Farm Food Facts

Feeding the Future to 2030 and Beyond, with Nutrien

May 18, 2021 USFRA Episode 107
Farm Food Facts
Feeding the Future to 2030 and Beyond, with Nutrien
Chapters
Farm Food Facts
Feeding the Future to 2030 and Beyond, with Nutrien
May 18, 2021 Episode 107
USFRA

Candace Laing is VP Sustainability & Stakeholder Relations at Nutrien where she is involved in strategic initiatives for the company who is the world’s largest provider of crop inputs, services and solutions  that span corporate affairs, sustainability, and stakeholder engagement. Her career has spanned both private and public-sector organizations and she has served as an instructor at the University of Saskatchewan in the Edwards School of Business and a board member of US Farmers and Ranchers in Action.

Show Notes Transcript

Candace Laing is VP Sustainability & Stakeholder Relations at Nutrien where she is involved in strategic initiatives for the company who is the world’s largest provider of crop inputs, services and solutions  that span corporate affairs, sustainability, and stakeholder engagement. Her career has spanned both private and public-sector organizations and she has served as an instructor at the University of Saskatchewan in the Edwards School of Business and a board member of US Farmers and Ranchers in Action.

Phil:

Candace Laing is VP of sustainability and stakeholder relations at nutrient where she's involved in strategic initiatives for the company who is the world's largest provider of crop inputs, services, and solutions that span corporate affairs, sustainability and stakeholder engagement. Her career has spanned both the private and public sector organizations. And she has served as an instructor at the university of Saskatchewan and the Edwards school of business, and is a board member of the U S farmers and ranchers in action, Candace, welcome to Farm Food Facts.

Candace:

Thanks for having me today. Phil, happy to be here.

Phil:

So Candace in, in going through things on your website, there was one statement that came out that I think is really important. And I applaud , uh, let me, let me say that , um, nutrient is challenging stakeholders to come together together. We can evolve the systems and policy needed to unlock new sustainable solutions while feeding a growing global population and protecting our planet. There's no question in my mind that what we've seen over the past 15 months during the pandemic are people across the entire supply chain coming together, like never before. Um, as I said, I applaud this statement, but what are you doing to make it happen?

Candace:

Yeah, thanks bill . And I think it's , um, well, there's two things in the context of the pandemic. I think we thought a lot of good things out of the food and ag sector continue to operate as an essential service that are , but even in the context of the pandemic, what was really interesting over the course of last year is we saw an acceleration on sustainability and priorities with sustainability, even in the context of managing through a crisis like we were and in that sustainability and now global agenda, we have a big challenge ahead of us, which is to manage this critical nexus between food and climate, that we can feed a growing population , um , while bringing solutions , um , that work and, and protect the planet ultimately. And that's what Reveley call to action is, is we know , um, we need to come together in our value chain with government to do that and , and meet those challenges.

Phil:

You know, you mentioned sustainability during the pandemic, really rising to the top. Now that's not just at the farm level or at the corporate level. We're also seeing it rise to the top at the consumer level, w look into your crystal ball. Um , what does that look like? Is consumers just concerned about it right now? And it's going to disappear in six months or whenever the pandemic is over or have we really opened their eyes, something that they'd never thought about before?

Candace:

I think since you framed it in terms of crystal ball Phil, I would, I would predict, you know, we'll have a future where just like we have nutritional labeling on the products we have, we're likely to have the eco labeling to go alongside that. Right. So we know in the products we're buying , um, how good it is for people and how, how good it is for planet as well. And I think , um, broader than that, what's interesting for me is , is I think that consumer interest in sustainability makes sense. I think we've known there's certain stakeholder groups that are very focused on sustainability, but in my role managing stakeholder relations, there are like six or seven key stakeholder groups that I look at, you know? Um, and that includes investors as well. And they're focused on sustainability and want to be able to compare company a, to company B on sustainability metrics, alongside our financial metrics. So it's really this bigger groundswell of now we're seeing virtually all stakeholder groups with a priority on sustainability.

Phil:

And if we went back 10 years ago, those people that you're talking about were probably just concerned about profit , uh , not sustainability. Um , as we've seen that shift and sustainability has become more important, what are the things that you have to do in order to not only be transparent to them, but also to frankly, improve the planet?

Candace:

Well, it's interesting, you bring up 10 years ago because coming back to the pandemic , um, my prediction last year when the pandemic really hit us in , in the spring is that we would see people take their foot off the gas in really , um , hot topics from sustainability climate, for example, cause that's what happened when we hit hard times a decade ago and the pandemic put us into crisis and tough times. And after 2008, we saw the foot come off the pedal with things like climate. And then it took us about 10 years to come back to the same level of urgency , um, with that. So to your question about what does that mean companies have to do, I'd say the expectations have really shifted from 10 years ago to now because of the interest of investors and making sure we're managing these more complex and longer term risks as a company. So now the expectation is we know how climate will impact our business. We are looking at how climate changes more extreme weather will impact our growers in the regions they're in and then factoring that into our strategy as a company.

