Sustainably produced soybeans are more important than ever. Companies, such as General Mills, Land O’Lakes and The Coca-Cola Company are moving toward making this a requirement for all of their ingredients. One company in particular, global consumer-goods giant Unilever, has made a commitment to source 100 percent of its soybeans from farmers who use sustainable practices.
Working closely with the Field to Market alliance and the soy checkoff, Unilever has developed a sustainability code with a hefty goal: to increase its sustainably-sourced soy from 40,000 acres to 1 million acres by 2017.
The Unilever Sustainable Agriculture Code is divided into eleven categories. Many farming practices, such as no-till, crop rotation and integrated pest management, which are already commonly used on U.S. farms, fall into these categories.
“Farmers may already be living and farming sustainably,” says Stefani Millie Grant, manager of State Government Relations & External Affairs for Unilever. “We recognize that; we just need the data to document it.”
Unilever measures sustainability practices with the Field to Market calculator. “It takes all their inputs and also measures what practices they have in place such as reducing runoff and preventing soil erosion for each field. Then at the end, they are given a graph to show them how they compare to the national level.”
“Farmers are able to use it on their own, or one of our suppliers, can work directly with them,” Grant explains. “Farmers are always looking to increase yields and reduce their inputs. This calculator is a tool to help them recognize what they are doing that works, or what could help improve their practices.”
To receive sustainably raised soybeans, Unilever is practicing a mass-balance approach to buying. “We know it would be very cost prohibitive to segregate our product all the way through the plant. We know we have a goal of 160,000 acres this year. We then estimate out how much oil that would result in, and in return, we purchase that amount of oil from ADM,” Grant says.
Unilever’s sustainability efforts are not about a complete overhaul. “The great thing about the Field to Market program is that farmers don’t have to hit a certain score to qualify. It is literally about putting the information into the calculator and then working towards continuous improvement.”
“Every field is different, every farm is different and they certainly aren’t ‘one size fits all,’” Grant says,”That’s why we are taking it on a farm-by-farm, field-by-field basis.”
U.S. farmers can stay ahead of the competition by recognizing their day-to-day sustainable practices, developing a sustainable farming business plan and using the Field to Market calculator. Visit www.FieldtoMarket.org to learn more about what you can do on your farm.
This article was originally published by the United Soybean Board, and can be viewed here.