Matt Carstens and team tackle sustainability from farm to fork
In July of 2016, we introduced a new business unit, Land O’Lakes SUSTAIN™, focused on aligning environmental sustainability efforts across Land O’Lakes, Inc. With the first 100 (or so) days under the new team’s belt, we checked in with Matt Carstens, senior vice president of Land O’Lakes SUSTAIN, to find out how he and his team are tackling sustainability from farm to fork.
Tell us a little bit about you and what sparked your interest and focus on sustainability.
I grew up on my family’s farm in central Iowa, a corn and soybean operation in addition to hogs. My upbringing provided a strong foundation and a passion to continue working in agriculture and food. I earned a degree in ag business from Iowa State University and haven’t ever left the agriculture industry. One of my favorite things to do is spend time with my family in the summer out on the water on a small lake that sits in the middle of the family farming operation.
I became really interested in sustainability when several factors converged that spawned the creation of a full-system agronomy framework, now called the Conservation Agronomy. With the attention on water quality, limited resources and the need to produce more food, we saw an opportunity to step up more intentionally and focus on helping farmers and, subsequently, the planet.
Sustainability for food and agriculture starts in the farmers’ fields. Conservation Agronomy provides a suite of the latest tools available to help producers maintain soil health, improve nutrient use efficiency and minimize environmental impact.
What are the top priorities for Land O’Lakes SUSTAIN?
We are building new capabilities and attempting to tackle a very real, critical issue for the future of our industry–the industry that fuels all others because the farmer “feeds us all.” Our first order of business is to get in the field and tell our story. We’re also gathering the on-farm data and enhancing our technology toolset to help instruct the continuous improvement that will help us paint an accurate picture of what and how sustainability is taking place on-farm.
Chris Policinski, our president and CEO, is very passionate around this issue and has clearly set the stage for how we can and must play a role in helping our industry sustainably feed the growing global population amidst the challenges we face. By tackling this challenge, we’re laying the groundwork for a strong future for agriculture and food–essential to feeding human progress.
We are expanding upon what Land O’Lakes teams—agronomy, feed and dairy—are already doing. This starts with precision conservation agronomy services, on-farm data collection and insights. We’re advancing the data space and harnessing the power of technology to enable efficient and effective data management on the farm.
This includes our recent introduction of the SoilVantage® suite of precision conservation tools. Land O’Lakes SUSTAIN will be the first to deliver precision conservation tools and services to farmers across the US. When coupled with other agronomy tools and insights, we are helping farmers drive productivity and sustainability, making them more efficient and profitable.
The next step is enhancing dialogue between farmers and their customers. It’s really about helping farmers communicate how they are achieving continuous improvement in on-farm sustainability to their customers, who ultimately supply retailers such as Wal-Mart. As a result, these retailers can communicate to their increasingly information-hungry consumer about the sustainability of a particular product on the shelf at the grocery store. We not only want to meet the consumer’s desire for more information, but to more proactively tell the story about where their food comes from–the seed that goes into the ground to the butter that’s on your table. It’s what it takes to feed a family–and the world.
As you’ve begun to think about the work and move forward, what has emerged as the biggest asset for Land O’Lakes?
Our largest asset by far is our people. We’re only able to leverage our farm-to-fork business, which gives us a unique view of sustainability, through the lens, the knowledge and the grit of our employees and our member-owners. And, we will be successful not only through the individuals who have accepted this challenge within Land O’Lakes SUSTAIN but our entire network.
How are you and the team engaging with the member-owners of Land O’Lakes?
Our number one audience is the farmer. The Land O’Lakes SUSTAIN team is very focused on our member-owners because whether they’re a producer or co-op member, they have the relationships with farmers and are the ones we are here to support. We must listen to what their challenges are and offer solutions that work for them. When we do that they are going to win…we’re all going to win. The relationship and direct access we have with our member-owners is one of the things that makes Land O’Lakes unique and will make our Land O’Lakes SUSTAIN efforts successful.
In the coming days, we’re excited to be meeting with some of the first producers who have embraced Conservation Agronomy and Conservation Dairy. We will be recognizing these producers as leaders in sustainability, and hear from them about what works and what we can do better to support them. I have and continue to learn a lot from those who are deploying tactics on the ground and making good progress.