CHICAGO — Barron Segar, president and chief executive officer of the World Food Program, was succinct when he said, “The world is in trouble. But I am optimistic with the innovative solutions I have seen. We need to change the way we plant and the way we teach farmers.”
Jim Andrew, chief sustainability officer for PepsiCo, Inc., Purchase, NY, added, “We have to put the farmer first.”
Both men spoke at Transform Food USA 2022/Transform Supply Chains USA 2022, held Nov. 1-2 in Chicago and hosted by Reuters Events. With supply chain disruptions, extreme weather and geopolitical upheaval significantly impacting the global food system this past year, identifying resources and strategies to best manage the challenges was the focus of the event.
Presenters emphasized the need to speak in terms of “food systems,” which are a collaboration of all steps involved in food creation. It starts with seed and livestock genetics and ends with waste management.
“It is a team sport,” Mr. Andrew said.
Food systems are central to the global economy, representing $13 trillion of global gross domestic product and 40% of all jobs, said Tania Strauss, head of food systems for the World Economic Forum, Geneva, Switzerland. She explained during a roundtable discussion that by 2050, a global population of 9.8 billion will demand 70% more food than is consumed today. Feeding this expanded population nutritiously and sustainably will require substantial improvements to the global food system, which accounts for a third of global greenhouse gas emissions, a major contributor to the climate crisis.
More than half (55%) of what PepsiCo sells is food, said Mr. Andrews. The company touches seven million acres a year.
“We have to bring the farmers the right advice, the right tools,” Mr. Andrew said. “It’s all about soil health.”
He cited how PepsiCo entered into a 7.5-year strategic commercial agreement with ADM, Chicago, in September, to collaborate on projects that aim to expand regenerative agriculture across their shared North American supply chains. This partnership is expected to reach up to two million acres by 2030. The companies’ capabilities span the food and agriculture value chains, creating a unique, large-scale platform to support farmers’ transition to regenerative agriculture, while building their resilience to climate change.
The long-term agreement initially will enroll corn, soy and wheat farmers across Kansas, Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana and Nebraska, with the opportunity for future expansion, to increase visibility across the value chain and integrate a range of multi-year farmer-first regenerative agriculture initiatives, including cover crops, reduced tillage, nutrient management, diverse rotations and responsible pesticide use. The companies plan to share resources and collaborate to create value throughout the supply chain by providing participants with technical and financial assistance, offering access to peer regenerative farming networks, hosting educational field days and tracking results using trusted, third-party measurement systems.
“We have to help farmers through the transitional period,” Mr. Andrews said.
Reaching the strategic partnership’s goals may eliminate 1.4 million tonnes of greenhouse gases at the farm level, while creating meaningful shared value directly for farmers.
“Building a better food system is essential to the future health of the earth and all of us,” Mr. Andrew said. “By enabling greater collaboration through strategic partnerships like this one, we can strengthen the livelihoods and resilience of the farmers we work with, while building a more sustainable future together.”
Mr. Segar added, “We are at a pivotal moment. More of the private sector is asking how they can help.”
The same is true for academia. Colorado State University’s AgNext program, Fort Collins, Colo., is actively engaged in this space. Greg Thoma, PhD, associate professor, explained the role of academia to find solutions to improve food systems and how chemical engineering principles may help create models that help quantify sustainability efforts to enable companies to make claims.
“Academics have to be transparent,” Dr. Thoma said. “Because we cannot measure everything, we create models to assist.”
AgNext recently installed what it calls “climate smart research feeding pens,” which allows for evaluation of dietary and management strategies that impact cattle greenhouse gas emissions. The portable feeding stations measure emissions while the animal eats. In the case of AgNext’s cattle, these machines dispense a feed treat (alfalfa pellets) to draw the cattle’s attention. Once drawn to the treat, the animal will eat and stand still for emissions to be measured for three to five minutes. Gases, including carbon dioxide, methane, hydrogen and oxygen, are measured in real time.
“These feedlot pens allow for data replication to determine scalability of solutions,” Dr. Thoma said.That scalability will enable farmers to implement regenerative agriculture initiatives and quantify the benefits, which may lead to the production of climate-conscious foods and ingredients. Marketers can share this data with consumers, who then can feel that their purchase is making a difference.