- Tyson Foods and the Environmental Defense Fund are joining forces on a land stewardship initiative to help meet consumer demand for more sustainably grown food, according to a release. They plan to use cloud-based ag tech from MyFarms and Farmers Business Network to analyze data used in the field.
- Their first project will be a pilot program on 500,000 acres of corn to reduce greenhouse gases, improve water quality and enhance farmer profits, the announcement said. This dovetails with Tyson's goal to improve environmental practices on 2 million acres of corn production by next year. The Arkansas-based company doesn't own grain farms, and must buy corn and soybeans to feed its poultry.
- "We’re using scientific analysis to measure the benefits of sustainable farming practices, help companies like Tyson evaluate the impact of their sustainability initiatives, and inspire transparency across the supply chain," Jenny Ahlen, director of EDF's green supply chain program, said in a release.
Tyson and EDF's initial sustainability project will enroll farmers through MyFarms and Farmers Business Network, with FBN working with 7,600 members who own nearly 30 million acres, the announcement said. Those who enroll in MyFarms will be able to access a scientific method available through EDF research to calculate nitrogen loss. Excess nitrogen application on agricultural crops is a threat to water quality, adds to greenhouse gas emissions and costs farmers income, EDF said.
If this partnership using these new technologies results in more sustainable crops, other food producers are likely to pay attention and try their own adaptations with similar projects. There's little to lose in doing so and much to gain. Most consumers are willing to pay more for sustainable brands, according to Nielsen, and the statistics trend even higher for millennials and Generation Z.
It's become increasingly clear that consumers care more about sustainability factors today — and their awareness has affected purchasing decisions when it comes to foods and beverages. Studies and research also stress the importance of creating more sustainability in the food system.
There could be other financial benefits as well. As EDF's Jenny Ahlen pointed out in a June 2018 blog post, shareholders care a great deal about sustainability. She quoted from a 2017 Morgan Stanley survey, which found 75% of investors indicated they're interested in sustainable investing, and 71% believe companies with leading sustainability practices may be better long-term investments. The EDF is looking for others in the animal agriculture industry to partner with the group on reducing their environmental footprint.
"But if Tyson can prove the viability of farming practices that are good for the planet and for profits, it would be a game changer," Ahlen wrote in the post. "Because if the largest food company in the country can measure and reward environmental performance from field to fork, anyone can."
It does seem like an odd partnership between the country's largest meat processor and a non-profit environmental advocacy group. Yet both have some major skin in the game. Tyson wants to achieve its land stewardship goals by 2020, and this pilot initiative is one way to help it get there. Meanwhile, the EDF wants to prove a greener supply chain is possible.
Tyson could use some more sustainability cred since it has been fined for polluting waterways, having inadequate animal welfare practices and ignoring local sentiment when it comes to siting a new chicken plant. The company is trying to focus more on addressing these and other issues through an in-house Trendtellers Council formed last year.
Jen Bentz, Tyson's senior vice-president of R&D, innovation and insights, told Food Dive last fall that food waste and sustainability were important issues to the company "because it's one of the biggest issues in the country and the world." This partnership could help them work toward making improvements.