“Healthy products are made from healthy ingredients grown in healthy ecosystems,” says Jack Scott, vice president of sustainability and responsible sourcing for Purina.
Partnerships and programs that put sustainability into action while supporting farmers financially continue to pop up in the industry. Purina, leading manufacturer of dog and cat food brands, is part of several initiatives doing just that, including the Soil Health and Habitat Program from Pheasants Forever.
Utilizing precision agriculture technology, Pheasants Forever works with producers and growers to analyze data using Truterra Insights Engine from 30,000 acres of private lands in the Prairie Pothole Region to help enhance soil health, protect water quality, and implement conservation planning.
Results from the analysis will help guide enrollment of low-production acres into the program, providing those landowners who are contracted to be in the program for five years with a one-time financial incentive payment for grassland or cover crop mixtures.
“There is a balance between ensuring the land stays healthy and productive and the farmers remain economically viable,” Scott says. “We are proud to work with Pheasants Forever. They have been a great long-term partner with us and through the Soil Health and Habitat Program, they are promoting sustainable soil, while at the same time thinking about how to protect wildlife habitat. This complements our goals and mission and the great work farmers are doing.”
SF: What are Purina’s sustainability goals?
JS: At Purina, we’ve been committed to making our high-quality pet products sustainably, whether it’s through package recyclability, reducing our energy or water consumption in factories, or making sure that we’re sourcing our ingredients responsibly from areas that are also responsible.
Almost all of the ingredients we source come from farms here in the United States. If you take a look at our products, we rely heavily on plant and animal agriculture. We recognize that to be in business for a long time and to source our ingredients long into the future, they must come from places that are rich and bountiful and that care for the environment.
We recognize the critical role that farmers play in this and we want to make sure that we’re there to support them and work with them, recognizing their stewardship of the land as we are the recipients of what they produce. Our goal has always been to find ways in which we can work together and support the farmers to ensure that the land stays healthy and bountiful.
SF: Why the Prairie Pothole Region?
JS: Often, when people think about the Prairie Pothole Region, they think about the different shallow lakes and accompanying wildlife. We have partnerships with other conservation organizations that work with farmers in those areas. A lot of what we’re talking about here are grasslands that offer nesting cover for wildlife. This is a critical area, not just for our supply chain where we source ingredients, but one that requires collaboration among multiple partners to provide the ingredients in a healthy way that benefits habitat at the same time.
SF: Why is it so important to invest in sustainability?
JS: We talk about soil, water, and biodiversity and habitat as the building blocks to improve healthy ecosystems. That ecosystem will return services back to us in the form of recreation, healthy food products, and others.
In this particular case, we aren’t ignoring water – it is certainly part of soil health – but we’ve focused on wildlife habitat, too. By working with farmers and using technology, this program identifies productivity across the landscape. If there are areas that are not as productive, then there may be an opportunity to take that land out of production, improve the economics of the farmer, and turn that into a wildlife habitat. In the future, that approach can return some of the richness back to the soil, which we recognize helps improve the overall ecosystem.
We want to protect the environment and help farmers to remain productive, responsible, and financially viable long-term.
SF: How do technologies and data support sustainable farming and the supply chain?
JS: It is critical to support farmers by using the latest in technology. There are many farm families already utilizing data, drones, and measurement instruments in the field. They’re doing so in order to make the best possible decisions for their land, productivity, and financial viability for their farms.
Technologies can also include new methodologies for supporting that land. In the Soil Health and Habitat Program, we use the Truterra Insights Engine from Land O’Lakes, which is designed by farmers for farmers. The Engine helps farmers get the most out of their land from a production standpoint as well as financially. The insights and methodologies might not only improve the land, but the communities, too, by removing land that doesn’t deliver profit and returning it to nature, back to wildlife. That’s where organizations like Pheasants Forever come in to provide that knowledge and guidance.
Soil Health and Habitat Program
The Soil Health and Habitat Program operates in phases and has so far exceeded expectations in number of applications across the Prairie Pothole Region.
Ryan Heiniger, director of agriculture & conservation Innovations at Pheasants Forever, says the program is working with 11 farmers in the initial phase and using fall 2020 yield information to drive decision-making this year and beyond.
“Our goal is to be laser-focused and laser-accurate on where habitat acres are plotted on the fields,” Heiniger says.
The program targets acres with underlying hydrology, agronomy, or other issues that cause them to be consistently unprofitable. Heiniger says the ultimate goal is to turn those red acres green. And to take it further, by implementing practices like cover crops, those green acres could go greener. The program provides $20 per acre to offset the cost of cover crop seed.
Pheasants Forever acts as an adviser, providing answers and serving as a liaison to other programs that may also fit an operation.
“A core principle of ours is to roll up our sleeves with the farmer and help them put their precision data to work,” Heiniger says.
The Truterra Insights Engine allows Pheasants Forever and the farmer to measure outcomes and determine which investments moved the needle on soil health, conservation, and even carbon sequestration.
“In the future, we’ll look for ways to add additional partners and foster public-private partnerships to leverage funds and ultimately do more,” Heiniger says.
Incremental changes and adaptability are key in growing the program while staying true to farmers’ goals.
“As we look at our partnerships upstream and the whole supply chain, we recognize everything that the agricultural community and these farmer families do for us,” Scott says. “We’ve found ways in which we can work and help them in their mission to be successful. It’s always a pleasure for us to say thank you to the farmers and the farmer families for everything they do.”