At today’s Walmart Sustainability Milestone Meeting, EDF Vice President Tom Murray brought welcome attention to strategies farmers are implementing to more precisely match fertilizer use with the amount their crops need.
In a question and answer session with the head of Walmart's U.S. grocery business, which accounts for roughly half the retailer's sales and approximately a third of all U.S. grocery business, Tom commended the excellent work many farmers are already doing to get this balance right, and called on other retailers and suppliers to engage in this effort.
Why fertilizer optimization?
Optimizing fertilizer use and improving soil health helps farmers’ bottom line while reducing the loss of fertilizer and soil that can contribute to algae-filled "dead zones" and drinking water pollution. In addition to water quality impacts, the emissions from fertilizers – a potent greenhouse gas called nitrous oxide – are much more damaging to our climate than CO2.
Setting the stage for industry-wide transformation
As growers find success in minimizing fertilizer loss, we're excited by the possibility of innovation on a broader scale. Walmart's pressure on suppliers will be helpful in driving change and spreading best practices, potentially avoiding 7 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions by 2020. EDF has played a role in shaping the action to this point; now it's time for the rest of the supply chain to play their part in taking advantage of this opportunity to help the bottom lines of farmers and businesses while improving the environment at the same time.
EDF's work with the corporate sector is about generating strong financial and environmental results and setting the stage for industry-wide transformation. Walmart is uniquely positioned to identify innovation and bring it to scale. Through this initiative, Kellogg's and 14 other major food suppliers to Walmart have built fertilizer optimization plans for their supply chains. EDF would like to see more retailers and suppliers making this a priority.
Calling on new experts for innovative tools
Fortunately, there is a growing array of options farmers can use to improve fertilizer management. One example is EDF's Adapt Network in which participating growers have improved fertilizer efficiency by 25% on average, saving $16 per acre without reducing yields. This is one of a diversity of tools and initiatives that other farmers can use. We'd welcome input and ideas from the many players in this space — ag service providers, certified crop consultants, and others — to build the best toolbox of resources that growers can choose from based on their circumstances, region and the changing weather.
As has always been the case, much lies outside growers' control, from weather to crop prices. At EDF we seek to provide useful tools to help farmers manage the many risks they face while producing food for the nation's dinner tables. When deciding how we'll meet the country's food needs today and in the future, we cannot sacrifice either agricultural productivity or environmental resilience. We must, and can, have both.