Nature Conservancy, Nestlé Purina, Cargill team up to improve beef supply chain

Nebraska selected for water sustainability project.

May 24, 2018

3 Min Read
Nature Conservancy, Nestlé Purina, Cargill team up to improve beef supply chain
steve everts/iStock/Thinkstock

The Nature Conservancy, in collaboration with Nestlé Purina and Cargill, is launching a three-year water project to improve the sustainability of the beef supply chain. The project is expected to reduce the environmental impact of row crop irrigation in Nebraska and provide a scalable irrigation solution for farmers across the U.S.

More than 50% of water used in U.S. beef production is dedicated to irrigating the row crops that become feed for cattle. By putting first-of-its-kind, cost-effective irrigation technology in the hands of farmers, the amount of water needed for row crop irrigation will be greatly reduced, as will the environmental impact of the beef supply chain. The Nebraska project enables farmers to make more informed irrigation decisions by installing smart weather sensors in crop fields and using internet of things (IoT) technology on sprinklers connected to a smartphone app.

“By using smart weather sensor technology in row crop irrigation, this program could help save 2.4 billion gal. of irrigation water over three years, which is equivalent to roughly 7,200 households over that time period,” said Hannah Birge, water and agriculture program manager at The Nature Conservancy. “The reduction of pumping also means less energy used and less labor expense for farmers.”

Nebraska project

Nebraska was selected for the project, because it has the largest share of irrigated acres in the U.S. and the second-largest cattle population. The Ogallala Aquifer, which spans the majority of the state, provides water to nearly one-fifth of wheat, corn, cotton and cattle produced in the U.S. and is the main water supply for people throughout the High Plains region. Grower and conservation efforts help maintain the wetlands and sandbar islands of the Platte River, which provides habitat and clean water for people and wildlife.

“Nestlé Purina believes in adding value to agricultural lands that represent our supply chain,” said Diane Herndon, senior sustainability manager, Nestlé Purina. “Ranchers and farmers are doing important work to make sure that they are protecting our natural resources for future generations. We all need to continue to adapt to a changing marketplace and a changing climate, and this project helps to improve water use efficiency in irrigated row crops used as cattle feed.”

The project uses Field to Market’s FieldPrint Platform to track progress and was initiated through the efforts of the Midwest Row Crop Collaborative, a group of leading companies and conservation organizations focused on advancing and accelerating farmer-led programs in water conservation, water quality and soil health in key agricultural states. By engaging the Midwest Row Crop Collaborative, best practices from the Nebraska project can be extended to farmers in other regions.

“Farmers are continually innovating to bring food to the table more sustainably,” Courtney Hall, Cargill technical sustainability manager, said. “By working with them and alongside The Nature Conservancy and Nestlé Purina, we’re scaling these solutions around water conservation to ensure an even more sustainable future for beef.”

“This project builds upon the success of a 2014 pilot in western Nebraska, where we studied irrigation patterns and examined the impact on watersheds,” said Roric Paulman, farmer advisor of the Western Nebraska Irrigation Project. “Through collaborations like these, we will leave a legacy of water quantity and quality for generations.”

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