Commentary: Farmers need to stand up to Wal-Mart

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Wal-Mart is trying to be the gorilla in agriculture, throwing its weight around by demanding that farmers grow every crop on their farm according to Wal-Mart’s vision of sustainability and soil nutrient practices.

A news release from the giant retailer began by demanding that every farmer needs to achieve “Fertilizer Optimization.”

According to Wal-Mart, “Fertilizer optimization is a top sustainability priority for our food business. Rising to the challenge of feeding 9 billion people requires the entire value chain to produce more while minimizing the impact of their actions.

“Fertilizer optimization can be achieved by increasing nutrient use efficiency while also achieving productivity goals.”

Wal-Mart is demanding that suppliers to the corporation forward the demand on how farmers grow crops down to the local level, individual farmers. In my interpretation, that means a lot more intrusion into the way that farmers fertilize their ground than even the U.S. government might demand. Farmers scream about government regulation; therefore, if they don’t stand up to Wal-Mart, then they have to be quiet when the government proposes new regulations on nutrient runoff, etc.

Wal-Mart announced, “Suppliers that depend on commodity grains like corn, wheat and soy in their products are putting fertilizer optimization plans in place with clear milestones for progress and performance measured by the Sustainability Index. We estimate these suppliers have the potential to reach more than 10 million acres of farmland by 2020 and that this initiative will help ensure a safe, affordable and sustainable supply chain by improving fertilizer use efficiency and soil health.”

It would appear, to enforce and assure “milestones” are met and “performance measured,” farmers are to be open for inspections and/or provide more information than they hand over to the U.S. government. Complaints and demands related to data privacy are rampant by farmers, but when a Wal-Mart supplier tells a grain farmer to prove he is meeting the Sustainability Index of Wal-Mart, I’m wondering if farmers will turn over data like a gun is being held to their head, when one doesn’t really exist.

Fertilizer use efficiency and fertilizer optimization are excellent goals, I just balk at corporations using heavy-handed methods without guaranteeing anything other than a pat on the back for farmers who lick their boots. 

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Chris Baggott    
Indiana  |  October, 08, 2013 at 11:26 AM

I'm not sure I understand the issue. Would this be no different than Apple or The Gap getting involved in the manufacturing practices and conditions of their suppliers? The customer gets to dictate the terms of the product they are buying. The supplier can decide if they want to comply with that customer or walk away. That's the free market isn't it?

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