Nutrien | 2020 Canadian SDG Accelerators Awards Profile


Industry: Agriculture


Category: Large

SDG 2: Zero Hunger

Applicable Targets:

  • Target 2.4. By 2030, ensure sustainable food production systems and implement resilient agricultural practices that increase productivity and production, that help maintain ecosystems, that strengthen capacity for adaptation to climate change, extreme weather, drought, flooding and other disasters and that progressively improve land and soil quality

Please explain why the selected SDG is a priority for your company

At Nutrien, our purpose is to grow our world from the ground up. As the world’s largest provider of crop inputs, services and solutions, Nutrien plays a critical role in feeding the world’s population by helping growers to increase food production in a sustainable manner. We’re moving the agriculture industry and the world forward – today and for generations to come. 

By 2050, we’ll need to grow food for almost 10 billion people. That’s why we’re raising expectations on what an agriculture company can be. From the bottom of the mine to the top of the silo, our employees around the world are committed to feeding the future safely and with integrity each day. 

Feeding a growing population is one of the world’s greatest opportunities and one of its greatest challenges. Our vision is to be the leading global integrated ag solutions provider. Nutrien’s sustainability strategy complements our corporate strategy by providing key enablers for organizational success and bringing our purpose to life.

We are proudly headquartered in Canada and are committed to sustainable agriculture locally and globally. With over 22,000 employees – and operations and investments in 14 countries – Nutrien’s crop inputs and services reach every major growing region of the world. We produce and distribute 25 million tonnes of potash, nitrogen and phosphate products worldwide. With this capability and our leading agriculture Retail network (over 2,000 locations), we are well positioned to supply the needs of our customers across the globe. We operate with a long-term view and are committed to working with our stakeholders as we address our economic, environmental and social priorities. 

Across our value chain, our efforts ripple through many of the goals, but we have focused on specific goals where we believe Nutrien is in a unique position to make meaningful impacts – specifically to advance SDG 2. Our mission to help growers maximize their crop production starts with sustainable agriculture, which contributes significantly to zero hunger. By sustainably increasing crop yields, we help produce more food for the growing population. 

We have integrated sustainability across the company with a cohesive strategy that focuses on the following areas: Sustainable agriculture (to lead the next wave of innovation and sustainability in agriculture); environmental footprint (to protect the planet and minimize our environmental impact through climate action and continuous improvement); diversity and inclusive growth (to increase belonging and decrease inequalities across our company, value chain and communities); and foundations (execute fundamental systems of operations with excellence including governance, stakeholder engagement, ethics, human rights, responsible supply chain and safety). 

Regarding SDG 2, our goal is to lead the next wave of sustainability and innovation in agriculture by developing products and services for our customers that increase crop yields, enhance their profitability and promote good environmental stewardship. The growing world population will continue to put more pressure on the natural resources on which we all rely. Our vision is to provide world-class solutions, digital tools and analytics, and innovative products for sustainable agricultural production.

There is a system’s challenge with the SDGs that we consciously address in our operations. We understand the need to reduce GHG emissions while increasing agricultural productivity. SDG Indicator 13.2.1 requires lower greenhouse gas emissions in a manner that does not threaten food production. Thus, there is also a systems opportunity to support growers in their commitment to sustainable agriculture by offering natural climate solutions and new farming practices that drive improvement in carbon sequestration by putting more organics in agricultural soil. As this example illustrates, each action we take to improve sustainable agriculture influences many of the other SDGs.

We know food is life, but sustainable food is our future. And the only way we’re going to feed everyone is to lead the agriculture industry in innovation, best practices and continuous improvement. 

Please describe the initiatives/programs that your company is taking to address the TARGETS of your primary SDGs

Our purpose and everyday operations meaningfully contribute to the advancement of Target 2.4. We work with growers to “ensure sustainable food production systems and implement resilient agricultural practices that increase productivity and production, that help maintain ecosystems, that strengthen capacity for adaptation to climate change, extreme weather, drought, flooding and other disasters and that progressively improve land and soil quality.”

