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Why Food, Ag Giants Say Healthy Soil Improves the Bottom Line

Midwest Row Crop CollaborativeWalmart, Kellogg Company, Cargill and other major food and agriculture companies have launched a partnership that aims to help farmers improve their bottom line while conserving natural resources through sustainable agriculture practices.

The Midwest Row Crop Collaborative will initially focus on soil and water quality initiatives, according to founding members, which include Cargill, Environmental Defense Fund, General Mills, Kellogg, Monsanto, PepsiCo, The Nature Conservancy, Walmart and World Wildlife Fund.

Its three pilot states are Illinois, Iowa and Nebraska. These three states collectively represent nearly 44 percent of corn, soy, and wheat production in the US.

The group’s resource conservation initiatives include optimizing soil health practices outcomes, reducing nutrient losses — chiefly nitrogen and phosphorus — into the rivers and streams of the Mississippi River Basin, maximizing water conservation to reduce pressure on the Ogallala Aquifer, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The Keystone Policy Center will facilitate the Collaborative’s work.

“The Collaborative is a mix of companies and organizations representing different spots along the supply chain all the way back to the farmers so we have this input from all different perspectives,” Cargill’s Jill Kolling, senior director, sustainability, said in an interview.

The founding members have also committed to raising $4 million over four years to accelerate the Soil Health Partnership, a farmer-led initiative of the National Corn Growers Association. With 65 farm sites already a part of the effort, the Soil Health Partnership’s goal is to enroll 100 farms for field-scale testing and measuring management practices that improve soil health. Growing cover crops, implementing conservation tillage like no-till or strip-till, and using adaptive, innovative, and science-based nutrient management techniques are some examples.

The Soil Health Partnership’s research is quantifying the economic benefits of these practices, building a business case for healthy soil and resource conservation.

“Not all of these practices will make sense in all places and not all practices are cost-neutral,” Kolling said. “One of the strategies it to take this data being gathered and combine it with science knowledge from NGOs, crop knowledge, and build business cases that are regionally specific, understanding the environmental benefits as well as the economic benefits.”

Another key focus area for the Collaborative is the Sustainable Agriculture Resource Center: a resource for farmers that lays out the business opportunities to help meet supply chain demand for sustainability, which is a selling point for ag retailers, independent crop consultants, and farmers.

The Collaborative’s efforts will also help the individual food and ag giants reach their own environmental sustainability goals, which often include supply chain emissions reductions and conservation targets.

“Each of us has our own targets and our own supply chain initiatives,” Kellogg sustainability director Amy Braun said in an interview. Kellogg, for example, has set science-based emissions targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions across its operations 65 percent and help its suppliers reduce their emissions 50 percent by 2050 against a 2015 baseline. “We are looking for those win-wins for farmers — how they are engaging on their own farm and making the best decisions as well as how can we support them and use our voices to advocate for them, whether that be in the policy domain or with our consumers.”

As the name implies, another key aspect of the group is working collaboratively — with farmer organizations, other companies, environmental groups, and state and local watershed partnerships — to achieve its goals. As Braun said: “It’s about not recreating the wheel.”

The Collaborative launch comes as food and ag companies are increasingly looking to reduce supply chain risks such as those posed by climate change. Kellogg chief sustainability officer Diane Holdorf along with other food and beverage industry execs recently took this message to Capitol Hill.

At a congressional briefing, executives from Ben & Jerry’s, Clif Bar, Kellogg, Mars Incorporated, PepsiCo, Stonyfield and Unilever discussed how climate change is disrupting global food supplies and their own supply chains.


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One thought on “Why Food, Ag Giants Say Healthy Soil Improves the Bottom Line

  1. All those large food processors consume a lot of natural gas. There are technologies that can help them to increase their natural gas energy efficiency to well over 90%, reducing global warming and CO2 emissions and even to conserve water.
    The exhaust can be transformed into organic fertilizer that these farmers can use on their fields to improve their soil condition.

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