Burger King, Cargill, WWF help fund ‘sustainability’ project
According to NASA Earth Observatory, the bulk of carbon emissions in the world come from large cities, with the top 100 highest emitting urban areas accounting for 18 percent of the global carbon footprint. In the United States, suburban parts of cities have especially large footprints. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions from human activities in the United States is from burning fossil fuels for electricity, heat, and transportation. Transportation, electricity, industry, and commercial and residential uses combine to account for 89 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, with production agriculture contributing 9.9 percent.
Three well-known entities have teamed up on a three-year grasslands restoration proposal to “feed a growing population, address climate change and protect the planet.”
Cargill, Burger King restaurants and the World Wildlife Fund recently announced their three-year program to partner with ranchers in the Great Plains to convert 8,000 acres of poor or marginal croplands back to native grasslands. Participants will also implement conservation practices such as crossfencing, improved grazing systems, planting trees and shelterbelts, building livestock crossings to minimize erosion, as well as establish bird monitoring systems.
Monitoring practices will be used to measure progress over the three years, including changes in soil carbon and moisture, and wildlife response. The group estimates the reseeding of this cropland will save the carbon equivalent of driving nearly 70 million miles in an average passenger vehicle.
According to Markus Erk, a rancher from South Dakota and a participant in the program, monetary support from Cargill and Burger King are channeled to the World Wildlife Fund, which then distributes the money to private ranchers at a rate of $98/acre for reseeding. In South Dakota the program is providing funding to three ranches in the Castle Rock Water Corporation in western Butte County, S.D., on a total of 1,280 acres. The bulk of the participants and acreage will be in Montana. One organization the partners are working with is the Ranchers Stewardship Alliance out of Phillips County in north central Montana.
Kevin Ellison is the Northern Great Plains grassland ecologist for the World Wildlife Fund. He said project partners are determined based on interest and fit in the program, and relationships are developed in listening sessions across the region. The World Wildlife Fund identifies the Northern Great Plains as one of only four intact temperate grasslands left in the world, and the area is a target area of concern for the environmental group. “We recognize that in this region, 75 percent of the land is privately owned and managed. It’s important for us to work with the ranching community on our shared goals of sustainability.”
Martha Kaufmann, managing director of the Northern Great Plains region for the WWF, says a point of reference for their projects is their annual “Plowprint” report, which details the conversion of grassland to cropland based on USDA data. The turnover was “really going great guns” at the height of corn prices, she says. They estimate between 2009 and 2016 53 million acres of grasslands were converted to cropland. A primary concern for the group is the decline of grasslands birds in the region, which they note as a key indicator of overall ecosystem health.
The partnership aligns with existing platforms of these groups. Burger King is part of an umbrella sustainability platform called Restaurant Brands for Good. Their key initiatives include consciously reducing their environmental footprint, supporting communities and enhancing livelihoods, and using all natural food products and ingredients. In 2019 Burger King started serving the Impossible Burger, a plant based product they tout for using less land, fewer greenhouse emissions and less water than beef production.
Cargill is part of the BeefUp Sustainability initiative, with a goal of a 30 percent reduction in greenhouse gases by 2030. Their key target areas include grazing management, feed production, innovation and food waste reduction. “This project is an early one under our BeefUp Sustainability initiative,” says Heather Tansey, sustainability lead for Cargill’s animal health and protein business. “BeefUp Sustainability is a long-term journey that we are committed to taking with cattle producers. Farmers and ranchers can expect to see additional projects coming from Cargill in the future under the BeefUp Sustainability umbrella that will focus on reducing or sequestering GHGs and that help improve their cattle operations.”
Sustainability can take on many different meanings for cattle producers. Throughout the spring and summer of 2020 wholesale beef prices have jumped to record levels, while live cattle prices are at below breakeven prices. Investigations into possible price fixing by large packing conglomerates and concerns with monopolies have been brought forth by legislators and industry alliances.
With respect to this aspect of sustainability, Tansey says, “We’re working to do right by farmers, ranchers, our employees and customers. We rely on each other. Our pricing approach is transparent and we have taken extra steps to provide a fair market for farmers and ranchers. Our focus on market integrity and ethical business is unwavering. Sustainability is a shared priority for all of us, and we recognize that together, we can do something special in the beef supply chain.”
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