Several food and beverage companies landed USDA investments in sustainability projects this month through its $2.8 billion Partnerships for Climate-Smart Commodities initiative. As major companies like Tyson aim to hit their time-based emissions-reduction goals, incentivizing farmers to adopt sustainable agricultural practices is crucial.
The Biden administration is similarly prioritizing promoting sustainability while increasing competition in the agriculture and meat spaces — and grappling with ongoing supply chain crisis across various sectors — which Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack underscored at a Georgetown University speech earlier this year.
Seventy projects were chosen out of 450 applicants. More than 50relate to food and beverage space, notably in the meat, dairy, fruit, vegetables and ingredients sectors.
The projects primarily center on facilitating the spread of operations that reduce carbon emissions from the agricultural supply chain. These involve both suppliers and processors, and signal a shift in how food companies approach sourcing their commodities in order to produce food and beverage products.
Here are five projects from food and beverage companies that received USDA funding.
Tyson’s emissions-minded approach
Meat giant Tyson will receive up to $60 million for carbon sequestration in the production of beef and row crops for livestock feed. According to the USDA, underserved and smaller farmers will have access to technical assistance and payments in order to incentivize sustainable agricultural techniques that reduce emissions.
Tyson’s project will take place in states throughout the South, Midwest and Northwest regions. Tyson aims to achieve net zero carbon emissions in its supply chain by 2050.
The project is not without its critics. Sustainability nonprofit Friends of the Earth admonished the USDA for funding a Tyson program after the agency’s announcement last week. The poultry producer has often been in hot water with activists for its handling of environmental issues.
“USDA handing $60 million taxpayer dollars to Tyson Foods to create ‘climate-smart’ beef would be like EPA giving a $60 million grant to Exxon to create ‘green’ gasoline. It’s a massive corporate giveaway, and it’s unacceptable,” said the organization’s senior food and agriculture campaigner Jason Davison. “Congress and USDA must ensure transparency and accountability for these projects.”
Land O’Lakes wants to solve agricultural ‘connection problem’
Truterra, the sustainability business of butter maker Land O’Lakes, will receive up to $90 million for a pilot project that intends to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by approximately 7.2 million metric tons over a five-year period.
Land O’Lakes president and CEO Beth Ford said the project aims to solve a “connection problem” in the agricultural commodity supply chain between farmers that adopt sustainable practices and companies who want to purchase the products.
Truterra will use the funds to incentivize regenerative farming practices among its suppliers. It also aims to make the program self-funded, by selling commodities and “ecosystem credits” to downstream purchasers.
“We want to close those gaps by creating a self-sustaining ecosystem that connects farmers already doing incredible work to support sustainability on their operations with the food and agriculture companies looking to buy those products, all while addressing cost, risk and knowledge barriers to regenerative agriculture practice adoption,” Ford said.
Blue Diamond’s quest for sustainable almonds
Almond grower Blue Diamond was awarded up to $45 million to help the company expand its use of cover crops, conservation plantings, hedgerows and whole orchard recycling. The company sources its almonds from 3,000 growers in California’s Central Valley.
According to the USDA, the project will promote climate-smart practices for the company’s almond suppliers through verification of their sustainability claims. This includes business-to-business reporting and greenhouse gas quantification. The USDA said this will “support the development of a market-based mechanism for almond buyers” and incentivize adoption of sustainable agricultural practices.
Blue Diamond said it will finalize the scope and precise funding allocation of the project in the coming months.
Maple Hill Creamery targets organic dairy farmers
Organic dairy producer Maple Hill Creamery will receive up to $20 million, which it will use to provide training and support to small dairy farmers as they transform their operations. According to USDA, it will impact farmers in New York state.
“As the largest 100% grass-fed dairy business in the U.S., it is incumbent on Maple Hill to continue to develop, implement, and lead best practices in sustainable dairy farming,” said Jim Hau, president of Maple Hill.
Supporting smaller organic dairy farmers has become a priority of several companies in the space. Earlier this year, Stonyfield enacted a program to support 135 small, family-owned dairy farms in the Northeast after their contracts with Horizon Organic and Maple Hill expired.
AgriCapture aims to make rice sustainably
Agricultural technology company AgriCapture was selected to receive $7.5 million for a project it said will reduce annual emissions in the U.S. rice sector by 391,000 tons of carbon dioxide equivalent. Its team will provide technical assistance and insight to farmers in Arkansas, Mississippi, Missouri, Louisiana, Texas and California to certify that their cultivation methods reduce emissions.
“USDA funding allows AgriCapture to continue building the market for climate-smart commodities by expanding participating acreage, partnering with additional rice mills, and increasing Climate-Friendly rice purchasing volume,” the company said in its announcement.