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Published on 04/29/2020

#MyStewardshipStory: Building a Brand While Doing the Right Thing

Headquartered just north of Columbus, Ohio, Heritage Cooperative has been working with the region’s farmers and providing grain, agronomy, energy, feed and retail for nearly a century. The co-op centers itself around four key values: providing superior customer service, consistently displaying the highest standards of integrity and trust, striving for continuous improvement and simply being a good partner. Holding true to their values, Heritage Cooperative has set their sights on a sweeping transformation over the last few years, with innovation that has helped their members emerge at the forefront of the agricultural industry. Their unwavering commitment to sustainability is at the core of both this transformation and their brand.

Due to their location in the Lake Erie Watershed, Heritage Cooperative and their farmer-members have always made the concept of nutrient stewardship a top priority. However, they began searching for even more ways they could become better stewards of the land and be able to tell their story while doing so. “We have growers that have already been doing great things and it is part of our responsibility to share their story and really stand behind them,” said Debbie Trager, Director of Marketing and Communications at Heritage Cooperative. “We think sustainability is the right thing to do and so do our growers.” With over 5,000 members, more than 550 employees and a business that covers roughly 65% of Ohio, they certainly have a story to tell.

Just over two years ago, Heritage Cooperative partnered with Truterra, LLC (formerly Land O’Lakes SUSTAIN), to provide their farmers with tools to further their environmental stewardship in an economically viable way. “We want to be part of the solution and be proactive, not reactive,” said Greg Spears, Heritage Cooperative’s Chief Operating Officer. “Partnering with Truterra gives us an opportunity to show our members that we can be that retailer of guidance as the idea of sustainability continues to become bigger.”

Through this partnership, Heritage Cooperative farmers have access to the Truterra™ Insights Engine, a first-of-its kind technology that allows farmers to gather a different level of data that informs management decisions across an entire farm, acre by acre, tracking changes and improvements in key sustainability factors such as greenhouse gas emissions and soil erosion. “What’s been the most unexpected piece so far is that we’ve been able to generate new membership and new business with our focus on sustainability,” said Trager. Today, 62 of their farmers across nearly 100,000 acres utilize the Truterra™ Insights Engine.

The Truterra™ Insights Engine has the ability to record exactly how crops are being grown, which has helped Heritage Cooperative and their farmers to build beneficial relationships with consumers through collaborations with two major food companies, the Campbell Soup Company and Tate & Lyle. Heritage Cooperative is helping these food companies tell their sustainability stories by tracking the wheat and corn sourced from their farmers. In turn, the food companies are helping to showcase the cooperative and farmers’ hard work, dedication and honesty that goes into producing our food. “Having Heritage Cooperative’s name and the Campbell Soup Company or Tate & Lyle’s names in the same sentence has been great for us from a marketing standpoint- to be involved with companies of that size and scale,” said Spears. “It’s a win-win.”

Beyond the relationships their farmers are building with consumers, Heritage Cooperative has also offered their farmers the ability to build their own portfolios to track what they’re doing as good stewards of the land using the Truterra™ Insights Engine. This opens up a myriad of opportunities. For example, if a farm comes up for rent, farmers have a clear record to take to the landlord of all their practices and the data to back it up.

While continuing to grow and innovate, Heritage Cooperative has always maintained a consistent commitment to their community and future generations. “As a cooperative, we want to continue to provide the best customer service, the best everything, for our farmers, while also being recognized by those outside of the agricultural industry as a business who is out here with high integrity, doing the right thing,” said Spears.