The Challenges Facing Sustainable Agriculture
News Kevin O’Donnell, director of sourcing and operations sustainability at General Mills, discusses the importance of implementing eco-friendly practices throughout the agriculture industry.
Why is it important to involve sustainable practices in agriculture?
As a global food company, we are reliant on the output of Mother Nature — through our ingredients that are grown around the world. More than two-thirds of GHG emissions and 99 percent of our water use occur outside of our manufacturing plants, primarily in agriculture. Changes in climate not only affect global food security but also impact General Mills’ ingredients for our products. We can’t do this work alone. Sustainable agriculture is a team sport that requires trusted partnerships with our suppliers and farmers in our supply chain to implement practices that support healthy soil, water quality and flourishing pollinator habitat.
What are a few of the main challenges that you’ve experienced creating a sustainable agriculture process?
First of all, this worthwhile endeavor is incredibly complex with many variables and players. Our first challenge was to define where we could make the biggest impact. This required us to conduct a comprehensive, global raw material risk and opportunity assessment for every ingredient we purchase to make our products. Another challenge was to prioritize work so we could use our company’s scale to do the most good. We did this by focusing on our top 10 ingredients and committed to implementing sustainable agriculture programs across these ingredients. Sustainable sourcing can only happen through trusted supplier and farmer partnerships. To this day, that collaboration has been the foundation of our progress on sustainable agriculture.
How are new innovations and technologies revolutionizing sustainable agriculture?
One way to think about this is the heightened focus around soil science — we can’t talk about sustainable agriculture without talking about soil health. Additionally, there’s a revolution taking place more broadly in digital and precision agriculture with a lot of direct and complementary benefits to sustainable agriculture. At the end of the day, on-farm practices are most critical to delivering impact and advances in technology are putting new tools in the hands of farmers to help them better understand how their actions can be focused to improve resource use and sustainability results.
What is your advice for other companies interested in ensuring that their agriculture and supply chain is as sustainable as possible?
First, it’s critical to understand the supply chain fully, including the impacts, risks and opportunities which determine where to focus. Without a doubt, it’s an end-to-end supply chain proposition. Results and impact can only be achieved through tight partnerships with suppliers and farmers.
Treating the World with Care is in our DNA as a core company pursuit and is an important driver behind our sustainability ambitions. We’re trying to Do the Right Thing all the time and look at this through a consumer first lens of how we bring value to our brands, and in the case of sustainable agriculture, what do consumers care about and what aspects resonate with them most.