This story is the first part of a five-part Agri-Pulse series that looks in-depth at how reductions in greenhouse gas emissions could have far-reaching effects on American farmers and ranchers.

The alfalfa, oats, radish and clover sprouting in Lance Lillibridge’s Iowa corn field this fall will improve his soil, prevent pollutants from running off his fields into local streams — and, according to scientists, help reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that are changing the climate. 

These cover crops, which can also reduce air emissions from nitrogen fertilizer, a major agricultural contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, also are earning him $35 to $50 an acre in extra cash. That’s a meaningful source of income during a period when farmers can barely cover their cost of producing corn and soybeans. 

Lillibridge is taking part in a project, co-sponsored by agribusiness giant Cargill Inc., that is testing whether corporate titans of the grocery, food, beverage, restaurant and apparel industries can persuade farmers to meaningfully reduce the environmental footprint of the crops they grow and animals and they produce. 

Officials with many corporations, including such names as Walmart, McDonald’s, General Mills, Levi Strauss and Co. and Danone, have in some cases made sweeping sustainability pledges to consumers and investors to slash the carbon emissions in their supply chains and meet corporate sustainability targets. 

“Consumers are really clearly awakening and demanding a lot more with regard to the climate,” said Ryan Sirolli, global row crop sustainability director for Minnesota-based Cargill, one of the world’s largest grain and meat processors and ingredient suppliers. “You might debate climate change and everything else, but I’d say on the consumer side it’s kind of a foregone conclusion.” 

What does that mean for farmers? “You’re either addressing it, and you're here, or you're not … You may struggle to have a license to operate in the future.” said Sirolli.

Ryan Sirolli

Ryan Sirolli, Cargill

Leading the way, according to industry officials, is Walmart Inc., the world’s largest grocery retailer. As part of the Arkansas-based firm’s sustainability journey, it has promised to slash the greenhouse gas emissions in its vast supply chain by a billion tons by 2030, the equivalent of taking 211 million cars off the road. Walmart expects agriculture to account for 200 million to 300 million tons of that. 

But many other corporations, especially consumer-facing multinational firms and European-based companies, have made commitments to at least meet a target set by the Paris climate agreement, which is aimed at keeping global temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius by 2050, according to an analysis by Agri-Pulse. These companies’ commitments include emissions in their supply chains, such as the ag commodities and food that they procure. 

President Donald Trump withdrew the United States out of the Paris agreement, but these companies are effectively ignoring his decision. 

Food firms, retailers getting more ambitious

A few companies, including Danone, General Mills Inc., Nestle, Olam International (a major global supplier of food ingredients and commodities), food service giant Sodexo and PepsiCo Inc., have gone a step further and signed a United Nations-sponsored pledge to set more ambitious emissions targets aimed at keeping the global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

At least two dozen major food, beverage and apparel companies have joined the Science Based Targets initiative, or SBTi, a project that requires member companies to set scientifically valid goals for reducing their carbon emissions, with an option of following either the 2-degree or 1.5-degree goal.

Some companies have even pledged to become carbon neutral, including Walmart, which announced in September that it planned to reach that goal by 2040, 10 years ahead of the target set by the Paris agreement.

Smithfield Foods Inc., a vertically-integrated pork producer and processor, announced in September it would make all of its company-owned operations carbon neutral by 2030, one of the most aggressive targets of any company. 

Rival Tyson Foods Inc., one of the largest beef, pork and poultry processors, committed to the SBTi project and has pledged to cut emissions from its production of beef, pork and poultry by 30% in the next 10 years. Tyson and McDonald’s Corp. are key members of the U.S. Roundtable for Sustainable Beef, which is sponsoring research on whether “adaptive multi-paddock” grazing can increase rancher productivity and sequester more carbon in the soil at the same time.

Dole Foods Co., which produces and processes fruits and vegetables, has pledged to make its farms carbon neutral by 2030. 

