Big Food Brands Commit to Conserve Water, Soil – and the Climate

Major food growers and retailers are looking hard at their growing and distribution practices to conserve soil nutrients and protect water quality. It’s an effort to reduce impacts throughout the entire food supply chain.

Written by Eliza Roberts, Lindsay Bass Published on Read time Approx. 3 minutes
Holstein cows eat lunch at the Dairy Cattle Facility at U.C. Davis. Target stores has committed to work with suppliers to incorporate small grains into livestock feed – in addition to traditional corn and soybean feeds – as a measure to improve water quality and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.Photo courtesy Gregory Urquiaga, UC Davis

Not long ago, the United Nations warned that water scarcity could be experienced by 40 percent of the world’s population by 2030. Last week, top U.N. scientists reported that problems associated with a warming climate, including drought, water scarcity and pollution, are likely to be worse than previously thought unless we work to hold the average global temperature rise to no more than 3.6F (1.5C).

These warnings may seem daunting, but some of the world’s most influential companies are making strides that could significantly help alleviate worsening global water challenges.

On October 17, World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and Ceres engaged with corporate leaders, investors and global financial institutions at the Financial Times Water Summit in London to discuss how innovative business and investment opportunities can help solve shared water challenges. WWF and Ceres also are welcoming Archer Daniels Midland Company (ADM) and Target to the AgWater Challenge, an effort that promotes and encourages better corporate water stewardship among food and beverage companies. These companies join seven already participating companies in making stronger, more transparent commitments to better protect freshwater resources in their agricultural supply chains.

Representing more than $264 billion in net annual revenue, the nine company participants have put forward more than 25 new commitments to drive the preservation of freshwater resources. This includes efforts such as water risk assessment, policy formation, and changes to how procurement teams weigh the risks that water quantity and quality present to their agriculture supply chains, and to the communities where their operations are located.

This year’s newest AgWater Challenge participants have made significant time-bound commitments for sustainable sourcing, collaboration in watersheds and support for farmers.

ADM is providing incentives for farmers across corn, soy and wheat acres to participate in the Illinois Saving Tomorrow’s Agriculture Resources (STAR) program. The STAR program is a farmer certification program that awards farmers based on their efforts to adopt conservation practices that reduce soil loss and nutrient runoff. By setting clear targets linked to continuous improvement, ADM’s collaboration with local, state and NGO partners provides a pathway for impact reduction and water quality improvements that also deliver benefits to farmers.

One key value of the AgWater Challenge is that it allows innovative projects, such as the STAR program, to be tested and shared among a group of forward-looking companies with operations that stretch across the globe. This peer learning style allows AgWater Challenge participants to take the best outcomes and adapt and scale the commitments that drove them for greater impact. The magnitude of the shared water challenges we face demand a knowledge-sharing approach, so the AgWater Challenge is designed to help develop and share best water practices across the food sector – and beyond.

For Target, the first retailer to join, the AgWater Challenge provides a unique opportunity to learn from suppliers and national brand partners, while lending its voice and support to address supply chain sustainability issues in critical watersheds.

As one commitment, Target plans to work with key partners and suppliers to improve soil health and water quality while also reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions through an innovative project led by the Sustainable Food Lab and the Practical Farmers of Iowa. This work aims to incorporate small grains into the traditional corn and soy crop rotation, thereby helping create a stronger market demand for small grains in livestock feed, which will, in turn, reduce soil loss and nutrient runoff.

Additionally, Target is committing to promote sustainable water management in California as an active member of the California Water Action Collaborative, and by engaging collectively with other companies to support public policies that advance resilient water solutions through Ceres’ Connect the Drops campaign.

Through the AgWater Challenge, companies are signaling that they can better navigate the water stewardship journey by looking past their four walls, working together, sharing lessons learned and pushing their industry to adopt sustainable practices.

Their commitments reflect an understanding that, as major global food brands, they can be a powerful and constructive force for scaling water stewardship, especially at the farm level – where there is the biggest footprint.

If these companies can rise to the world’s water challenges to avoid the worst impacts of a warming planet, so can others in the sector. And they should.

Learn more about new 2018 water stewardship commitments and how your company can participate in the AgWater Challenge by visiting Ceres.org.

The views expressed in this article belong to the authors and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Water Deeply.

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