it because we’re benchmarking and understanding how those data points come together,” Wimmer said.
“Yield is very key, but yield is not the only metric out there. We can measure other things like soil health, biodiversity and habitat, how they compare with their peers within a given crop. We can do that with simply a 30-minute assessment with the producer.
“If they want to go deeper, let’s say they want to look at nutrient use efficiency, maybe they want to do carbon measurements using a tool like Cool Farm Tool by the Cool Farm Alliance, any field by field metrics in that case, that’s when we have to pull in a tool to handle all of that data.”
Documenting farmer practices that improve soil health, water quality and other factors can open up new doors in the realm of marketing crops.
“Our tools have been designed to help producers really understand where they sit with soil health, where they sit with water quality. So, when someone does show up in their area, it could be someone that’s buying their wheat or maybe the farm delivers potatoes to a processor that suddenly is asking questions,” Wimmer said.
“Regardless of the crop, we have to be able to measure what’s needed. We want those farmers to have easy access to the data that’s being asked of them and then show them how they compare and how they can improve.”