Danone, Sodexo and Starbucks Corp. have gone beyond many other companies, pledging to slash its emissions in half by 2030. Unilever, whose brands include Ben & Jerry’s and Hellmann’s, said in June that it intended to reach net zero emissions by 2039 for all products, "from the sourcing of the materials we use, up to the point of sale of our products.

Danone is further pledging to make its Horizon organic milk “carbon positive” by 2025, meaning its supply chain will sequester more carbon than it emits. Dairy producers and others in animal agriculture should take note that plant-based alternatives are figuring in both Starbucks’ and Sodexo’s plans: Starbucks plans to meet its climate goal in part by switching many dairy products to plant-based alternatives; Sodexo says it is “raising public awareness of the environmental benefits of plant-based meals” and promoting them on menus.

Based on interviews with industry officials, many companies aren’t clear yet how they will meet their goals, nor is there agreement yet on how to measure the impact of many practices.

Those are among the reasons for a myriad of research programs and pilot projects that Walmart, Cargill and other corporations are sponsoring across the country. But many industry officials say it’s clear U.S. farmers will likely have to play a role in reducing U.S. greenhouse gas emissions as part of a broader effort to help food companies hit their sustainability targets.

“What we are hearing on all sides of this is that companies are really doubling down on their commitments, and then you see companies also saying, ‘Not only are we going to reduce our greenhouse gas footprint by this much by this day, but we commit to being carbon neutral,’” said Debbie Reed, executive director of the Ecosystem Services Market Consortium, an industry-backed coalition setting up a market in credits for reducing carbon emissions and improving water quality. 

Debbie Reed

Debbie Reed, Ecosystems Services Market Consortium

The COVID-19 pandemic doesn’t appear to have discouraged companies from moving forward either, she said. “There is no letup in the corporate goal setting or the desire to actually work to meet them,” she said. For some companies, the pandemic has increased their food sales, making their climate goals even more challenging to meet. 

Some companies, including ESMC members Danone and General Mills plan to meet their commitments in part by purchasing offsets. Several tech companies, including Indigo Ag and Nori, also are setting up ag carbon markets. 

Such markets are one of the primary ways farmers like Lillibridge could ultimately get paid for climate-friendly practices once pilot projects like Cargill’s run their course. Joe Biden has proposed a second method: Making payments through a farm bill program, the Conservation Stewardship Program, using a mixture of federal funding and funding from corporations that want to offset emissions. 

Companies aren’t yet requiring that farmers’ crops meet certain environmental standards, although farm groups worry that could be coming. A senior executive with Nestle suggested at the 2019 Sustainable Agriculture Summit in Indianapolis that her company would eventually write sustainability standards into its procurement specifications, something Nestle already does for pathogens and protein content.

Food giants bringing lobbying muscle to ag policy

Food companies and restaurant chains also are considering labeling products and menu items, although there is concern about being able to back up claims. In October, first Panera Bread and then Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. announced labeling plans. 

Panera, the restaurant chain owned by the German conglomerate JAB, now labels menu items, including most of its soups, that are produced with less than a certain amount of carbon emissions as “Cool Food Meals,” a claim developed by the World Resources Institute.

Chipotle has a separate labeling program called “Real Foodprint,” which is based on measuring the “sustainability impact” of its ingredients on greenhouse gas emissions, water usage, soil health, organic farming acreage and usage of animal antibiotics.

Meanwhile, companies also are starting to play another role that farmers aren’t accustomed to: Lobbying Congress on farm bill programs and other policy issues. Danone, Nestle, Mars and Unilever formed the Sustainable Food Policy Alliance in mid-2018. The group hired the lobbying firm Glover Park Group at a cost of $100,000 in 2019 and $130,000 so far this year.

“The idea of sustainability and leaving the world a better place than we found it is woven into everything that SFPA does, but particularly our work on the climate and environment,” Anton Vincent, president of Mars Wrigley North America, said on a recent webinar sponsored by Reuters. 

