This guest blog post is authored by Stewart Leeth, vice president of regulatory affairs and chief sustainability officer, Smithfield Foods, Inc.
Food production must increase significantly to feed our world’s growing population. To ensure nutritional security, protein production must also greatly increase, which will stretch natural resources, and, if not managed correctly, could cause environmental concerns. At Smithfield Foods, we have taken a leading role to develop sustainable operating practices to reduce our natural resource demand. These practices have been developed through our robust sustainability program, which is ingrained at every level of our vertically integrated business. Our sustainability program is organized by five pillars: Animal Care, Environment, Food Safety & Quality, Helping Communities and People. Each pillar is connected by the overarching concept of value creation for all our stakeholders.
Our sustainability program delivers on our promise to produce good food the right way while providing an organized platform to focus on key sustainability areas. Since our program’s creation more than a decade ago, we have set new goals each year that build upon previous achievements and continue to drive progress across each of our sustainability pillars. As a company with innovation ingrained in our DNA, the success of these sustainability projects are often furthered by original thinking and unprecedented techniques, such as creating a new market for grain sorghum and finding industry-leading solutions to manure management.
Speaking of innovation, two years ago, Walmart tasked all suppliers with grain operations to discover new methods for reducing fertilizer runoff that can lead to air and water quality degradation. Building on Smithfield’s commitment to the environment, we eagerly accepted the challenge and joined the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) to create a more sustainable grain supply chain. Through this unlikely collaboration, we developed a program to work hand-in-hand with grain farmers and foster on-farm conservation practices. We now offer grain farmers free agronomy advice and educational resources while motivating them to adopt fertilizer optimization practices. Although we are still in the early years of this program, we foresee a bright future. Many of our grain farmers have already drastically reduced fertilizer losses while saving money and improving crop yields. This strategy is also a huge potential cost savings for our company, as we can grow more grain locally and reduce transportation costs.
As we reached our one-year anniversary with EDF, we earned a best-in-class recognition at Walmart’s 2014 Sustainability Expo. Last year, more than 100,000 acres of land in the Southeast United States benefited from our fertilizer optimization practices, and we expect more than 450,000 acres of American farmlands will benefit as the program continues to expand. As a result of this program, we are on track to meet our 2018 goal to source at least 75 percent of grain from farms that use efficient fertilizer and soil health practices.
Our sustainability program continues to improve Smithfield’s overall performance and financial stability. This creates substantial value for our stakeholders and drives efficiency throughout our supply chain. Since 2004, our environmental programs alone have saved our operations more than $580 million. Together, with other industry members and manufacturers, unlikely collaborations and innovative programs will help answer food production and environmental questions for the next generation.
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