By now, most ag retailers have heard something about the SUSTAIN program rolled out in 2014 by United Suppliers. If not, in a nutshell, the SUSTAIN program allows ag retailers to provide growers with practices and technologies that improve nutrient efficiency, protect soil health, save money, and maintain high yields. In other words, United Suppliers is providing their ag retailers with the talent, products, and tools necessary to offer their growers direct conservation assistance while maintaining profitability.
I am always amused when I talk to a business or association that works in the same ag space as United Suppliers. Inevitably, their questions and comments sound like this: “Tom, where did this SUSTAIN program come from? United Suppliers has no history working with conservation issues. Who do they think they are? Our company has had a history of conservation projects. We have been working in this arena for years. Why does United Suppliers get all the credit? What are they doing that we aren’t?”
Whoa! Hold on there, cowboys! It’s just like a typical scene from a classic western. To me, United Suppliers is a like the young, carefree cowboy that just rode into Dodge, looking for a new place. He really had no thought of making a name for himself. He didn’t come to Dodge wanting to change any rules or run anyone out of town. Heck, he didn’t even know what the rules were. Instead, he minded his own business and lived by rules that made sense to him – doing what he thought was right. And because he did what was right, he changed the rules. In the process, the cowboy made a name for himself that spread throughout the land. Yep, that sounds like United Suppliers.
When United Suppliers started the SUSTAIN program, they were not looking to implement a conservation project. They were looking for a corporate strategy. They were not looking to piece-meal a program together; they set out to develop a comprehensive plan. They were not looking to develop a public relations campaign; they focused on delivering services that helped their ag retailers serve the farmer. United Suppliers ignored the traditional methods and set up their own rules. And with that, they have changed the game without even being aware of doing so.
Unfortunately, too many ag retailers and ag businesses are like the rowdy cowboy that rides into town once a month and shoots up the place. After making their Saturday night splash (a conservation project), they drag back home on Sunday morning. Ag retailers and ag businesses need to move beyond small scale projects so they can help farmers. They need to offer lasting solutions like the young cowboy looking to do the right thing.
When developing Sustain, United Suppliers did not follow the old rules. Instead, they implemented this new strategy as a way of doing business. Hopefully, other ag retailers will adopt a similar strategy of sustainability that can grow and mature. It would be a game changer if 5 to 10 years from now all those young cowboys, with their new ideas, can be the Matt Dillon’s of Gunsmoke with mature, well thought out sustainability programs.