"We know we are one piece of a larger puzzle, but the food and agriculture industries have an important role to play in mitigating climate change.”

One priority for the group, he said, is passage of the Growing Climate Solutions Act, a bill introduced in the Senate and House this year to accelerate the development of agricultural carbon markets. The bill would put the Agriculture Department in charge of creating a certification program for third-party verifiers and technical assistance provers. The third-party verifiers are supposed to ensure the validity of carbon credits. 

Another group that is likely to be influencing the shape of farm bill programs and other policy decisions is the Midwest Row Crop Collaborative. Walmart played a leading role in forming the MRCC, which also includes seed and chemical giant Bayer as well as Cargill, Kellogg, PepsiCo, Unilever and three environmental groups, the Environmental Defense Fund, The Nature Conservancy and the World Wildlife Fund.

The MRCC is currently in the process of developing policy groups that members can agree on and use to guide their own lobbying efforts. 

Industry’s ‘Gigaton’ gorilla doubles down

Industry officials tell Agri-Pulse that a single company, Walmart, is driving much of the effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, pushing food and beverage companies as well as key clothing manufacturers to reduce U.S. agriculture’s environmental footprint across the supply chain. 

Walmart launched its Project Gigaton in 2017, a pledge to cut the greenhouse gas emissions in its supply chain by a billion tons. “Through Project Gigaton, suppliers can take their sustainability efforts to the next level through goal-setting,” the firm notes. Walmart expects agriculture to account for 200 million to 300 million tons of that. 

Brett Kaysen

Brett Kaysen, National Pork Board

Walmart doubled down on the Project Gigaton pledge by promising to go carbon neutral by 2040, 10 years ahead of the targets set by the Paris agreement. 

“They took Gigaton and put it on steroids from my perspective,” said Brett Kaysen, vice president of sustainability for the National Pork Board. 

He noted CEO Doug McMillon said the company was going to meet the carbon-neutral pledge through emissions reductions made by its suppliers. “So it's going to be a top-down push,” Kaysen said. 

So far, Walmart has made little progress in getting its agriculture suppliers to reduce emissions. According to the company’s 2020 progress report, agriculture accounted for just 1.6 million tons of the 136 million tons of emissions reductions made by Walmart suppliers in 2019. (The largest emissions reduction among Walmart suppliers, about 66 million tons, was the result of reduced energy usage.)

But Tina Owens, senior director of food and agriculture impact for Danone North America, said Walmart’s commitments are trickling down to its suppliers. Like many of its other suppliers, Walmart is Danone’s biggest customer. “It’s not just the writing on the wall for our farmers. The writing is on the wall for everybody,” Owens said. 

And it’s not just food companies that worry about Walmart’s demands. Clothing and textile companies, such as Levi’s, do as well, which means Walmart’s goals are affecting cotton growers. 

“When you have one of the largest retailers in the world, especially based out of the U.S., making these corporate goals like this, it’s not only for their corporation, but their suppliers as well,” said Ken Burton, executive director of the U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol, a U.S. industry 

Walmart has taken several steps to encourage farmers to adopt new practices through projects such as the Midwest Row Crop Collaborative, which was formed with the lofty target of getting half of the row crop acres in the Mississippi River Basin implementing soil health practices by 2025. 

Mikel Hancock

Mikel Hancock, Walmart

Meanwhile, the Walmart Foundation is funding research and training programs that amount to what one scientist calls Walmart’s own “extension program” aimed at providing farmers and agribusiness companies in the United States as well as emerging markets with the know-how to reduce their environmental footprint. 

Walmart also is a leading supporter of The Sustainabilty Consortium, founded by the University of Arkansas (located in Fayetteville, just down the road from Walmart’s Bentonville, Ark., headquarters) and Arizona State University. 

The Walton Family Foundation, which is controlled by the heirs of Walmart founder Sam Walton, is assisting Cargill in funding the project that is paying Lillibridge for his soil-conserving practices. 

