Carving out a pathway for farmer prosperity and industry growth, together

Keynote address for National Farmers' Federation's 2022 National Conference in Canberra, by Ken Seitz, Interim President and CEO of Nutrien.

Feeding the planet is at the heart of agriculture’s purpose, and I find it to be an incredibly noble undertaking. It’s also of vital global importance, as we are all painfully reminded through the current geopolitical landscape.

As the world’s largest provider of crop inputs and services, we have the privilege of working shoulder-to-shoulder with farmers in seven countries – the US, Canada, Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Uruguay and, of course, Australia. 

At Nutrien, we are in a unique position where we have a strong footing in global agricultural innovation, research and science. We also have many boots on the ground, on farms, and in communities – understanding and safely supporting individual farmers.  

Those boots on the ground matter because while agriculture is global – farming is local.

How you farm doesn’t just differ depending on what hemisphere you happen to live in, but indeed each square meter in the same paddock can require different inputs and management practices to get the best results. As a strong, global business, we invest in the programs needed at a global scale, and then through our local agronomy network, we can tailor those solutions to fit the distinctive needs of each individual farm and paddock.

In 2021, Nutrien Ag Solutions conducted tens of thousands of soil tests across Australia. That’s a lot – but of course, it’s what you do with the results that count. This is where the expertise of our 400 Australian agronomists comes to the forefront – the better the data, the more able the farmer is to apply the right product at the right time. This is about maximizing yields and growing more with less, but it’s also about living up to the industry’s need to operate in a more sustainable way.

I’m going to come back to this shortly, but first, let me tell you a bit about Nutrien, in case it’s a name that’s new to you.

Just as farming is both global and local, so is Nutrien. As an integrated global enterprise, Nutrien has more than 23,000 employees that touch growing regions across both hemispheres. Globally, we are a wholesale company and an agriculture retailer. Nutrien produces and distributes approximately 27 million tonnes of potash, nitrogen and phosphate products across the globe. We are also the largest crop protection retailer in the world.

I want to pause here to talk about the topic that is top of mind for every farmer – both in Australia and across the world – and that is fertilizer.

Tight global supply and demand balances for all products, in part due to the current geopolitical landscape, have led many fertilizer prices to rise to record levels.

At the same time, grower economics has led to resilient fertilizer demand. Fertilizer is a commodity, and the price, whether up or down, results from broader forces in the global market – just as commodities like wheat and canola experience similar fluctuations.

While it is impossible for one company to offset the impacts of the supply disruptions that have taken place, at Nutrien, we are doing everything we can to meet our customers’ needs. We recently announced plans to further expand potash production this year, up to 15 million tonnes, which is 20% higher than 2020 production and nearly 1 million tonnes above our previous expectations for this year. We have also announced the second phase of nitrogen expansion projects, while also progressing decarbonization initiatives. 

Nutrien has many reasons to be optimistic about the future of Australian agriculture.

Our Australian business is a great demonstration of our local approach. We are very proud of the role we play in supporting the Australian economy and are committed to helping the industry grow and prosper.   

We directly employ around 4,000 Australians in 700 locations across Australia and are so proud of our people and footprint. We know how important it is to invest in the future of the agricultural workforce as a whole – the more people who want to make a life and career in agriculture is not just good for our business but for the whole industry. Our local grad program is oversubscribed every year, and we invest hundreds of hours annually in trainee programs for livestock, finance, real estate and water.

We have a long-term view of the success of agriculture in Australia, and we think it’s incumbent on organisations like ours to invest in the future leaders of the industry now. We are a strong supporter of the NFF’s Diversity in Agriculture Leadership Program and have rolled out our Women in Leadership Mentoring program because we crave the new ideas and the energy that new and diverse people will bring to the whole industry.

Our people are the most important asset, and through them, we are investing to help grow Australian agriculture. In total, we have invested over $2 billion Australian dollars into the country.

Digital is a big part of our future. We are making significant investments here in Australia, and our ambition is to enable farmers to manage their operations through account management, weather information, field data and more. We also provide flexible finance terms to meet each farmer's unique needs.  

In addition, as many of you know, we have just invested millions into expanding capacity at our UAN storage facility in Western Australia to help farmers make the most of every hectare, every season.

