The world’s technology centers aren’t the exclusive dominions of innovation. The plains of Nebraska are home to Kellogg’s ambitious innovation project with the goal to improve the livelihoods of farming families and communities by growing more food, while supporting sustainable farming across more than 1 million acres in the Missouri River Valley.
Kellogg has partnered with United Suppliers Inc. and Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) to connect farmers to the SUSTAIN platform and drive adoption of improved farm management practices. The project in Nebraska is one of many programs that illustrates the necessity of unique partnerships between Kellogg, industry, farmers and non-government organizations (NGOs) to improve water quality, soil health and climate impacts both locally and globally.
By working together, this team can showcase the strength of partnering across the agricultural supply chain to deliver value to growers, business, and the environment. We recently met with a panel of SUSTAIN partners to explore this unique approach.
Mary Tate, Global Sustainability Manager, Kellogg
Molly Toot, United Suppliers International
Jon Brabec, Marketing Manager for Frontier Coop
Matt Rezac, Farmer from Weston, NE
Andrea Chu, Corporate Partnerships Program, Environmental Defense Fund
Why are you participating in this program?
Andrea, EDF: Our mission is to improve water quality and climate impacts from agriculture, while ensuring that yields remain high and farmers remain profitable. Since 2014, we have collaborated with United Suppliers, one of the top agriculture retailers and supply companies, to co-develop and roll-out the SUSTAIN platform which is designed to identify and scale environmental friendly practices across farms to reduce greenhouse gas reductions and improve water quality. The SUSTAIN program partners with agriculture retailers who sell products to farmers and give advice on their farm practices. By educating the agricultural retail sector about sustainable agriculture, we will drive understanding and adoption across a large number of farmers.
We decided to join forces with Kellogg to help deploy SUSTAIN in Nebraska so that Kellogg could source grains more sustainably. As a household name (everyone knows Raisin Bran and Corn Flakes!), Kellogg is motivated to make agriculture in the US and around the world more sustainable, and they have the reach to have a truly scalable impact.
Mary, Kellogg: We are excited about this project for two reasons: 1) Agriculture retailers are great advisors for farmers, and this puts the latest information into the hands of the people who reach and advise farmers every day, and 2) these practices are win-wins. Farmers are always looking for new ways to benefit their farms and the environment, and we are focusing on practices that have a business case behind them. Through this train-the-trainer approach we expect to reach about 750 farmers across over 1,000,000 acres.
Jon, Frontier: At Frontier, we are working to protect the environment – and not just to be eco-friendly but to pioneer practices that protect the environment, public health, human communities, and animal welfare. This project is exciting because we believe that if the farmers companies do business with are successful, the entire community will prosper. The concept is helping Nebraska small towns and schools continue to be here for the future.
Matt, Farmer: As a progressive farmer, I feel that it is my responsibility to be environmentally friendly. I also want to increase awareness about how agriculture is continuously finding ways to create efficiencies in fertilizer usage. I was excited to learn that Frontier and United Suppliers were partnering with Kellogg. I am happy to be working with a major food company to get the message out that agriculture is doing its part to improve the world we live in.
Molly, United Suppliers: We are excited to see the entire supply chain come together through the SUSTAIN program. Ag retailers provide a direct link to the farmers. Likewise, as a major food company, Kellogg provides the farmer and agriculture retailers with the opportunity to tell the full story of environmentally sustainable agriculture and how it impacts the supply chain.
What should consumers know about this program?
Molly, United Suppliers: Consumers are more environmentally aware than ever. They want to know where their food is grown and how it is raised. We are responding with environmentally friendly programs that help farmers reduce their footprint on the environment through practices that make their farming operation both profitable and sustainable over time. This is really a main objective for SUSTAIN.
Mary, Kellogg: At Kellogg, we strive to make simple food people love. And today, that means more than food that tastes great. It means food people can feel good about too. People care about where their food comes from, the people who grow and make it, and that there’s enough for everyone. We care too. That’s why we are partnering with ingredient suppliers, farmers and NGOs around the world to ensure that we are responsibly sourcing the ingredients that go into our foods, to enhance the sustainability of the ingredients themselves.
