The Obama administration on Wednesday spotlighted efforts by companies involved in the group Field to Market to promote more sustainable farming practices.
Field to Market is a consortium of more than 70 companies, groups and universities focused on establishing a cohesive metric for measuring the environmental footprint of major commodity crops. Field to Market just Wednesday announced a partnership with the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy to align baseline metrics for defining the sustainability of feedstuffs for dairy producers, as well as marrying up calculator tools meant to help farmers and dairy producers gauge their environmental footprint.
The White House issued a fact sheet on the roundtable that included Field to Market staff and representatives from 16 companies and groups that are leading members of Field to Market, ranging from retailers such as Walmart to food companies such as Coca-Cola and Pepsi to groups such as the National Corn Growers Association and Environmental Defense Fund.
Reflecting the different way words about climate change are perceived among farmers and in rural America, the White House stated the roundtable highlighted a committed effort to “combating climate change to protect future generations.” National Corn Growers Association emphasized the event was focused on “sustainability and soil health.” Field to Market described it as a “roundtable on solutions for sustainable agriculture.”
Rod Snyder, president of Field to Market, said the group’s membership meeting is in Washington this week. Staff from the White House Council on Environmental Quality extended an invitation to Field to Market leaders to share some insight on supply chain sustainability programs.
“It was really, truly almost a listening session on behalf of the White House to learn about how the private sector is participating in advancing sustainability in agriculture,” Snyder told DTN.
Snyder said it’s clear how USDA invests in many of the same outcomes through conservation programs. “But it was exciting to get around the table and show it’s not just public-sector investments that are making a difference, but there are private-sector activities through the supply chain and other voluntary efforts through grower groups.”
Companies and various groups on Wednesday highlighted specific efforts they are making to improve the environmental footprint of agriculture by reducing greenhouse emissions. Fertilizer reduction or “optimization” is a target for a number of initiatives regarding farm practices not just because of nitrogen and phosphorus runoff from fields but also because nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas, is considered 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Lowering emissions from fertilizer in crop production goes a long way in lowering emissions throughout the food-supply chain.
For instance, Walmart is working with suppliers and cooperatives to reduce 11 million metric tons of greenhouse-gas emissions on 23 million acres by 2020. One of the main drivers there is to reduce nitrous oxide emissions from fertilizer for corn production. Another effort is to work with packers, feedyards and ranchers to source 15% of the company’s beef supply from suppliers using specific environmental standards to raise their cattle.
NCGA stated it is committed to being involved in both Field to Market and administering the Soil Health Partnership. The goal of the Soil Health Partnership is to create at least 100 demonstration farms with producers to examine various practices that improve soil health, as well as productivity and profitability on the farm. So far, the group has about 40 farms participating across the country.
Environmental Defense Fund is working with farm-supply companies to improve fertilizer and soil-health practices on crop acres as well. The goal is to reduce nutrient loading in the Mississippi River watershed and Gulf of Mexico by 45%. EDF is working with United Suppliers to develop a nutrient management program for farmers. That effort has led to collaboration with Campbell’s Soup Co. to focus on fertilizer issues in sourcing its commodities.
Unilever pledged to source its soy needs, about 1 million acres of production, in the U.S. by using a sustainability standard by 2017. All raw commodities Unilever buys will have to meet that standard by 2020. Unilever will work with Field to Market to collect data on farming practices “and then co-solve with them to implement changes in farming practices that promote reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.”
Earlier this year, Field to Market hosted a panel discussion with staff from Unilever and Cargill Inc. at Commodity Classic in Phoenix. Both companies emphasized that farmers will face growing demands in the coming years to provide details about inputs and production practices used on their crops. Their customers, particularly younger customers, are demanding more details about how products are made.
As Stefani Millie Grant, manager of state government relations and external affairs for Unilever, explained at Commodity Classic, “One of the reasons we are doing this is consumers. They are increasingly watching where their food comes from. My brands are basically wanting to know where the supply ships are from, who are the farmers, where does this all come from. And the other part that they are really interested in is the ability to show through the brand how the farmers are being environmental stewards of the land and are continuing to protect the land for future generations.”
Field to Market noted the group will continue to harmonize various metrics used to define sustainability of commodity crops and work throughout the supply chain on those issues.
Coca-Cola Co. and PepsiCo also detailed their own efforts to reduce fertilizer use, water use and greenhouse-gas emissions on crop acres used to supply commodities for their different food and drink products. Both companies will be engaging farmers regarding farming practices for crops such as corn, potatoes, oats and oranges.