Wyatt Ball, client success manager at Land to Market, is just as comfortable speaking to leading brands in a conference room as he is at home farming on his ranch.
But wherever you find him, Ball is on a mission to transform approaches to regenerative agriculture.
Here he talks about the art of building bridges within supply chains, the big question hanging over the regenerative agriculture industry and why he wishes certification schemes didn’t need to exist.
Shannon Houde: Tell us about your organization and what you do on a day-to-day basis.
Wyatt Ball: Land to Market is a public benefit corporation in Colorado, and we’re almost a regenerative supply chain company. We focus on using membership agreements to bring together private companies involved in building supply chains — be they from food, fashion, supply chain partners, etc. — with farmers who are showing positive improvements to land health.
What that essentially means is that we are a verification company. We use what's called ecological outcome verification, which is a monitoring tool developed by the Savanna Institute. (We’re part-owned by and work closely with them.) We use that scientific protocol to monitor land bases around the world. And if we see positive trends on the land, we verify that land base and connect the raw materials coming off of it to market partners. That way we can start to get regenerative products and have that market differentiation.
What I do within that ecosystem is communicate between farmers and brands the different complexities that occur in that supply chain building process. I help translate and build bridges between what the brand desires and the realities of the land from where farmers and ranchers sit.
We work both with small startups who might want to create a cool cast iron skillet holder from a regenerative leather product, and companies like Uggs, which released the Classic Mini Regenerate boot to display to the consumer that they're sourcing from these regenerative farms. They’re conscious and understanding that the regenerative movement is truly gaining ground.
Houde: Many certification schemes have been exposed as subpar over the years. How do you ensure Land to Market stays as authentic and transparent as possible?
Ball: In an ideal world, I wish that certifications didn't exist. Because then we could just have transparent supply chains where people were sourcing whole products or whole materials from ranchers directly and we wouldn’t have 90,000 middlemen in between. But we do, and there's a global economy around them.
Our key supply chain partners are slaughterhouses and tanneries. And usually, everybody in front of them only sees to that point, and everybody behind them only sees to that point. We have to see the whole thing, because where we start is land. And we have to be able to trace that animal, or that raw material, from the land all the way to the final product. Otherwise, our certification would mean nothing. And not only do we have to be able to trace it, but there has to be land recovery or regeneration because of that animal’s integration on the land.
So, we have a whole supply chain team, an affidavit process and a chain of custody process. We have relationships with the supply chain partners, and we go and verify whether they can actually segregate. The first word you see on our website is integrity, and we have to ensure it. We have to be able to see from farm to final product, and that gets very complicated in places.
Houde: Within this bigger space of regenerative agriculture, what major trends do you see?
Ball: I would say the big one, and maybe the most obvious one, is the carbon market. With the ESG push around the world, and different viewpoints on what ESG actually means and how carbon plays a role, I would say that market is the loudest speaker right now. We're seeing regenerative agriculture looking at: How do we get carbon credits? How do we get land? How do we see whether carbon is being sequestered over X years due to X practices?
The difficulty about carbon is that it's never uniform anywhere in the world. If you're managing land in a dry Western U.S. climate versus a high-rainfall region in England, with different soil types, it's a very different carbon sequestration method. How accurate can that testing be? How expensive is that testing? And how applicable is it to ranchers improving or changing their land practices? So that is probably one of the biggest trends, along with the ESG regulatory push. Brands want to have carbon goals and carbon sequestration targets within their portfolios. They want to see that from their sourcing chains; they want to go to the very origin of that raw material production. And then it's like, well, how do we do that? That’s a big question in the industry right now.
Houde: What do you love about your job?
Ball: When I finished my master’s degree in sustainability management, I went and farmed. My dream at that time was to find a career opportunity that wasn’t specifically focused on trading commodities, or on mitigating the damage agriculture can create, but that focused instead on agriculture as this positive changemaker. And so, the first thing I love about my job is that I'm working for an organization where my daily life is built around furthering regenerative agriculture. And I'm able to do that as a living. That’s pretty incredible. To think that maybe at some point folks will be leaving their internships and business degrees and instead of just going to Silicon Valley, there’ll be new opportunities in the world that might have not been there 20 or 30 years ago.
On the job itself, I love talking with farmers and being out on the land. My job requires me to get on Zoom and talk to brands, and it’s an amazing opportunity to challenge myself and learn daily how to build bridges between how farmers speak and how brands operate. It’s such a crucial part of this whole movement. My dream really is to be a bridge builder between these two sides. On a typical day, I could talk to a company that works with 13,000 farmers, then with a small leather company or with someone from Timberland talking about a global project. And then I'm ending my day going out and speaking with a farmer on the land. It’s pretty amazing to be able to do that and operate in these different spheres.
Houde: How can someone who has a full-time job, but wants to develop sustainability credentials on the side, get into this field?
Ball: In the agriculture world, just get on farms as much as you can. You don't have to be an expert. The idea of a regenerative supply chain is an idea that hasn’t existed before. Go speak to farmers. It depends on where you want to enter the space too. You can be in project funding and banks; you can be an investment fund; you could be in a supply chain company; you could be a brand doing CSR reporting for regenerative products … But if you want to be closer to the land, just get closer to the land.