Fertilizer and Feeding the Planet’s Growing Population

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Last week, Walmart hosted its first Sustainable Product Expo, an event that brought together CEOs and sustainability leaders from some of the retail chain’s biggest supplier companies. Leaders from General Mills, Cargill, Dairy Farmers of America and PepsiCo, among others, joined Walmart on stage to celebrate the progress they’ve made in increasing the sustainability of their operations, and to make new commitments to cut greenhouse gas emissions and other environmental impacts.

Walmart set the stage for this in 2010 by announcing their goal to reduce 20 million metric tons (MMT) of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from their supply chain by 2015. As of 2013, Walmart and their supply chain have eliminated 7.5 MMT of GHG emissions and have projects underway to reach 18 MMT by 2015. The key to meeting and exceeding this goal is swift and thorough follow-through on ambitious initiatives.

That’s why EDF is working closely with Walmart to help their suppliers optimize fertilizer use in their supply chain. Emissions that result from nitrogen fertilizer loss – a greenhouse gas called nitrous oxide – is 300 times more potent in damaging our climate than CO2. Walmart’s Director of Dry Grocery Tim Robinson mentioned at the Expo that 20 to 40 percent of the nitrogen fertilizer isn’t absorbed by crops, either running off into waterways or off-gassing into the atmosphere. Consequently, as the top grocer in the country, this makes fertilizer optimization one of Walmart’s major opportunities for GHG reductions in their supply chain.

Just as importantly, the UN estimates that to feed the world’s growing population, food supplies will need to increase 70% by 2050. The entire value chain needs to produce more food with fewer inputs, while still allowing farmers to earn a living with what they grow. Walmart’s suppliers’ commitments are a first step towards this future:

Cargill

“By 2020 we will double our NextField acres bringing us to over 1 million acres of total land being optimized for maximum productivity with minimum environmental impact.”

DFA

“…we will have more than 90 percent of our 9,000 member farms participating in our Gold Standard Dairy program, which focuses on resource efficiency and optimization” and are “[a]igned with industry goals to reduce environmental footprint 25% by 2020."

Kellogg Company

“In every country in which Kellogg sources rice globally, we commit to promoting and supporting initiatives with producers that will, by 2020, lead to a 25% increase in the adoption of Climate Smart Agriculture (CSA) practices.  This will improve smallholder livelihoods, enhance producer resilience and reduce greenhouse gas emissions."

Pepsi

“…we will work to engage growers of corn, oats, potato, and oranges to increase sustainable farming practices, particularly in the areas of environmental, social and economic sustainability.  As part of this worldwide program, PepsiCo's Sustainable Farming Initiative (or equivalent scheme) will be expanded to 500,000 acres of farmland in North America by the end of 2016."

Campbell Soup Company

“We commit to reducing GHG emissions and water use by 20% per tonne of food for Campbell's 5 key agricultural ingredients (Tomatoes, Carrots, Celery, Potatoes, Jalapenos)."

General Mills

“We will: 1) Expand 2.5x the acreage enrolled in The Field to Market sustainable agriculture initiative to 2.5 million acres by 2015; 2) Leverage General Mills' strength in connected innovation to match grower nitrogen management needs with the best global solutions; and 3) Co-sponsor an innovation challenge for the innovators and farmers who demonstrate the most promise to reduce GHG emission in nitrogen management.”

With their commitments, Walmart’s suppliers are setting new targets to strive for, and we at EDF are seeking to provide farmers with the tools they’ll need to meet them. With effective fertilizer management, we can help scale up crops to meet food needs around the world while minimizing their impacts on our climate and water resources.