Rice farming produces 1.5% of the Earth’s greenhouse gas emissions, according to the World Wildlife Fund, but Kellogg sees a path toward diminishing the crop’s negative impact by working directly with farmers.
The cereal giant said its InGrained rice partnership with farmers in the Lower Mississippi River Basin region — which aims to grow the crop with reduced methane emissions — yielded positive early results after the pilot year of the program.
Kellogg invested $2 million in implementing irrigation practices over the past year. The company said that during a five-year period, it is paying producers $20 per ton of greenhouse gas they abate through introducing climate-friendly practices to their farming operations.
Over the first year, Kellogg said, these practices garnered a reduction of over 1,600 metric tons of greenhouse gases, equal to removing 345 gasoline-fueled cars from the road.
Janelle Meyers, chief sustainability officer at Kellogg, told Food Dive working with farmers on establishing the new agricultural practices has led to success with the project thus far. The farmers, she said, shared with Kellogg that the quality of their rice was not impacted by the new methods.
“What we’re trying to understand is, what are the practices that can deliver greenhouse gas reduction or water conservation as a collective between those different partners?” Meyers said. “Practices were identified based off of both technical recommendations and the suggestions from the different suppliers and growers as well.”
One practice, she said, is alternate wet and dry irrigation, in which rice fields are not kept continuously irrigated but are allowed to dry at specific intervals during the rice growing stage, according to research published by the Journal of Agricultural Science, which has been shown to mitigate emissions.
Kellogg sources rice, a key ingredient for its Rice Krispies and Rice Krispies Treats brands, from growers in Northeast Louisiana. The company collaborated with emissions tracking group Regrow Ag for its calculation.
The cereal giant believes the rice endeavor, which is part of Kellogg’s Origins sustainability program, will further its 2030 sustainability goals. These include lowering its Scope 3 emissions — which derive from food commodity production and transportation — by 15%, and engaging over one million growers in its environmental projects by 2030. As of 2021, the company had invested in 445,000 farmers.
Meyers said the company has a particular interest in investing in women-owned farmers. A 2019 study from AgFunder reports that only 3% of agri-food tech investment dollars go to women.
Kellogg identified 15 priority ingredients that need particular environmental, social or animal welfare needs, which it is rolling out and planning sustainabile agriculture projects for, Meyers said. “We’re working on corn in Mexico, wheat in Australia, potatoes in Europe, and there’s multiple others.”
Rice production results in emissions of several greenhouse gases, including methane, which is more than 25 times as potent as carbon dioxide at trapping heat in the atmosphere according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
The Environmental Defense Fund reports that global production of the crop is doing as much harm to the environment as 1,200 coal power stations.
Rice production in the U.S. declined in 2022 because of persistent rainfall last spring that prevented the crop from being planted in parts of the South, according to USDA data. Yields for the 2022-2023 are projected to be lower in all growing states, the government department said, because of droughts in the Southwest region.
With its rice project, Kellogg aims to apply some of the principles it learns to other regions, but Meyers noted that strategies will differ based on the location and climate of the project.
“We take those learnings and try to apply them as we try to build out similar commodity projects in different regions,” she said.