Reports from IPPE 2024

Enhancing sustainability in supply chains: Leveraging feed solutions for collective progress

By Jane Byrne

- Last updated on GMT

© GettyImages/Richard Drury
© GettyImages/Richard Drury

Related tags Sustainability IFEEDER Kent Nutrition Group

Speakers at a conference organized by the AFIA at IPPE 2024 provided insights into how sustainability within the feed industry fits into the broader food supply chain and provides solutions for its customers.

Lara Moody, executive director at the Institute for Feed Education and Research (IFEEDER), noted that as downstream stakeholders in the food supply chain pursue their long-term goals and targets, feed offers significant opportunities and solutions.

“The animal feed industry is continually innovating to add value to our animal production partners, and those innovations can also be solutions for our downstream customers and consumer-facing companies in reaching their sustainability goals.”

In the US, feed companies find themselves at various stages of their sustainability journeys, creating a diverse landscape, said Moody. Anticipated future pressure on feed manufacturers to measure and report sustainability metrics will emanate from customers, investment capital, and regulatory bodies.

The growing significance of Scope 3 emissions reporting, reflecting the impact of activities outside a company's direct control, underscores the operational implications of sustainability throughout the supply chain. Feed plays a substantial role in the environmental footprint of the US animal agriculture sector: in poultry, pork, beef, and dairy operations. Additionally, it contributes significantly to the Scope 3 emissions of companies in the food supply chain. 

Ration innovation is key 

Despite these challenges, Moody emphasized that innovation in feed and rations, ranging from probiotics in formulations to technologies enhancing soybean protein, can greatly assist downstream stakeholders like McDonald's or Unilever in achieving their sustainability targets.

While the feed industry excels in showcasing return on investment and performance benefits such as reduced mortality and improved immunity, quantifying these advantages in environmental terms remains a challenge. Moody identified this as an opportunity, and one which emphasizes the feed industry's connection to the food supply side.

Many stakeholders traditionally associate feed with corn and soy, leading them to focus on crop production for potential carbon footprint reduction through practices like carbon sequestration, reduced fertilizer use, or minimal tillage. However, the adoption of conservation agriculture practices takes time. Encouraging downstream companies to consider feed ingredients as part of the sustainability solution is crucial, according to the IFEEDER lead.

Measuring circularity-based initiatives 

She urged feed producers not only to enhance their ESG-linked internal efforts but also to explore how their products can help downstream customers achieve their set goals and targets. Despite already being highly productive from a circularity standpoint, with 40% of US feed formulation ingredients being co-products, industry needs to improve the measurement of circularity in formulations.

'A company's core values should guide its ESG program'

Mike Gauss, president at Kent Nutrition Group, provided examples of actionable strategies on how companies can utilize current values and business practices as a guide when developing sustainability metrics.

“When it comes to Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) factors, many people are going to tell you what you should care about. Sustainability is your journey, and you have to make it your own,” said Gauss. “For us, our ESG pillars are determined by our core values.”

It is crucial for KNG, he continued, to vigilantly monitor, measure, and enhance its practices in the rapidly evolving ESG landscape. The complexity and varied perspectives within this space make it susceptible to unintended consequences, underscoring the need for careful consideration, he stressed.

At the onset of its sustainability journey, the Muscatine, Iowa-based feed and food company conducted a comprehensive materiality assessment concerning ESG factors. The aim was to distill sustainability objectives into manageable goals that align with the diverse needs of the company's stakeholders.

Prioritizing emissions and energy management, KNG, a fourth-generation family-owned company with 2,900 employees and manufacturing sites across the US, extended its focus beyond environmental aspects to include social responsibility, with that encompassing employee health, safety, and well-being, as well as initiatives aimed at supporting local communities and fostering economic stability, said Gauss.

He emphasized the importance of acknowledging and quantifying existing impactful practices in the sustainability realm and he encouraged organizations embarking on a sustainability journey to recognize the potential positive impact of their current initiatives that may go unrecognized.

Emissions reduction

Addressing ESG targets is seen as a catalyst for enhancing overall company efficiency and profitability. He highlighted KNG's environmental achievements, including a 93% reduction in air emissions since 2014 and a 90% reduction in landfill materials since 2015. In its corn wet milling plants, effluent discharge into rivers and waterways has been reduced by 43%.

In addition, KNG is investing in renewable energy solutions, such as a three-acre solar installation at one of its sites and a more extensive solar field located five miles away, initiated by the local municipality. The company has also undertaken strategic measures in transportation, substantially decreasing truck shipments while increasing reliance on rail and barge freight, said Gauss.  

'SBTi must be optimized for agriculture sector application'

Matt Sutton-Vermeulen, partner at The Context Network, evaluating some of the initiatives that exist for companies to report on their emission reduction targets, programs that rely on evidence-based data and science, commented: “The SBTi is the best worst option out there currently.”

The Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi) is a collaboration between the CDP, the UN Global Compact, World Resources Institute (WRI) and the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF). It was established with the primary goal of urging the private sector to adopt net-zero emission targets, thereby contributing to the crucial objective of limiting global warming to 1.5°C.

Providing a structured framework, guidelines, and expectations, SBTi plays a pivotal role in guiding organizations towards commitments that send a clear signal in the marketplace, ensuring alignment from upstream to downstream. This alignment is crucial for upstream production systems to meet downstream expectations in reducing their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions footprint, said Sutton-Vermeulen.

However, SBTi faces challenges, particularly in its application to agricultural systems, he maintains. The accuracy and practicality of its implementation in this context are areas that require continuous improvement to enhance effectiveness.

Carbon insetting marketplace holds promise

The emerging carbon insetting marketplace holds promise for fostering credible carbon accounting within supply chains. Despite its potential, this market demands time and ongoing refinement for optimal performance, he cautioned.

A recent milestone was the announcement by Athian regarding the first sale of verified carbon credits in the livestock carbon insetting marketplace to the Dairy Farmers of America (DFA), the largest milk marketing cooperative in the US, he noted.

Texas dairy farmer, Jasper DeVos, utilized Athian's accepted protocol, incorporating a feed management product and quantification tool from Elanco Animal Health. This intervention reportedly resulted in a reduction of nearly 1,150 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) through decreased enteric methane and improved feed utilization.

According to Athian, the broader adoption of this intervention across the entire US dairy industry could yield a significant impact, avoiding an estimated 4.7 million metric tons of CO2e emissions annually from enteric, feed, and manure emissions.

This showcases the potential for feed and animal agriculture to play a pivotal role in addressing climate challenges and contributing to sustainable solutions, outlined Sutton-Vermeulen.

All photos used in this article are sourced from Getty Images.

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