Creating Social Impact with an Eye Towards Profitability

Written by Dora Lutz

One thing that has always been clear to those in agribusiness is how closely our communities and businesses are united. While other industries are beginning to realize that managing the ecosystem’s health is the right thing to do to sustain long-term business, farmers and food production organizations inherently understand this.

But as ESG pressures mount, new questions are emerging: how do we balance the needs of
multiple stakeholders? How do we build ESG within our existing strategies? How can we keep up with changing trends and technologies? What do we need to do to maintain our market position as customer, employee and investor expectations shift?

ESG related terms in company documents, US, Agribusiness Industry 2012- 2022. Source; AlphaSense

ESG related terms in company documents, Global Agribusiness Industry 2012- 2022. Source; AlphaSense

Regardless of the size of your organization or your familiarity with emerging ESG reporting needs, thinking about environmental, social and governance structures represent a way to ensure your business generates profitability and leverages a $27 trillion market.

Here are four things you can pay attention to, allowing you to ensure you are creating social
impact in a way that also generates profit:

  • Ground your WHY in social impact.
    • Use the sustainable development goals (often known as the SDGs). The SDGs, or sustainable development goals are a wonderful way to align your work to a broader conversation.
  • Dive deeper into HOW you’re creating social impact. Use ESG metrics to demonstrate your efforts in environmental impact, social benefits and ethical governance. Still, not all metrics are relevant for every industry, so SASB (Sustainability Accounting Standards Board) or GRI (Global Reporting Initiative) standards can be a helpful way to determine the tools most useful for your organization to balance your efforts and profit.
  • Identify partners that have shared interests. ESG standards and impact metrics are a useful way to find others trying to find solutions to mutual problems. Press releases, investor calls, annual reports, and ESG documentation are helpful tools, as are methods as simple as listening to the news.
  • Invite others into the conversation: Engage your people to identify the tools, resources and skillsets that already exist in your organization that create impact. Allow your teams to share their insights, expertise, and creativity to support a bigger ESG effort across the organization.

Above all, know that we’re all learning as we go. Don’t reinvent the wheel. Learn from others. While thinking about social impact or stakeholder management might feel new for many of us, it’s not. Join events such as the Purdue Food and Agribusiness Executive Summit to learn from others doing this work.


I’ll see you there!

Dora Lutz
Founder and President, Giving Spring
Lecturer, Business Planning for Social Entrepreneurs, Entrepreneurship & Innovation, Purdue University


Non-traditional Lenders in the Ag Credit Markets

Commercial banks and the Farm Credit System have been the dominant lenders to farmers for the past century, but new participants have entered the ag credit markets in recent years. This group includes ag input suppliers, and in more recent times, specialized collateral-based lenders that use land or other assets as the collateral for their farm loans. These “non-traditional lenders” have been consistently capturing market share in the agricultural credit markets since the 1980s financial crisis in agriculture. In 2019, they held almost 13% of the total farm sector debt (USDA) and accounted for 30% of the active loans based on data from the Kansas Farm Management Association. We know little about these non-traditional lenders because they do not face the same public reporting requirements as traditional lenders. The purpose of our study — Strategic Behavior of Non-traditional Lenders in the Agricultural Credit Markets — was to examine the credit products, operational performance and business models of these new players in the ag credit markets.

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Every four years, the Purdue University Center for Food and Agricultural Business conducts the Large Commercial Producer (LCP) survey, which collects data from approximately 2,000 farmers across the U.S. This survey has consistently shown that farmers behave differently when buying different inputs, meaning suppliers should be cognizant of these factors when designing their go-to-market strategies.

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As marketing managers know, creating an integrated and cohesive marketing strategy has many moving parts. They must continually examine where they are and where they need to be, while trying to efficiently and effectively allocate limited resources across multiple functions related to the marketing plan.

Betty Jones-Bliss, associate director for Purdue University’s Center for Food and Agricultural Business, recently asked Scott Downey and Justin Funk a few questions regarding elements important to a successful marketing strategy.