The same objective of helping farmers make the most of every hectare informed our investment into expanding our agriculture chemical manufacturing facility – also in Western Australia – quadrupling our volumes in less than two years. We also have a formulation facility in Victoria, and our investments have played a role in helping to stabilize the local supply chain for farmers, even at a time when global supply chains are severely disrupted.

These investments are substantial because we are betting big on Australian agriculture – and our scale means we can make the big bets with confidence. We have a long history in the market and understand the industry's fundamentals very clearly and what Australian agriculture is capable of.

Global capital has a role to play in helping to unlock the Australian agriculture sector to its full capacity, and we are excited to be part of that growth.

There is a great opportunity in fertilizer – we see it as one of the key pillars in sustainability and profitability.  We know that the world’s population is growing, and food production must continue to keep pace, which recent geopolitical events have underscored. However, the historical rate of expansion in global arable land and fertilizer application rates is likely, not sustainable – in other words, we must grow crop yields faster than we have in the past – without proportionally increasing fertilizer use.

Historical productivity gains in crops have been driven by input technologies, from synthetic fertilizers to the green revolution to biotechnology. Future productivity and sustainability gains will be through advanced analytics, digital agronomy, precision agriculture, biologicals and sustainable practices that enhance the efficiency of nutrients and boost productivity.

These trends could be accelerated by the current agriculture and fertilizer market conditions.

We can’t be passengers in setting the course for our industry, we all have a critical role to play in driving the industry forward. The challenges we face in the next few decades are all intrinsically linked – profitability, sustainability, and digital adoption.

Continuing to develop and embrace new ways to farm sustainably and profitably is the biggest opportunity we have over the next decade.

I know Australian agriculture understands this. With the red meat industry setting a target to be carbon neutral by 2030 and the grains sector supporting net-zero for agriculture by 2050, it’s clear that the industry is already moving.

And so is Nutrien. With our world’s population growing by over 80 million people each year, NOW is the time to act.

Nutrien’s Feeding the Future Plan sets out ambitious 2030 commitments focused on the environment and climate action to lead the agriculture industry, including a 30% reduction in greenhouse gas emission intensity by 2030 and a goal to enable 30 million sustainable hectares globally.

As part of our work to achieve those goals, we launched our industry-leading Carbon Program in North America in 2020, across more than 100 thousand hectares of North American farmland, providing a blueprint to scale up sustainable farming. We are now using those learnings to introduce a similar program in Australia, with a vision to drive an additional income stream for farmers and improve outcomes for the environment.

More and more, farmers across the globe are turning the challenge of climate change into an opportunity for productivity increases, diversified income streams and meaningful contributions to positive environmental outcomes. I think Australia has a huge opportunity here, and I’m excited to see what the next few years will bring.

As I mentioned earlier, a life and career in agriculture is an honourable endeavour – with the most important piece being our commitment to the people and communities in which we operate.

We’re proud to invest in our local communities by partnering with and supporting many grassroots organizations that are the lifeblood of country towns. Australia is more than a place to do business, it’s been our home, for more than 180 years.

Our commitment is to agriculture and Australian farmers. We are very mindful of that commitment, especially during a drought.

As many experienced some of the toughest seasonal conditions on record at the end of the last decade, we stood by our customers, and we remained steadfast in financing and supporting them when they needed us.

While drought is a heart-breaking experience, I firmly believe that these challenges drive change and innovation to build resilience for when tough times come again, as we in this business all know they inevitably will.

Just as the industry evolves, so does Nutrien.  We are a modern company, and innovation and a humble desire to support our grower customers is embedded into everything we do. 

Although we have a long way to go, one of the ways agri-business is progressing is by being more inclusive. Today, the majority of graduates coming out of Agriculture Science degree programs at Australian universities are women. These should be the next leaders of the Australian agriculture industry -- and yet, in our sector, only 19 percent of leadership roles are held by women. It’s not good enough and we are determined to do better. At Nutrien, we have set a global target of 35 percent women in senior roles.

Because if we want to attract a new generation, we need to understand and incorporate their expectations of what a modern, inclusive workplace looks like.

It's a pivotal time in our industry and there is a lot to do, with many exciting and challenging times ahead. We hope you’ll join us on our journey to transform the agriculture industry, and we look forward to what we can accomplish together.