Cargill eyes feed production, grazing in beef sustainability push

By Aerin Einstein-Curtis

- Last updated on GMT

© GettyImages/Jacqueline Nix
© GettyImages/Jacqueline Nix

Related tags Greenhouse gas Cargill feed crop production

To improve the sustainability of beef production, Cargill is focusing on reducing greenhouse gas emissions across the supply chain in the next 10 years.

The Minnesota-based agribusiness giant announced Wednesday [July 24] that it would be working to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) from its beef production chain in North America by 30% by 2030.

The opt-in emissions reduction program, BeefUp Sustainability, is intended to focus on four areas within the beef production supply chain – grazing management, feed production, innovation and food waste reduction, the company said.

Emissions are set to be measured on a “per pound of product basis” ​starting from a baseline established in 2017.

Cargill has been committed to improving energy efficiency and reducing GHG emissions for more than 20 years, said Heather Tansey, sustainability lead for Cargill’s Protein and Animal Nutrition businesses.

“The development of this initiative for beef, which we have been working on for over a year, is part of Cargill’s continued commitment to building sustainable supply chains,” ​she told FeedNavigator.

Designing the program was a collaborative process; it was carried out with members of the supply chain, she added.

“We hope to work with a broad range of stakeholders including, farmers and ranchers, trade associations, NGOs, our customers and other partners,”​ she said of the intended participants in the project.  

Project overview and partnerships

The emissions reduction project is set to work with stakeholders involved in the beef supply chain for the next 10 years, the company said. The first step will be expanding Cargill’s partnership with The Nature Conservancy (TNC).

Currently, the two entities are working together on programs​ including the Central Nebraska Irrigation Project, the company added.

In the next three years, TNC and Cargill are set to work on grazing management planning and adaptive management to show farmers and ranchers the improved outcomes for several ecological parameters including soil, vegetation, carbon storage, water, wildlife habitat and water, the company said. Another early part of the program is the sponsorship of the Yield Lab Institute’s Manure Innovation Challenge.  

In addition to working with different members in the supply chain, the BeefUp project is intended to function across North America, said Tansey. Adding, “We are just beginning to identify partners who will help us develop the tailored programs – our partners will include farmers, ranchers, customers, NGOs and other innovators.”

Overall, the program will use previously established GHG accounting principles and Cargill will work industry initiatives to support advancing those principles, she said.

“Today, Cargill is involved in an industry effort to develop a commonly accepted Value Chain Intervention Accounting & Reporting Guidance protocol for GHG Interventions, being led by the Gold Standard,”​ she added.

Program milestones are set to be shared when they happen, she said.

The company also will “develop a wrap-up report on progress every two years as many of the programs we will be implementing under BeefUp Sustainability will take multiple years to demonstrate progress.”

“In terms of incentive, we respect producers’ right to manage their operations as they choose, but also see opportunities to work together to find solutions that support their sustainability and continuous improvement efforts to help their businesses thrive,” ​Tansey said of what support might be provided to supply chain members interested in taking part in the initiative. “We look forward to collaborating with interested producers to voluntarily enhance and extend innovations.”

The focus on feed and grazing  

“Under the feed production pillar, we are planning to work with row crop farmers to implement practices that reduce the carbon footprint of growing feed such as optimizing fertilizer use and using cover crops,” ​said Tansey. “We are looking at how animal feed, additives and farm management techniques can be used to reduce the total carbon footprint of the livestock and fish we feed.”

However, the metrics that will be used to evaluate and track projects focused on grazing management and feed production are still being established, she said. The intention is to align with ongoing efforts, like the work being done by the US and Canadian Roundtables for Sustainable Beef and Field to Market, when possible.

Additionally, she said, the “untold sustainability story in feed”​ is the improvements that are being made to feed efficiency. The company has already started working on developing ways to alter the enteric emissions generated by a cow’s digestive process.

“Last year, increased feed efficiency lowered farmers’ global feed use enough to prevent more than 1.6m tons of greenhouse gases,”​ she added.


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