Why a Fortune 500 company is empowering farmers to embrace sustainable agriculture

Jul 30, 2018

We’re thrilled to welcome Land O’Lakes SUSTAIN to the FoodBytes! family as an Official Sponsor for FoodBytes! NYC.  Land O’Lakes is one of the largest U.S. food companies, ranking 216 on the Fortune 500 list, and its SUSTAIN initiative is steadfastly focused on empowering farmers to grow more sustainably.

To intro their important work to our community, we chatted with Tina May, Senior Director of Sustainability. In the Q&A below, May tells us more about how startups can play an integral role in SUSTAIN’s work, where they see the biggest opportunity for innovation in agriculture and why they are partnering with FoodBytes! “Because we are both a farmer-owned cooperative and a Fortune 500 company, Land O’Lakes has a unique opportunity to help lead the way on sustainability, creating links between the farmer, retailer and consumer,” says May.

 

Can you tell us more about Land O’Lakes SUSTAIN’s mission and work?

We launched Land O’Lakes SUSTAIN two years ago on the idea that investing in sustainability makes smart business sense – both for Land O’Lakes as a company and for farmers. Farmers are the original conservationists, and they appreciate the need to manage risk and take a long-term view of challenges to be successful. 

Our work at Land O’Lakes SUSTAIN seeks to enable farmers to take control of their sustainability story by providing them tools and resources to track progress and continuously improve on every acre they farm. We meet farmers where they’re at on their sustainability journey, equip them to enhance their conservation efforts and provide ways to demonstrate their progress to retailers and consumers.

In addition to ensuring healthy and productive farms well into the future, this approach promises to unlock new revenue streams and new markets that will benefit farmers and rural communities.

 

What types of startups is Land O’Lakes SUSTAIN interested in partnering with through FoodBytes! and what might those partnerships look like?

For context on our partnership approach at Land O’Lakes SUSTAIN, it helps to understand the scope of our farmer-owned cooperative. Land O’Lakes, Inc. is one of the nation’s largest food and agriculture companies, ranking 216 on the Fortune 500 with annual sales of more than $14 billion. Every day, we are involved in virtually all aspects of farming and food manufacturing. That means there is tremendous opportunity to identify new partners and put ideas into practice that benefit farmers and enhance their sustainability efforts.

In our first two years, Land O’Lakes SUSTAIN has forged partnerships focused on everything from water quality improvement in sensitive watersheds, to renewable energy generation, to greenhouse gas emissions reduction and beyond. Whether it’s coming from an established company or a new startup, we’re always looking to work with good people with good ideas that could have a positive impact along the food and agriculture value chain. Frankly, it’s a big reason we support FoodBytes!

 

Where do you see the biggest opportunities for startups to innovate in production agriculture?

This is an exciting time for startups in production ag. There are a couple of opportunities where it would be great to see more activity. The first is conservation finance and developing new models to drive adoption of sustainable practices. We’ve also been thinking a lot about water and soil. Soil health in particular is an undefined space, with a lot of room for movement and upside from both a farm economic and environmental perspective.

Land O’Lakes SUSTAIN has a dedicated innovation team that’s exploring unseen potential for farmers, looking for new value in sustainable agriculture and asking how to create new markets for conserving natural resources. Our team is focused on big, moonshot ideas that will take farmers to the next level on their sustainability journey. We’re looking forward to meeting like-minded people at FoodBytes!.

 

Why is Land O’Lakes SUSTAIN excited to join the FoodBytes! Family?

We’re big believers in an “all hands on deck” approach to identify and solve challenges facing sustainable food production. We recognize that good ideas often need a platform to be heard and partnership to grow. FoodBytes! has spent several years convening some of the best and brightest minds in food and agriculture with exciting results, so we see an outstanding fit for partnership.

 

How does Land O’Lakes SUSTAIN plan to create positive change and help feed the planet?

From our perspective, it’s about continuing our work at every level of the value chain. Because we are both a farmer-owned cooperative and a Fortune 500 company, Land O’Lakes has a unique opportunity to help lead the way on sustainability, creating links between the farmer, retailer and consumer.

Specifically, that means helping farmers continuously improve on-farm stewardship using new tools and resources. It means helping companies execute on sustainability commitments in a way that is backed up with facts and data, fostering transparency and accountability throughout the food system.  And it means cementing new partnerships (both traditional and nontraditional) that enable us to work together on sustainably increasing food production.

Are you a sustainable food or agriculture startup? Apply to pitch at FoodBytes! NYC on October 17 & 18, and subscribe to our newsletter for regular FoodBytes! updates, alumni news and blog content.

Tina May, Senior Director of Sustainability, Land O’Lakes SUSTAIN

Tina May leads the innovation team for Land O’Lakes SUSTAIN. In this role she is tasked with creating innovative sustainability solutions to help farmers and co-op member-owners nationwide, harnessing the nexus of policy and business.

Previously, Tina worked for more than a decade in government, including leadership roles with the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Tina has also worked as a Silicon Valley executive, and co-founded the first-ever DC based lobbying firm to incorporate as a Public Benefit Corporation. 

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