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Tips from Dr. Bronner’s, Sun World, Wrangler on Advancing Regenerative Ag Supply Chains

Image credit: Pure Strategies

The winds are changing. Companies that have operated many steps removed from the farms and people that produce their raw materials are building stronger connections to their agricultural supply chains. This shift stems from interest to replenish soil and water supplies, and boost overall resilience and output through regenerative and thriving agriculture. Pure Strategies’ latest report, Connecting to the Farm, points to the best practices companies are using to get closer to the farm while advancing these critical sustainability aims and gaining valuable business benefits.

Communication

Regenerative and thriving agriculture promises to create systems that reach beyond preventing negative impacts, and instead provide a net benefit to the environment and communities, such as soil carbon sequestration. This has gained the attention of brands and retailers, with many taking their first steps to engage directly at the farm level. The best place to start this effort is to better understand the situation — from concerns producers have to new practices they want to test.

Wrangler met with several of its cotton producers to discover that soil health was a common priority for both the brand and its farmers. Soil health impacts long-term producer productivity and profitability and supports sustainability priorities of greenhouse gas emissions and water quality. This helped begin the brand’s efforts to advance soil health and land stewardship across its US cotton supply chain.

Sun World International, an integrated produce company, relies on the labor of thousands of seasonal workers. The industry typically accesses these workers through third-party labor contractors. When Sun World started to realize impacts from the labor shortage in California, it sought out proactive solutions to improve the workforce system. To begin this effort, the company made a concerted effort to understand the labor system’s strengths and weaknesses.

Through meetings, dialogue and discovery with farmworkers, community service providers and other experts, Sun World identified a shared opportunity in creating a farm labor employee benefit company that essentially functions as a worker-owned cooperative: Launched in 2018, California Harvesters Inc.  provides its members better pay and benefits, access to training and education, and is continually moving toward stabilized work schedules and improved job mobility. Sun World committed to hiring workers from California Harvesters, which reduces the company’s operational risks and helps the new organization grow to provide valuable opportunities to more of the community.

Collaboration

Taking sustainability efforts to the point of rebuilding and revitalizing agricultural systems often means changing practices and approaches. Partnering with other socially responsible organizations can help by sharing expertise, knowledge, research and support. When Wrangler worked directly with its US cotton producers, the company sought to pool resources from other organizations that shared their goal to advance soil health.

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The Soil Health Initiative, Texas Alliance for Water Conservation, E3, Field to Market, The Sustainability Consortium and others provided the expertise, tools and insight to support Wrangler’s vision for soil sustainability in cotton crops. This collaboration led to the implementation of a pilot program with several farms across the cotton producing regions in the US with soil health practices of conservation crop rotation, cover crops and no-till at the core. Wrangler purchased cotton from the leading land-stewardship farms in its pilot program to produce a new line of jeans that will be available later in 2018. The team of collaborators is working to expand the program to improve soil conservation, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and increase cotton yield.

Capacity

New solutions typically have their early days as pilots or smaller efforts but need to scale up to realize the desired impact. Dr. Bronner’s, the top-selling soap in the US natural marketplace, understands this and helps build capacity in its supply chains to achieve scale in its agricultural engagement efforts. This has taken the form of research, training, purchasing commitments and infrastructure development.

Looking for regenerative and socially responsible, fair trade-certified production options for its coconut and palm oils, Dr. Bronner’s began testing dynamic agroforestry systems. When the company found an approach that delivered higher yield and sustainability benefits, Dr. Bronner’s began training growers at its demonstration farms in Ghana. The company also assists the financing of replanting in such mixed dynamic agroforestry systems. Dr. Bronner’s often fills resource gaps such as this and others to enable scalability. This has included setting up downstream processing infrastructure, such as building a coconut oil mill that processes organic coconuts purchased from smallholders in Sri Lanka and a palm oil mill in rural Ghana that purchases palm fruits from smallholders. Dr. Bronner’s has a strong market position from these efforts as they build consumer trust while also helping the company providing supply resilience.

Take sustainability to the next level

With the aim of moving to more sustainable agriculture, Wrangler, Sun World and Dr. Bronner’s have connected closely to the farm and those working in the fields. Their approaches to improve ecological systems and help communities thrive produced business benefits from reduced risks to improved growth. Their experiences point to the importance of building a foundation of communication and taking the time to understand the situation. Then, finding the right collaborators and supporting capacity development are keys to advance progress to more regenerative and thriving agricultural systems.


Cheryl Baldwin, Ph.D. is a Vice President of Consulting for Pure Strategies where she partners with corporate clients to develop and execute strategies to improve sustainability performance across food, home and personal care, and cosmetics industries.  Cheryl also… [Read more about Cheryl Baldwin]


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