What do you think is the most interesting part of this program?
Andrea, EDF: It is exciting to see such a large company like Kellogg commit to working with agriculture retailers, who are outside of the direct food supply chain, to reach and support farmers. With consumers calling for additional transparency in their food, Kellogg’s engagement brings greater clarity around where and how food is being produced and elevates the positive environmental impacts of certain farmers. It is also exciting to see that by working with diverse constituencies, you can reach scale much faster than working alone.
What types of changes do you hope to see because of this program?
Matt, Farmer: SUSTAIN will help me to better protect the large investment I have made in my crop, saving me money because I can grow more bushels of corn on the same amount of soil/or fertilizer. It also helps me be even more environmentally friendly. It is a great feeling to know that I’m doing my part to help future generations and feed the world.
Mary, Kellogg: We hope that our partnership with EDF and United Suppliers provides support to farmers who are looking to implement conservation practices on their farm. We know that our largest environmental impact is where our ingredients are grown, so we are focusing on ways to encourage climate-smart agricultural practices that not only reduce the footprint of crops but also help to improve the livelihoods of the farmers who grow them.
Andrea, EDF: We hope to see water quality in Nebraska tangibly improve. We hope to see farmers leveraging this opportunity to tap into the expertise of SUSTAIN-trained agriculture retailers such as Frontier to not only improve nutrient use efficiency and soil health, but improve their own bottom-line. We hope that other agriculture retailers recognize the business opportunity of sustainably-grown crops and use programs like SUSTAIN to reach even more farmers and make fertilizer optimization and soil health practices the norm for farming.
Molly, United Suppliers: We currently have 30 agriculture retailers enrolled in 9 states and in Canada. Through this partnership, we are expanding our work with Frontier over this summer. What we hope to see is farmers adopting these practices to produce sustainably grown crops, which will result in a decrease in greenhouse gas emissions, and cleaner air and water for all.
How does this program work to help the environment?
Andrea, EDF: Agricultural production is responsible for 10% of the United States’ greenhouse gas emissions and the nitrogen in fertilizer runoff emits a greenhouse gas 300 times more powerful than carbon dioxide. As a result, 27% of US rivers and streams have high nitrogen levels, which can lead to toxic algal contamination and undrinkable water. This collaboration between Kellogg, EDF, and SUSTAIN works to reduce the negative impacts of farming, improving climate stability and water quality.
Mary, Kellogg: Managing fertilizer usage and application is a major component to this project. As Andrea said, runoff from fertilizer hurts water quality and increases greenhouse gas emissions, plus fertilizer is one of the highest costs for farmers as they grow corn and soybeans. It is crucial to find effective means to support farmers as they look to improve fertilizer efficiency on their farms without sacrificing crop yields. The SUSTAIN platform also includes a set of proven, effective tools to improve soil health which benefits the farmer and improves biodiversity.
Why is protecting the soil so important?
Andrea, EDF: Protecting the soil not only has an abundance of ecological benefits, but also ensures farmers can sustain yields over time. Good soil health is critical to withstanding both droughts and floods, sequestering carbon, weathering soil-borne pests, and providing crops with the right nutrients. It’s a very effective way to help ensure the long-term health and viability of a farming business.
Matt, Farmer: Soil is the foundation for all of us whether we are in agriculture or not; it is our job to utilize it as efficiently as possible. Land mass today is only shrinking. A big factor of that is city urbanization; we will continue to lose acres so we have to make sure that we maximize each acre that is in production.
How does this fit in to your larger sustainability commitments?
Mary, Kellogg: Kellogg has ambitious goals in sustainability from our facilities, to our suppliers and down to the farmers that grow our ingredients. In support of our Global 2020 Sustainability commitments, we work with more than 70 suppliers globally to measure continuous improvement and also support 35+ sustainable agriculture projects like this one. We’re committed to helping farmers to implement best practices and improve livelihoods. We have committed to responsibly source our 10 priority ingredients by 2020, supporting sustainable agriculture with 500,000 farmers by 2030 and reducing our supply chain emissions by 50% by 2050.