Bayer E3: Traceability From Field to Finished Product

A new program launched by Bayer CropScience—a division of healthcare, agricultural and high-tech materials giant Bayer—lets retailers and consumers track the supply chain right to the farmer who grew the cotton.

Bayer E3 has been in development as a pilot program for the last three years, according to Brent Crossland, fiber-development manager for Bayer’s cotton and seed operations in the United States.

“We started out with a core group of farmers in southeast Missouri and also some farmers in south Texas,” Crossland said. “We worked with them through two seasons and delivered sustainable product to some customers, and it was fully traceable.”

The farmers are using Bayer’s Fibermax and Stoneville cotton seed. Fibermax produces a longer, finer fiber typically used in apparel made from a higher-count yarn fabric. Stoneville produces a strong fiber, which is used for coarser yarn-count fabrics such as denim.

Bayer is currently working with retailers and apparel and home-furnishing brands to roll out the E3 program, named to reflect the program’s mantra of “equitable, economical, environmental.” The program provides supply-chain certification and visibility for the retailers and brands and incentives for the farmers to monitor and maximize the sustainability of their fields.

For certification, Bayer is working with Wakefield Inspection Services, a 107-year-old company with offices in Liverpool, England; Dallas; and Jakarta, Indonesia.

“It’s a good program for the farmers,” Crossland said. “It encourages them to work toward continuous improvement in the sustainable area. It gives the brand a comfort that they have a product that is [certified] through third-party verification, and they get a relationship at the farmgate and they learn what the farmers are doing and vice versa.”

The program starts with a voluntary enrollment at the farm level, followed by a self-assessment using the Fieldprint Calculator, a sustainability test developed by Field to Market: The Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture. Bayer is a member of Field to Market, an alliance organization founded to “create opportunities across the agricultural supply chain for continuous improvements in productivity, environmental quality and human well-being.” The group has about 50 members, including retailers, food companies, agribusinesses and conservation organizations.

“Certainly, there’s other sustainable programs out there globally,” Crossland said. “We think our program is unique in the fact that it’s third-party verified and the farmers are subject to audit. But most importantly is this Fieldprint Calculator. We’re using that to understand where the farmers are compared to their neighbors.”

Farmers supply information about water and pesticide usage, soil management, energy conservation, and health and safety compliance. This data is gathered at the end of the production year and used to generate a comparison analysis against neighboring farms to show areas for improvement.

For example, a dryland farmer can see how different types of cultivation practices affect water usage. An irrigation farmer can see the impact of surface irrigation, high-pressure irrigation systems, low-pressure irrigation systems, precision irrigation and what Crossland calls the “gold-seal” method: an underground precision drip system “which takes them to high-90s efficiency,” he said.

“The problem is, like anything else, it costs a lot of money to convert an acre to drip versus the overhead irrigation systems,” Crossland said. “But we feel like this is an opportunity through this program for [farmers] to get some incentives to increase the adoption of drip irrigation.”

In addition to the cost savings gained from measuring efficiency, the E3 program also provides a financial incentive, Crossland explained.

“The retailer that participates in the program—what they’re really wanting is the certification, to know that their cotton was grown sustainably,” he said.

Retailers and brands pay a certification fee to Bayer, which takes out some administrative costs before passing on the balance to the farmer.

“[Retailers and brands] get the product that they’re looking for, the farmer gets to learn more about where he needs to make improvements, and he gets some monetary incentive to make those improvements,” Crossland said. “It’s a great story for a brand to be able to say they’re actually making a difference and getting to the farmgate, saving water, saving energy and helping the farmer along the way.”

Once retailers sign on to the program, they can pass this information on to the end consumer, as well.

“Under E3, the consumer will be able to know exactly where the cotton was grown,” Crossland said. “I think that seems to be something consumers are interested in. They want to know where the product comes from. I think it’s beneficial for everybody in the channel.”

Bayer has already been letting retailers, brands and consumers take a closer look at the supply chain through its certified Fibermax seed program, which lets companies and consumers track the supply chain from finished garment to initial cotton field.

“The way the supply chain is structured, it’s very rare that a cotton farmer gets very close to the retailer,” Crossland said. “Usually, the closest they get is working with the cotton merchant. So this is a little bit unique, we think.”