How? Our approach to sustainable agriculture is based on three interconnected focus areas: Providing innovative offerings that result in improved yields and positive environmental outcomes; enabling data sharing and improvements across the value chain; and incentivizing sustainable practices and resource conservation at a large scale. Details on the first and second focus area are provided in the next section along with key impacts. 

The following are examples of key initiatives that contribute to SDG 2.4. First, nutrient stewardship. Nutrien has been a strong advocate of the 4R Nutrient Stewardship System (4Rs). Our company is a leader in promoting the adoption of practices through the 4R Nutrient Stewardship Certification for Retail facilities and the 4R Designation for crop advisors in North America, and the 4R Solution Project in Africa. 4R Nutrient Stewardship provides a framework to achieve cropping system goals, such as increased production, increased farmer profitability, enhanced environmental protection and improved sustainability. To achieve those goals, the 4R concept incorporates the: Right fertilizer source at the Right rate, at the Right time and in the Right place. Properly managed fertilizers support cropping systems that provide economic, social and environmental benefits. For example, 4R increases soil organic matter, reduces runoff and helps trap carbon. On the other hand, poorly managed nutrient applications can decrease profitability and increase nutrient losses, potentially degrading water and air. 4R nutrient stewardship requires the implementation of best management practices (BMPs) that optimize the efficiency of fertilizer use. The goal of fertilizer BMPs is to match nutrient supply with crop requirements and to minimize nutrient losses from fields. Selection of BMPs varies by location, and those chosen for a given farm are dependent on local soil and climatic conditions, crop, management conditions and other site specific factors. Other agronomic and conservation practices, such as no-till farming and the use of cover crops, play a valuable role in supporting 4R nutrient stewardship. As a result, fertilizer BMPs are most effective when applied with other agronomic and conservation practices. We have 20 Nutrien agronomists in Canada who are 4R Designated, 35 4R training sessions completed in Canada, 11 Nutrien Retail facilities in the Western Lake Erie Basin are 4R Certified, 400 agronomists in Australia are Fertcare accredited, and over 15,000 eKonomics users between July and December 2019. We also have over 3,400 agronomists and field experts working directly with over 500,000 growers to implement BMPs that meet the local needs.

A specific program that transpired from our 4R efforts is Nutrien’s collaboration in the 4R Solution Project. This project kicked off in April 2019 and it will improve agricultural productivity and sustainability for more than 80,000 smallholder farmers (50% women) in Ethiopia, Ghana, and Senegal. 4R Solution is a $17 million CAD project, including $15 million from the Government of Canada and $2 million from industry partners including Nutrien. The Co-operative Development Foundation of Canada (CDF Canada) and Fertilizer Canada work in partnership with locals to improve production, using climate smart, best management practices, increase value chain access and enhance representation of women in leadership positions. Smallholder farmers benefit directly from increased yields and access to markets while co-operatives increase their business, production and handling capacity, sustainably consolidating these gains. An increase in income through market support activities via cooperatives reduces hunger in smallholder farmers by increasing their ability to purchase food.

Nutrien stewardship is one component in the advancement of sustainable agriculture. Nutrien has a broad portfolio that improves the efficiency of crop production, improve net returns to the farmer and have a lighter environmental footprint. One such product is our innovative Environmentally Smart Nitrogen that releases urea more efficiently and effectively based upon soil temperature and moisture. We are also creating opportunities for growers by investing in a digital analytics platform and providing enhanced products and services which is described in detail in the next application question. Our crop advisors work directly at the farm level to optimize nutrients, build healthier soils, help sequester carbon, protect biodiversity and much more. 

We take a systems-based management approach to sustainable agriculture. Nutrien’s precision farming tools, combined with innovative seed, nutrient and crop protection technologies, all help farmers evaluate and improve their economic and environmental performance. 

