US: Cargill in water and cattle sustainability initiative

By Aerin Einstein-Curtis contact

- Last updated on GMT

© GettyImages/ prudkov
© GettyImages/ prudkov
Cargill is starting a three-year collaborative project with The Nature Conservancy and Nestle Purina to reduce the water used in feed crop production and improve the sustainability of cattle production in Nebraska.

The Minnesota-based agro-giant announced the new sustainability partnership at the end of May. The goal is to reduce energy use and producer labor, while saving 2.4bn gallons of irrigation water in three years.

Cargill is co-funding the project along with Nestle Purina, said Courtney Hall, technical sustainability manager with Cargill. Nestle Purina buys beef ingredients and also shares a commitment to water conservation efforts, she said.

Cargill, Nestle Purina and The Nature Conservancy are​ looking at this as a learning opportunity and to disseminate some of the findings,”​ she told FeedNavigator.

The company is planning to share information gathered with several organizations including the University of Nebraska and the Midwest Row Crop Collaborative, she said.

The project focuses on feed crop producers in Nebraska because producers there use irrigation, it has the second largest cattle population and Cargill has a large cattle facility in the state, she said. The majority of the acres are expected to be used for corn production, but feed crop type is not a factor of the program.

“Nebraska has the highest amount of irrigated acres in the US and they’re highly productive,” ​said Hall. “We need to continue to partner to build resilience into that supply chain.”

The upcoming project builds off work done in western Nebraska during a previous sustainability project organized by The Nature Conservancy.

In addition to helping finance the project, Cargill has already established relationships with feed crop producers in the state, which could play a part in making contact with producers to take part in the sustainability effort, she said.

There is a selection process to take part in the voluntary program to make a fair distribution of participants and The Nature Conservancy is doing much of the on-the-ground outreach work, said Hall. “We’re targeting 50 farmers over three years and 75,000 acres – we’re targeting 30 for the first year and then 10 additional farmers for years two and three."

Sustainability project details  

The project is set to provide a set group of farmers technology and training to monitor and adjust the use of water on irrigated fields, said Hall. “From our talks with farmers we've learned this type of technology is something they’ve been trying to solve for on their own,” ​she added.

Participants in the project will work with irrigation technology to improve the irrigation process and reduce the use of water, Cargill said.

Arable labs platform technology includes smart weather sensors and using the Internet of Things (IoT) technology for sprinklers that can be controlled from a smartphone.

The initial group of 30 participants is in the process of being established, with technology installation and training expected to follow this year, said Hall.

The upcoming sustainability project is focusing on water use, although Cargill and Nestle Purina have other projects following related topics like soil health and cropping practices, she said.

“If you do a lifecycle analysis on how much is water is used in the beef supply chain ​ to grow the crops in the feed, how much the animal drinks and how much is used in the [processing] plant – 96% is used to grow the feed [both] pasture and crops,” ​she said. “If you think about where to focus conservation efforts, it makes sense to focus on where most of the water is being used​.”

The cost of the technology, training and installation will be subsidized, she said. When the project is completed, feed crop producers will have the option to pay a subscription fee for continued use of the Arable Technology services involved.

There is a plan to publish yearly reports on the project to provide detail on what is being learned, and tracking toward “key metrics,” ​she added.

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