Phil:

Now you've said that by the year 2030, you want to make key transformations through ambitious commitments that drive change and lead the next of ag evolution. Uh, it's a commitment that grows the world from the ground up, taking our role in protecting the planet seriously. And then by 2050 you say the ag sector will need to grow food for almost 10 billion people. At this point in history, we need to consider how we feed 10 billion people. What are you doing strategically? And what are your priorities that addressed those environmental, social and governance, risks and opportunities.

Candace:

Yeah. Great question, Phil. And I'm really glad you framed it as the next shift in agriculture because yes, we're talking about dealing with this critical challenge of managing the nexus between food and climate. And I'll come back to that in a second. Um, but when you look at the last, well, my lifetime in agriculture, the last 40 to 50 years, it has transformed immensely in terms of massively increasing yield and productivity on existing land. We wouldn't have a single carbon sink left on the planet. If it hadn't been for the advancements and transformation already happening in agriculture. And , um, what is it? 3.4 billion people wouldn't be fed today without that transformation as well. So it's absolutely critical. The challenge is we need to do it again because by 2050, if we add that many more people with today's productivity, even if we maintain it, we will wipe out every carbon sink we have left on the planet. If we don't bring the productivity piece into the equation, figure out how to feed that population. But now in a way that also brings climate solutions to the table. So I looked at as, you know, my whole family farms, you've done so much in the last 40 to 50 years, and now we need to actually continue to evolve and, and prove to the world we're going to do it once more, again , and produce more with , um, existing or even less land. As we look at soil and water outcomes, as we keep grower livelihood intact , and even add on biodiversity supportive practices and make sure those growers are resilient to greater occurrence of extreme weather events, et cetera. That's our aim is to scale sustainable and productive agriculture, and it would encompass all of those elements.

Phil:

So this probably is a bit of a naive question, but how do we feed the planet in that sustainable way?

Candace:

Um, well, I mean, we have to focus on the productivity question and make sure like our definition of sustainable and productive agriculture. It actually draws from the UN sustainable development goals and uh , other frameworks that make sure we're putting all of those pieces together. So when I talked to some people about agriculture, they're like, Oh, here's a solution. Um, you know, reduce fertilizer and you'll cut emission . Well, that's pretty linear, right ? And actually, what would I really like about how , uh , we call it the 20, 30 agenda or the UN sustainable development goals is they're actually intended to look at the whole system and take a systems approach or in my simpler language, we can't whack-a-mole any of this. If we're going to feed 10 billion people because solutions we implement, and this is in the sustainable development goals, we can't put climate solutions in the threatened food production, and we have to scale sustainable agricultural practices in a way that brings solutions, that sequesters carbon, that is part of the climate , um, our way forward to, you know, a decarbonized economy, et cetera. So it's really cracking that nut of how do we evolve agriculture to maintain or increase productivity, but as we get those environmental outcomes as well,

Phil:

I also see on your website and a lot of the literature that you produce , uh , the term inclusive agriculture, what does that mean?

Candace:

Well, inclusive agriculture is for us just about bringing the work we do in equity, diversity and inclusion to every part of our business in everything that we do. So yes, we have internal workforce efforts , um, and we diversify our supply chain. Um, but we also want to take that to other other opportunities we have, whether that's grower industry facing and making sure we're partnering , um, with diverse, you know, innovators in our space as well, bringing new ag tech into the sector. Um, the way I look at inclusive agriculture is, is good. Looks like we're making sure those opportunities are there for everybody as opposed to , um, I think we're used to, Oh, I have a relationship there, so I'll go there, but we're going to go forward and say, no, like there's room for everybody better might be, we look back and say, who got left behind and how do we help them catch up? And as a, as a girl in growing up in ag and even on the farm, I was, I was the gopher. I , I would go for everything which meant even going to town for parts. And , um, sometimes I would take my, my boyfriend who was from the city and he would come along and I'd go for parts. I knew what I was looking for. I knew what the parts called, but when I would go into the shop, the conversation goes to my boyfriend and I'd always have to be, excuse me, no, no, I'm here for the conversation. So to me, if we have success, it's I go into that shop and there's not a deference one or the other it's , it's, who's my customer. You're both my customer. And , uh, that's, that's from my standpoint, I think if we've had success in inclusive agriculture, we're not making assumptions about who agriculture looks like.

Phil:

So going back to that point in time , uh, put yourself there and tell me how we get more young people to want to get into agriculture, whether it's farming, whether it's ranching, whether it's doing the research on it. Um, I don't hear a lot of people, you know, waking up in the morning and saying, Hey, I want to be a farmer when I grow up, because they look at , uh , the reports that come out that show that farmers are not making money and it's a hard life. And you know, it was many hours and a lot of farmers have to have part-time jobs in order to send their kids through college. What can we do in addition to what you just said, being inclusive. So when you and your boyfriend go there, it's not the guy talking to the guy. Uh , but what else can we do to attract this next generation?

