“It's Everyone’s Business Now…”
By Michelle Pelletier Marshall, Women in Agribusiness Media (February 8, 2022)
Sustainability is the new buzzword (actually, one of the many in agriculture) – and not just with producers – consumers are now gauging their purchasing decisions in the grocery aisles based on products with a sustainability claim, much how products labeled “fat-free” flew off the shelves during that craze in the 1980s.
What is understood about sustainable products – those which provide environmental, social, and economic benefits while protecting public health and environment over their whole life cycle, from the extraction of raw material until the final disposal1 – is less clear though.
In its just-published research, Cargill touched upon this, noting that more than half – 55 percent – of consumers were more likely to purchase a packaged food item if it included a sustainability claim yet many “are still not sure what makes a product sustainable and they may not be sure what these claims mean,” Cargill Marketing Manager Jamie Mavec told Food Ingredients, and that “... any communication to educate the consumer on what makes their products sustainably produced will likely be welcomed.”
How does this translate to impetus along the entire agricultural supply chain? We have already seen many corporations address the issues of production, transportation, packaging, technology and more in the race to gain a footing in sustainability and do the right thing for the environment. Additionally, companies are now rethinking how their products are designed, engineered, and used, finding new ways to meet performance and quality requirements with less resources, and they are making bold commitments to follow through. For example, there’s Bunge’s pledge to achieve deforestation-free supply chains by 2025, and BASF’s goal to reduce its CO2 emissions by 25 percent by 2030.
On the farm, producers are using no-till and cover crops to help sequester carbon, reduce environmental footprints, and take the first step in creating a sustainable product. And the USDA continues to invest in advancing climate smart ag practices and finding new revenue streams for U.S. farmers, recently committing to the joint goal of doubling the number of corn and soybean acres using cover crops to 30 million acres by 2030. There also are organizations that provide universal agriculture sustainability certification, such as Leading Harvest, which just this week announced expansion into Australia.
In manufacturing, there are equipment upgrades and improvements, including investments in farm robotics that totaled $491 million in the first half of 2021, a 40 percent increase over the same period in 2020, according to AgFunder. Autonomous equipment is expected to be as transformative to the sector as mechanized agriculture was in the first half of the last century.
As the global pandemic highlighted, there are myriad issues with transportation in the ag supply chain, evidenced by a still-present backlog of over 100 cargo ships at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. Governments, countries, and companies are working feverishly towards solutions, but these come slow and delays prevail. As do costs, as evidenced by the fact that in October 2021, the median cost of shipping a standard rectangular metal container from China to the U.S. West Coast hit a record $20,586, almost twice what it cost in July, which was twice what it cost last January, according to the Freightos index. Innovation, and an overhaul of transportation by rail, freight, and truck, stand at the forefront of success for getting all products to market, and into the hands of consumers. Recent endeavors like the partnership between the USDA and the Port of Oakland in Oakland, California, which created a 25-acre pop-up site to ease commodity shipping congestion, are making progress one step at a time.
Attention to reuse and regenerate are pushing the envelopes for product offerings and innovations as well. From reclaiming some of the more than 20 billion pounds of produce that goes to waste each year simply because they are excess or not perfectly shaped for grocery stores, there is Full Harvest, whose supply chain efforts have saved over one billion gallons of water from being wasted, and over 6 million kilograms of CO2 emissions from being created. Or Do Good Foods, which ‘upcycles’ surplus food – of the 10.5 million tons annually wasted – by first sharing it with food pantries and then repurposing the rest to feed its chickens, which go on to feed consumers. Each one of the company’s Do Good Chickens stops approximately four pounds of groceries from being thrown away, ultimately reducing nearly three pounds of greenhouse gases.
As we move towards a world population of nearly 10 billion with the realization that we have the food we need to feed all, corporations and individuals are excitedly stepping up to find and implement solutions that will forever change the trajectory of the food supply chain to accomplish this bold goal. As Ernst & Young’s (EY) global vice chair of sustainability Scott Varley said, “sustainability is everyone’s business”, and indeed it surely is now.
- Michelle Pelletier Marshall is contributing editor and author for HighQuest Partners’ GAI News and Oilseed & Grain News, and managing editor for its WIA Today blog. Additionally, she is the company’s Senior PR/Media Manager. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.