CONSUMERS have a growing desire to purchase sustainable products, so food companies and others along the supply chain continue to step up their commitments and partnerships with farmers to provide exactly that.
Earlier this spring, Walmart joined forces with chief executive officers from more than a dozen global companies at its inaugural Sustainable Product Expo to sign new commitments to accelerate innovation in sustainable agriculture and recycling. Together, the suppliers represent more than $100 billion in sales at Walmart.
Doug McMillon, president and CEO of Wal-Mart Stores Inc., said the "commitments are about creating real systems change from one end of the supply chain to the other — meaning how products are grown and made, how they're transported and sold and how we touch the lives of people along the way."
The commitments range from Campbell Soup Co. reducing greenhouse gas emissions and water use by 20% per ton of food for its five key agricultural ingredients to Dairy Farmers of America encouraging more than 90% of its 9,000 member farms to participate in the Gold Standard Dairy program, which focuses on resource efficiency and optimization by 2020.
Kellogg Co. also committed to help smallholder rice growers advance their practices. In every country where Kellogg sources rice, the company commits to promoting and supporting initiatives with growers that will, by 2020, lead to a 25% increase in the adoption of climate-smart agricultural practices.
General Mills, PepsiCo, Cargill and Monsanto were among the other major corporations making announcements at the expo.
General Mills and Walmart are both members of the Field to Market alliance for sustainable agriculture and, as part of the expo, pledged to more than double the initiative's reach to 2.5 million acres by 2015.
"General Mills recognizes the importance of collaborating with others to address global challenges and pursue solutions to sustainability priorities," General Mills chairman and CEO Ken Powell said.
At the expo, Powell said the collaboration to accelerate innovation in sustainable agriculture "will improve the economic vitality of agricultural communities, increase productivity and protect the environment for future generations."
General Mills has been working for years to reduce its environmental impact and increase the sustainability of its products. Last year, the company announced that, by 2020, it would sustainably source 100% of its 10 priority ingredients (Infographic). These ingredients represent 50% of General Mills' total raw material purchases.
Since 99% of water use and nearly two-thirds of greenhouse gas emissions occur outside company operations, the focus on sustainable sourcing is helping General Mills tackle the areas in its supply chain that have the greatest environmental impact.
General Mills said its sustainability mission is to conserve and protect the natural resources and communities upon which its business depends.
"We track our environmental footprint, work to reduce our global impact and report progress," said Steve Peterson, General Mills director of sourcing and chairman of Field to Market. "We want to be proactive, not reactive, in how we source our ingredients. Our business relies on these natural resources, so we need to do everything we can to protect and conserve them."
General Mills has tailored an approach for each ingredient and geography, whether that's working with smallholder farmers in developing countries or commodity agriculture in developed economies.
Field to Market
Field to Market is a diverse alliance working to create opportunities across the agricultural supply chain for continuous improvements in productivity, environmental quality and human well-being.
Rod Snyder, Field to Market president, explained that the alliance has provided answers and solutions for participants all along the supply chain that want to improve sustainability.
"With the big challenges facing our environment and agricultural communities, it's essential that we collaborate, which is what Field to Market is all about," said Jerry Lynch, General Mills vice president and chief sustainability officer. "General Mills has worked closely with farmers since the early 1900s. This close connection to agriculture is a large part of our company's history and one we depend on."
Field to Market has never given specifics regarding how to reach an end goal and remains technology neutral. Rather, its Fieldprint Calculator — a tool developed for corn, cotton, rice, wheat, potato and soybean growers — helps growers benchmark their yields, water use, soil carbon, soil conservation, energy use, greenhouse gas emissions and irrigated water use.
Snyder said the goal for end users has always been finding a way to provide continuous improvement, not creating a single standard.
"There's a recognition that, across the entire country, there are different soil types and climates, which pose different challenges to farmers. Field to Market allows producers to benchmark their own performance and see how that changes over time," he said.
General Mills said it considers itself a leader in Field to Market.
"We hear from farmers that increasing sustainability also increases their profits. That's what we're seeing with Field to Market," Peterson said. "Farmers are embracing the opportunity to access data that can help guide everyday decisions related to irrigation, tillage, crop rotation and nutrient management as they consider impacts on water consumption, water quality, land use, soil loss, energy use and greenhouse gas emissions."
He added that General Mills' work and partnership with Field to Market has been very productive and rewarding.
"To date, farmers have found that the data arms them to make very factual, calculated decisions about their crops to, thereby, increase their yields and incomes," Peterson explained.
General Mills is currently summarizing the findings of its three-year wheat pilot project in Idaho, where it engaged 20 local growers to collect information in order to establish baseline data for 50,000 acres of wheat. General Mills conducted a similar partnership with Serecon in Canada and grower engagements in the Dakotas, the Red River Valley and Ohio.
Snyder said he expects to see an increase in the number of farmers and acres enrolled in these types of projects. Today, approximately 1 million acres are represented by the benchmarking, but the positive feedback from growers should foster a much larger scale of use with partners.
He also expects to see more interfacing with existing farm management tools so farmers will not have to re-enter data manually but instead can download the data, especially given the expanding options available to producers today, such as through technology in tractors that already gauges yields or through data providers.
"We know from experience that the sustainability conversation works best when productivity and profitability are paired along with reduced environmental impact," Synder said.
He added that he believes Field to Market is well-positioned to answer the more ambitious goals larger companies have announced in a way that the agricultural supply chain is comfortable with implementing.