We also believe that collaboration is at the heart of sustainable agriculture. The third pillar of our sustainable agriculture strategy involves collaboration to enable the uptake of best practices. This approach requires collaboration at all levels, including industry, suppliers, government, regulatory agencies and NGOs. By sharing our knowledge and being willing to learn from others, we can help in the advancement of agriculture. As a result of our shared-value partnerships and collaborative mindset we have an extensive network working with us to implement sustainable agricultural practices, policies and tools.

Please highlight the key impacts and results of the mentioned initiatives

Providing innovative offerings that result in improved yields and positive environmental outcomes is one of our sustainable agriculture focus areas. We have invested in over 1,850 proprietary products that include technology in micronutrients and crop protection. Nutrien’s biocatalyst products increase nutrient availability and uptake by crops, increasing nutrient use efficiency and improving overall plant performance. We invest in products that enhance soil health. Nutrien Ag Solutions also offers drought and disease resistant seed varieties, improving productivity and crop resilience. These advanced seed products allow growers to use less water, fertilizer and pest control products on their crops. We have 5 seed breeding programs in place. Nitrogen that is lost to water or the atmosphere can have negative impacts for the environment and is an economic loss for the farmer. Nitrogen management products can change the timing or form of nitrogen in the soil so it is there when the crop needs it and less available when the crop does not. Nutrien offers several products to address different specific needs for protecting nitrogen fertilizer. Stabilized, slow and controlled-release nitrogen fertilizers, such as Nitrain, N-Pact and Environmentally Smart Nitrogen (ESN), can all significantly reduce the risk of nitrogen loss to the air and water. 

The second pillar of our sustainable agriculture strategy aims to enhance the data and analytical capabilities for on-field sustainability decisions, tracking and downstream partner connectivity. We use forecast weather and agronomic information (crop physiology, soil characteristics, pest and disease impact) to provide growers with advice on which products to apply, based on current and predicted conditions. We provide agronomic insights and customer support that drives economic value and provides environmental benefits. These include Echelon®, our precision farming and data management platform, Agrible, our digital agronomic and sustainability tracking technology, and our new grower-facing integrated digital customer portal. Our digital tools engage growers in every performance insight of every field, 24 hours a day. In 2019, over 9,500 North American growers and 6,000 South American growers benefited. Crop advisors can access location, data science and agronomic information (soil test, tissue samples) to provide sustainable yield enhancing advice. There are more than 12 million acres registered in Echelon across Canada, the US and South America. In addition, Agrible provides field-level predictive analytics, but it is also fully aligned with Field to Market metrics, enabling farmers to quantify performance and pursue continuous improvement. It also connects growers with value chain partners such as food companies who want to benchmark growers to meet their own sustainability goals. It can aggregate and quantify sustainability attributes for the supply chain and support GHG offset protocols or other performance indicators. We have specifically worked with growers using our Agrible program to track 450,000 acres for sustainability metrics. We have 50 million bushels of grain sustainably sourced with the Agrible platform. 

Nutrien is piloting proof-of-concept input strategies that increase grower profitability while also improving environmental outcomes. The following pilot projects are underway: Pilot 1: Corn (Nebraska) cost neutral solution targeting 15% reduction in emissions by reducing fertilizer use while adding a biocatalyst to achieve a low GHG irrigated food-grade corn. Metrics will quantify GHG and water efficiency improvements. Pilot 2: Rice (Arkansas) cost neutral solution targeting a 10% reduction in emissions pairing the University of Arkansas N-STaR fertilizer recommendation system with foliar applications of late season plant nutrition. Pilot 3: Cotton (Texas) ROI positive solution targeting a 20% reduction in emissions through our Nutriscription program, which uses soil, water, and tissue samples to provide nutrition recommendations throughout the growing season. There are 5,000 acres in the pilot projects.

