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New Sustainability Initiatives
By Chris Clayton
Wednesday, September 23, 2020 1:25PM CDT

OMAHA (DTN) -- A couple of separate but high-profile announcements on sustainability initiatives in agriculture are rolling out this week, focusing on ranches in the Plains states and cotton producers in the South.

A collaboration between companies and foundations is leading to more than $6 million for a new program called the Ranch Systems and Viability Planning (RSVP) network that will primarily involve ranches in Montana, Nebraska and South Dakota. The new project is led by the World Wildlife Fund, along with the Walmart Foundation, Cargill and McDonald's.

The network will help ranchers with technical assistance, training and tools to help with grazing practices. One of the goals of the project over the next five years is to help avoid land conversion on grazing lands to cropland in that northern Great Plains region, the groups stated.

Under the network, the World Wildlife Fund will work with ranchers on private and tribal lands by providing Extension services and workshops for ranchers and landowners. The project will also provide cost-share for ranchers to implement conservation plans.

For both Cargill and McDonald's, the project helps address some of the goals on environmental footprint and climate action. McDonald's sees the project ideally leading to more scaled-up adoption of agricultural practices that reduce emissions, said Francesca DeBiase, McDonald's executive vice president and chief supply chain and sustainability officer.

"This innovative work is an important step toward scaling climate solutions across the supply chain, building resiliency and achieving McDonald's science-based climate target to significantly reduce emissions across our offices, restaurants and supply chain by 2030," DeBiase said.

Cargill has its BeefUp Sustainability Initiative, which is focused on reducing greenhouse-gas emissions in the company's beef business by 30% by 2030. Cargill also already has participated in another project to restore grassland, as well as a program for developing soil-health practices in cattle feed, the company stated.

"We believe beef cattle can be a force for good, and one of the ways we can address some of our shared challenges by preserving wildlife and drawing down carbon," said Heather Tansey, sustainability lead for Cargill's protein and animal nutrition and health businesses. "This initiative is a testament to that. I'm inspired by the efforts of ranchers who live this belief each day, and grateful for our partners who join us, lending scale, resources and experience to advance realistic solutions that address climate change."

Cargill just last week also announced the company wants to expand "regenerative agriculture practices" on 10 million acres across North America over the next decade. The company's plan will focus on the major row crops: corn, wheat, canola, soybeans and other staple crops. Cargill stated it will work with a variety of stakeholders regarding technical and agronomic resources for farmers. Cargill will also work with farmers to find "new market-based solutions to incentivize outcomes that reduce greenhouse-gas emissions and improve and protect water quality, like the Soil and Water Outcomes Fund, of which Cargill is a founding member."

The project is also tied to reducing emissions throughout Cargill's supply chain by 30% per ton of product by 2030.

COTTON PROTOCOL

A second program comes from the cotton industry, which has created the U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol, a standard for verifying sustainability progress for U.S. cotton growers and businesses. Growers who join the protocol agree to document and track their soil carbon health while working to reduce soil erosion, overall land use, energy consumption and greenhouse-gas emissions. The Cotton Trust Protocol has a goal of having 50% of all U.S. cotton production participating in the protocol by 2025. That would equal roughly 4.5 million to 5 million acres annually, or about 9 million bales of cotton.

Gary Adams, president of the U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol, said cotton industry leaders and consumers are demanding more transparency on products, and the European Union is threatening brands and retailers with regulations on sustainability reporting and responsible sourcing of raw materials. These factors prompted the industry for a new protocol.

"By joining the Trust Protocol, our growers will now be able to better document their current sustainability programs using a quantifiable, digital platform, and that data is assessed and verified by a third-party audit -- something no other cotton-producing nation does today," Adams said. He added, "Brands and retailers can now purchase U.S. cotton with even greater confidence, knowing that it is grown more sustainably and verified by a third-party audit."

The cotton protocol will use a data collection platform created by Field to Market, which is an alliance of companies and agricultural industry groups that works on sustainability metrics on farms and in the food supply chain.

ESG DEMANDS INCREASING

Ray Young, executive VP and chief financial officer for ADM, and Amy Senter, lead for global sustainability at Kellogg's, were both speakers Monday on a "Climate Week" webinar hosted by CDP, formerly known as the Carbon Disclosure Project. Young and Senter each said there are more questions coming from investors and consumers on agricultural sustainability and demand for various "ESG -- environmental, social and governance" metrics.

Young was asked what kind of information ADM is seeking from farmers to help partner in achieving these ESG goals. Young said it is a work in progress right now, and ADM has some pilot projects with farmers collecting data around water usage and greenhouse emissions on their farms. Young expects a lot more of these projects and demands to grow for data on environmental footprint.

"I think from an ADM perspective, there's going to be a lot more work done in terms of partnering both downstream and upstream," Young said. "So downstream with the growers and upstream with our customers who are collecting the data and tracking it and measuring it to be consistent with the targets that we're going to be stepping into and that we've established.

"So, for many companies, this is really the next focus area is to hold that data collection aspect of getting the information that allows us to go out and drive towards these targets that we're establishing. So, we've done pilots. It's working. I think we can all learn from these pilots and keep on evolving and rolling out these programs with more and more growers."

Young added he expects there will be more technology breakthroughs and new products to both track and reduce environmental footprints throughout the supply chain. "Frankly, I don't think there's any choice but to achieve these objectives over the next five years," Young said.

The U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol has webinars later this month to highlight the program for growers. For information on how to enroll, visit https://trustuscotton.org/….

Chris Clayton can be reached at Chris.Clayton@dtn.com

Follow him on Twitter @ChrisClaytonDTN


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