Candace:

Yeah , well, the end of that story is now he's been my partner, my life partner for 20 years. So he did survive all of that, but absolutely just going back to , um, you know, I was, I was a young person on the farm in the eighties and it was really tough, a lot of dry years , uh, year on year without a crop, because we didn't have the advancements that we do today, right. With low till no till , and, you know, different technology and products that now maintain , um, decent crops and even drier years than we had back then. So I can relate to the story of agriculture has been tough. Um, but actually I for culture is one of the most exciting sectors now I think because the world has never needed , um, more out of this sector. And I think one of our paths forward. So we talk a lot about the carbon opportunity for growers , um, because agriculture can bring climate solutions. Um, in as much as we generate emissions, we have an exciting path forward to leverage our soils with natural carbon sinks. And when I think about , um, you know , what we're doing in that space, we bring a lot of, you know, approaches to , um , the practices we use with growers and how we're going to sequester carbon that the other path forward. And you said, how we're going to do it if ag tech and how we innovate in this space, and what does that look like going forward? You know, we're just cracking through right now, how do we best do soil sampling? Um, looking at all the new players kind of entering the space from an ag tech perspective , um, would have me answer that question. I would love it if a young person wants to be a farmer and I hope they do because the world needs us more than ever, but there a lot of different careers that touch agriculture and contribute to agriculture , um, as well, and especially transforming agriculture or the next chapter, which is our evolution.

Phil:

One of the occurrences that's very unique in the supermarket world are supermarkets, major supermarkets, like Albertsons , like Kroger , uh, those, those kinds of people. Um, now going out, especially since the pandemic and hiring away people from Amazon, hire away people from Microsoft, all these tech companies , uh, because of exactly what you're talking about , uh , that's what we need. Are we seeing that same thing happen in agriculture?

Candace:

Oh, for sure. And, you know, offer it , at least it's a meaningful anecdote, but that has been our experience. So we, as nutrient are focused on , um , really the digitization of the sector. So as much as we have high-tech and precision ag, and you can have auto steering, we don't really have the interoperability between all those data pieces and the basic ability to get that data or sustainability outcomes out of the farm. So we're really invested in, in that platform that pulls it all together, helps the grower, do the planning and get the outcomes from the farm level we need for , um, for carbon and beyond where we recruit from is Silicon Valley. And , uh, in, in building out our digital products and services. And what we are hearing from are the people we're able to recruit is yes, I can do this anywhere, but I want to do it in food and ag because it really connects on a purpose level , um, for that, that talent. And that's, that was just amazing because , um , again, it's like, wow, agriculture is growing and we are getting new people really, really excited about what we're up to. And that was a moment where I said, wow, like we are competitively attracting talent out of Silicon Valley to our sector, which was just great.

Phil:

It's very cool , uh, to be able to attract Silicon Valley people , um, with their work ethic, with the whole idea of life hacking , uh, that that's part of what they do to be farm hacking and , and really looking at how we could make farming and ranching , uh , that much more important that much smarter to that much easier, that much more productive is, is terrific. Uh, so congratulations on that. Um, when, when you're talking to them and you're recruiting them , um, besides the fact that they think farming and food is cool, what else, what else do you tell them to get them really excited? Is it just about money? Is that , you know,

Speaker 3:

You can, you can change the world.

Candace:

Yeah. I think, you know, at nutrient, we, we really , um, are, are purpose driven and everybody knows if you're a part of our company, that our purpose is to grow our world from the ground up. And that comes back to helping the world solve this critical nexus and challenge we have between food and climate. But to be Frank Villa , a lot of stakeholders are focused on that challenge. So what's unique about nutrient is we are, we're kind of , um , in the food and ag value chain, you've got a lot of food companies who want the sustainability outcomes out of the farm, but who's on the other side of the farmer and that's where we are. And we are the company that works with 500,000 farmers in North America , uh , to a large extent in Latin America and Australia and beyond. And we're the ones advising them saying , okay, let's make a plan. What can we accomplish here? What tools do you need? So we're that group that is boots to boots on the ground in North America's largest ag retailers . So it's that relationship with the farmer directly that I think is , is something unique about nutrient as well ?

Speaker 3:

Is there something across all 500,000 farmers across, you know , many continents that you would say they have in common?

Candace:

Well, I always promote and my own family and extended family is included in this they're the world's best conservationalist and they live off the land. And so I know coming back to what we started with, if that consumer wants eco labeling, I don't know that they understand to the extent that every farmer is looking for the best way , um, to get productivity out of that land. And so I think actually I'm really hopeful because I think agriculture is having a moment globally. We have the UN food systems summit this year, and the light is being shot on agriculture, but, and this is personal for me because my whole family farms is rather than egg being sort of at the pointy end of the stick where consumers maybe not happy. I think the world is really excited about what agriculture can deliver in terms of , um, you know , protecting both people and planet. And I think growers have been doing that all along and now we can literally connect with, they can do , um, with consumers and, and with other stakeholders that are, are really anxious to see those environmental outcomes at the farm level.

Phil:

Well, on behalf of the 500,000 farmers , uh, the, you know, a hundred billion people that you're going to be feeding, I want to thank you and nutrient for everything that you're doing for agriculture. Thanks so much, John . Thanks for having me today for more on all things, food and agriculture, please visit [email protected] Also be sure to look out for us on Facebook at us farmers and ranchers and on Twitter at USF RA until next.