Field sample testing and scouting is also important. Nutrien has 15 labs in NA to test field samples (soil, plant tissue, and water samples) with results available within 48 hours. In Australia, digital integration with our labs improved waiting times for results from 2 weeks to 2 days. In 2019, we announced a digital collaboration with xarvio Digital Farming Solutions, part of BASF’s Agricultural Solutions division. xarvio identifies weeds, classifies and counts insects, recognizes diseases, analyzes leaf damage and crop emergence, and shows nitrogen uptake, just by uploading a photo. 

An excellent case study is found in South America. To improve crop nutrition and yield, we combine field GPS images with tissue sampling. The results from 2017 to 2019 are 6,000 customers using Echelon, 1.4 million acres mapped in Echelon, 9,300 soil samples, 29 crops, and 5-15% increase in yield. In 2019, we trained 900 growers during 47 training sessions on soil fertility, plant nutrition and plant physiology to promote best practices in nutrient and crop input management. There are 473 students enrolled in our online education program called Agrichem Nutrition Academy. The program includes 34 classes related to plant nutrition and crop management best practices.

Digital agronomy combines location, agronomic information (crop physiology, soil characteristics, pest/disease impact), environmental data (precipitation, temperature) and data science to support grower decisions. Our crop advisors use our digital tools combined with a grower’s yield goals and evaluation of their field’s capability to recommend supplementary crop input when and where needed. These crop management solutions impact growers directly by maximizing crop productivity, minimizing environmental losses and improving soil health

Please describe how your company is building awareness for the selected SDG

By being integrated in the agricultural value chain, Nutrien drives SDG 2. Our purpose driven culture commits employees to acting with integrity to fulfill our business model – providing sustainable agriculture solutions to feed the world. 

Internal communications include a variety of tools. We have a series of internal website articles and a page describing the SDGs, our commitment and key initiatives. In addition, we promote Global Hero which is an SDG awareness game; as well as Journey 2050 and Farmers 2050 youth education programs which include the SDGs.  We are also in the process of building a robust, interactive employee engagement and awareness campaign centered around the SDGs with an anticipated rollout in February 2021. The intent will be to stimulate grass-route SDG projects.

Furthermore, our corporate strategy and governance drives targeted SDGs with proof points from our business performance. In other words, our three sustainability priorities for the entire company reflect advancing the SDGs, and those priorities are communicated and integrated across the company. Each leader takes the priorities relevant to their area and works with Nutrien’s Chief Sustainability Officer, Vice President Sustainability, Director ESG and Manager Sustainability Initiatives to set baseline data, targets, and initiatives. From a corporate level, we can then roll up our performance into our sustainability and ESG reporting frameworks and communicate accordingly. 

Externally, we have publicly stated our commitment to the SDGs in our sustainability report and sustainability website. As well, we have been Globe and Mail editorial contributors and guest speakers on panels discussing the SDGs including but not limited to the Do Business Like a Canadian campaign hosted by CBSR in 2019. Another example of our efforts to build awareness around the SDGs is the sponsorship and development of Global Hero, Journey 2050 and Farmers 2050 which are all free, publicly available games.

Please outline the plans your organization has for being committed to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in response to COVID-19

At Nutrien, our purpose is to grow our world from the ground up. This means having the appropriate business continuity, employee safety, and communication processes in place to seamlessly deliver products and services to our grower customers during difficult times, including the current COVID-19 global crisis. 

Deemed an essential service in our core markets and key operating areas, Nutrien remains focused on helping farmers to bring food to tables globally and in the most efficient and safe manner possible. Supporting all key stakeholders in our value chain, such as employees, customers, suppliers and community partners is critical to achieving this goal. 

As an agriculture company committed to food security (SDG 2), at the forefront of Nutrien’s support, we allocated US$1 million to help fund local food solutions such as food banks. We are proud to have so many strong, capable partners who are collaborating more than ever in their commitment to get food to tables, even under the most difficult circumstances.

