WAYZATA, Minn. – Cargill has committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions across the company’s North American beef supply chain 30 percent by 2030.

The initiative, called BeefUp Sustainability, builds on work the company already is doing to reduce Cargill’s environmental impact and involves stakeholders across the company’s network of ranchers, farmers, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and other partners. BeefUp Sustainability focuses on grazing management, feed production, innovation and food waste reduction.

For example, Cargill and The Nature Conservancy will work with ranchers and farmers on grazing management planning and adaptive management over the next three years. These practices improve sustainability outcomes related to soil, carbon storage, vegetation, wildlife habitat, water and other factors.

And Cargill is a sponsor for the Yield Lab Institute’s Manure Innovation Challenge which connects start-ups and established companies to capture value from manure-based nutrients, fiber and energy while creating farm profitability.

Jon Nash, president of Cargill Protein North America

“This initiative builds on the strong environmental stewardship work already led by farmers and ranchers,” said Jon Nash, president of Cargill Protein North America. “Cargill is creating connections across the entire North American beef supply chain. Together, we can expand current sustainable agricultural practices to make a meaningful difference.”

MEAT+POULTRY spoke with Nash to learn more about how BeefUp Sustainability got started and how takeaways from the program will impact Cargill’s other businesses.

MEAT+POULTRY: Give us the back story of how the BeefUp Sustainability initiative got started. How did it all come together?

Jon Nash: At Cargill, we think about our purpose — you’ve probably seen it — nourishing the world in a safe responsible sustainable way. And so, when you talk about doing that, you have to put really tangible actions in place to support it.

There are some underlying challenges that we all face — a growing population, demand for protein growing as well as the middle class grows. And we know we need to feed all of these people in a more challenging environment and protect the planet. So, you can’t just feed people, you have to do it in a sustainable and responsible way.

Obviously, our beef supply chain is a big part of our North America protein business and the breadth and depth of Cargill that we bring from all the way back in the supply chain from an animal nutrition perspective into our North America protein business. We just have a unique, I think, ability to set some really high standards for ourselves.

And so, this came after we challenged our team to really get after some sustainability goals that we have internally. And so, this cool announcement is the result of that.

M+P: Why is this an opt-in system and what happens if one of your partners or stakeholder decides not to opt in?

Nash: This is building on work that we do already, so we have great partners. Our farmers and ranchers, we have a very strong partnership that goes back years and years and we’re going to just continue to build on that partnership together. And so, these folks do great work today with respect to managing a sustainable supply chain, and we think just capitalizing on this and sharing more broadly across that partnership will be a big part of making sure that we have success here.

We just don’t believe that having a mandatory type program is something that we need at this point. We’ve got great partners today that gladly work with us to lead in this area.

M+P: In order for something like this to be successful you do you have to form these partnerships. So, in your discussions with farmers and ranchers, what are they telling you that they need to make this work for them?

Nash: In general, what I can tell you is they do a lot of these practices today — good grazing, managing their land properly, how they handle the animals — they do great work today. And so potentially sharing best practices more across that group is one thing that can be helpful; and then agreeing on standards as well could be very helpful. So, I just think bringing that group together to do more in this area as one cohesive group. We think we can make a bigger impact.

M+P: This initiative also ties into the Canadian Beef Sustainability acceleration pilot, is that correct?

Nash: Yes, that was really great work. I’m so proud of our team and our customer and the farmers and ranchers that we worked with on that pilot. It provided us a great lens into how a larger, broader initiative could work. Some of the key focus areas that we call out in our work there have been used to inform this new work as well. So things like feed production, grazing management innovation and food waste, those are things that we we’ve learned a little bit about in that pilot that we think can be more broadly utilized.

M+P: Cargill is also participating in The Manure Challenge. What is Cargill’s role in the competition and what takeaways are you hoping will come from that?

Nash: We’re certainly sponsoring that challenge, and one of the things I’m interested in is just the innovation that comes from it.

I think there could be a lot of things around fiber and energy and also a profitability source for farmers. This can’t be just “a farmer has to do X, Y and Z; it has to be good for their business as well. And so, I'm really interested in innovation in this area, about the new ideas that we’ll be able to be generate from it.

M+P: What is the financial commitment that Cargill is making to bring this together?

Nash: We won’t disclose at this point, but what I can tell you is that is a significant multi-year investment. We are we are very committed to this.

This is a 10-year project and we won't stop there. This is something we’re highly committed to, again going back to our overall purpose of nourishing the world in a safe, responsible and sustainable way. We’ve got to put our money where our mouth is and we’re certainly doing that in this case.

M+P: What other areas can we expect Cargill to try to impact in terms of environmental stewardship and corporate responsibility? 

Nash: The values of our organization hang right next to my monitor, and our values are:

Put people first; do the right thing; and reach higher. When I think about those values, there’s just a whole list of things that have been good examples like the Nebraska irrigation project (and more of those type of things to come); the Canada Sustainable Beef.

We do a ton of work on behalf of our people with the Marathon Health Clinic that you’ve seen. There’s a whole host of things that we do to essentially improve the world, protect the planet and take better care of our people every day. For us, this is a big kick off in beef, but I think we’ll learn things from this that could be transferred into other parts of our supply chain as well.