Sustainable beef: Bringing farmers, ranchers and customers together to fight climate change across North America’s farmland
Read Time: 4 minutes
April 11, 2023
As the dust swirled around southern Nebraska in the dry spring of 2022, farms in the area saw their soil dry up and rip out.
Todd Dzingle looked across his corn fields in southern Nebraska and saw a different sight.
“Our fields were green and the soil stayed where it was at,” says Todd, who grows corn that feeds cattle. “How do you put a price on that? To me, that’s priceless.”
Not to mention the value of decreased erosion, suppressed weeds and ever-increasing organic matter he’s seeing in his soil since switching to cover crops across his 1,400 acres, he adds.
Todd wasn’t doing it alone. He had support — both technical and financial — from Cargill and its partners as part of its BeefUp Sustainability initiative. The program partners with farmers and ranchers to cut greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from the North American beef supply chain and help tackle climate change.
“I’m appreciative of the program,” says Todd, who is planning to evolve his fields to multispecies cover crops. “I’m glad it’s there to push me a little faster than maybe I would have gone.”
Todd and the feed he produces are one piece of a much larger puzzle to make the North American beef industry more sustainable. Climate change is the top concern for U.S. and Canadian beef consumers, Cargill research shows. Beef production accounts for 3% of GHG emissions in the U.S.
“We have a huge opportunity to make a positive impact,” says Jon Nash, leader of Cargill’s protein and salt enterprise. “Our role is to work alongside farmers and ranchers, to advance creative new sustainability ideas and accelerate good conservation practices within the industry. It’s a huge challenge, but I am passionate about this work, and excited about the advances we’re making.”
Take for example our work in Nebraska, a top state for beef and corn production. It is also the site of Cargill’s five-year partnership with The Nature Conservancy, McDonald’s and Target to support farmers like Todd in advancing soil health practices that curb GHG emissions.
Through this program we aim to partner with farmers on regenerative agriculture practices, like cover cropping, reduced tillage and diversified crop rotation, across 100,000 acres of land — including in fields where corn is grown to feed cattle. These practices help store carbon in the soil instead of the atmosphere, revitalizing agricultural lands and bringing benefits to both farmers and our planet.
The potential of this project? To sequester an estimated 150,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide — the equivalent of removing more than 32,000 cars from the road in one year.
One of the largest regenerative ranching commitments
1.7 million acres.
That’s the amount of land on which Cargill plans to help ranchers adopt regenerative agriculture practices over the next five years, thanks to a new partnership with Nestlé and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. For comparison, that's about twice the amount of land as the U.S. state of Rhode Island.
The program, which will lead to $30 million in grant funding, is one of the largest corporate commitments to regenerative ranching in the U.S. to date. It’s what happens when two of the world’s largest food companies join together with an NGO partner to scale conversation practices that help fight climate change.
“This partnership is activating the work needed in our supply chains to help create a regenerative, healthy food system,” says Emily Johannes, director, Diverse and Sustainable Sourcing at Nestlé USA. “Working together as an industry leverages expertise and helps achieve the scale that is critical to accelerating the shift to regenerative farming. Taking action on regenerative agriculture means supporting farmers and ranchers to implement on-farm practices that help replenish the land, absorb carbon, and enhance the health of our environment.”
The partnership will bring together private landowners and local conservation organizations to implement voluntary land management practices, improve water management, restore wildlife habitats and generate carbon benefits across more than 15 U.S. states.
“The conservation challenges of our time can feel daunting, but when we engage public and private institutions, we are able to unlock potential — in technical expertise, in funding and in results,” says Jeff Trandahl, executive director and CEO of NFWF. “This partnership with two of the world’s largest food companies will have a nationally significant grassland impact while also benefitting ranching families at the local level.”