Our immediate support also extends to three other areas.

Virtual youth education in sustainable agriculture (SDG 4): Nutrien is well positioned to help parents, teachers, and students of all ages bridge the education gap caused by recent school closures. We are a proud community partner on a collection of virtual agriculture-education resources.  These programs are free and were developed in collaboration with teachers and industry experts to ensure they are factual, curriculum-based and interactive. Journey 2050, for example, offers everything in an easy to use, step-by-step guide so that students in grades 7-12 can explore the SDGs and world food sustainability from home. Teachers and parents can deliver the program online using lesson plans provided or assign the student-led experience option for flexible delivery. Virtual programs are essential these days and Nutrien has a variety of eLearning resources to offer. 

Employee engagement through donations and volunteering (SDG 17): Fueled by our purpose to grow our world from the ground up and driven by our desire to roll up our sleeves and lend a hand, the mobilization of Nutrien’s workforce has begun. We’ve expanded our volunteer program for 2020 so employees can take up to five paid days off to safely volunteer in their community. This could also mean virtual volunteering opportunities. Meanwhile, our internal Grow our Community program matches up to $5,000 for each employee’s personal donations to a non-profit charity. Every little bit helps at a time when so many great causes are in need of a helping hand.

In-kind donation of PPE to support healthcare workers (SDG 3): We continue to watch for opportunities to provide in-kind donations. Whether this is N95 masks, Tyvek suits, or the manufacturing of hand-sanitizer as some of our facilities have begun to do, the needs of the health system and our surrounding communities will continue to be closely monitored in case there is more we can do.

Internally, here’s what we’re doing: First and most importantly, we’re focused on the health and safety of our employees, their families and our communities. Safety is always one of our core values and to us, nothing is more important. We’re making every effort to minimize business interruption while keeping our employees safe. From implementing remote working for our employees who can, to limiting access to our manufacturing facilities and branch locations, we’re working hard to ensure continuity of our products and services for our customers globally. We’re empowering our supply chain and distribution teams to accelerate fertilizer, seed and other critical products into the market for customers. We’re focused on providing our customers with what they need, when they need it, using our leading online platform – including e-commerce and other digital capabilities – to facilitate efficient delivery of products, services and solutions. We’re also continuing to provide financial lending to growers: we understand that our scale and financial stability will be critical to helping farming businesses of all sizes weather this storm

Ensuring our operations maintain a high level of performance and our corporate functions continue to run smoothly from home are instrumental factors in delivering on our environmental commitments.  With successful performance at our fertilizer operations year-to-date, we have kept production and emissions at planned levels, while executing on other identified opportunities to reduce GHG emissions. Nutrien has maintained focus on improving its sustainability and climate strategy as a result of effective Corporate business continuity. Nutrien has maintained its typical quality level of service to growers this planting season while continuing to support more sustainable farming practices and products.

SDG 2 remains a priority and we will continue to mindfully advance it through our daily operations.  

Last, Nutrien’s Sustainability and Stakeholder Relations team recently recruited an expert employee panel to form an SDG Steering Committee. This Committee is dedicated to advancing the SDGs, integrating them further into the organization, recommending and implementing new initiatives to meaningfully advance the SDGs and further communicate the ongoing efforts.  The committee is currently exploring the SDG Theory of Impact framework which explores big picture modelling of a company inputs, activities, outputs, outcomes and impacts for a deeper understanding across an entire value chain the role the company plays from a global SDG context. Community Investment is involved in the Steering Committee and is considering new partnerships and long-term relationships to advance the goals. We collaborate with community partners who share our values and approach and those that help advance our focus areas: Sustainable Agriculture and Food Solutions, Environmental Stewardship and Diversity and Inclusion. Nutrien builds genuine connections and sustainable results with our communities. In 2019, we donated $17 million to communities and worked with over 2,300 partners.