Walmart officials say they’re doing what their customers want and that the agricultural practices needed to address climate change will also lead to critical environmental benefits, including improving water quality and wildlife diversity.

Walmart’s ability to meet its 2030 and 2040 goals rests on its ability to get its suppliers and ultimately farmers and ranchers to reduce emissions with no promise of compensation. 

So far, 2,300 of the suppliers have made commitments toward addressing emissions in their supplies. 

Walmart monitors its suppliers on an annual basis.

“We definitely find that when you have a specific goal, you begin to measure, and it's time-bound. (That is a) very effective strategy to be able to use to work on those things together,” said Mikel Hancock, Walmart’s senior director for strategic initiatives, sustainability. 

Walmart has no intention at this point of requiring that its suppliers meet standards for greenhouse gas emissions. 

“Walmart can't solve it alone, and even our suppliers individually can't solve it alone, but collectively what we would like to do is, problem solve, brainstorm on how we actually … address the current issues and fight climate change together,” said Hancock. 

“I don’t necessarily know that, you know, a mandate is going to drive the additional progress that we’re looking for.”

Among suppliers that Walmart has highlighted in its reports are PepsiCo and Kellogg’s. PepsiCo has committed to cutting the greenhouse gas emissions in its supply chain 20% by 2030. As of 2019, those emissions had been cut by 5%, up from 3%. Kellogg’s has committed to be supporting 500,000 farmers by 2025 on “climate smart” agricultural practices. 

Hancock touts projects Walmart has been involved with to reduce the environmental footprint from corn and other row crops, knowing that doing so is vital to reducing the climate impact of animal agriculture as well. Roughly two-thirds of the greenhouse gas emissions associated with non-ruminant animals, hogs, chickens and turkeys, are associated with the feed that they eat. 

“What we have as far as animal feed and how it goes through the agriculture side of the business starts with the ground,” he said. 

Few sectors of agriculture may be able to escape

Belching cows get a lot of media attention when it comes to greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture, which accounts for about 9% of total U.S. emissions. But the biggest source of emissions from U.S. agriculture is actually the production of row crops, in part because of the use of nitrogen fertilizer, which turns into nitrous oxide gas. 

One pound of nitrous oxide has nearly 300 times the impact on warming the atmosphere as a pound of carbon dioxide.

Emissions from row crops are so significant, in fact, that they account for about 70% of the emissions from pork and poultry production, largely because of the corn fed to the hogs, chickens and turkeys. 

And that’s where farmers like Lillibridge come in.

Improving soil health though cover crops, reduced tillage and other “regenerative” practices is seen as the key to both reducing greenhouse gas emissions, by sequestering carbon in the soil, while also protecting water quality by curbing soil runoff. In areas prone to drought, the increased plant material in the soil can also help retain water, protecting crop yields and reducing the need for irrigation. 

The soil is "a living and breathing digestive system and it is important that we keep it healthy just like our own bodies,” said Lillibridge, who farms 1,450 acres in eastern Iowa northwest of Cedar Rapids. 

Strip tilling

Dawn Pluribus Strip-Till System in the field planning corn in South Central Minnesota. Photo: Rodney Arthur

In addition to planting the cover crops, which were aerially seeded into his fields in September so they would be growing when he harvested his cash crops, Lillibridge also uses a practice known as strip-tilling that leaves as much of the soil unplowed each spring. He cuts a five-inch-wide strip in which to plant corn and soybean seeds. Strip tilling has an advantage over no-till farming by allowing the soil to dry out better in the spring. 

The animal agriculture industry that supplies Walmart and other retailers is counting on such improvements in the way that corn and soybeans are grown. 

“When we look at any indicator, whether the indicator is greenhouse gas emissions, energy use, water use, land use, take your pick, they always come back to corn and soybeans when talking about animal ag,” said Marty Matlock, executive director of the University of Arkansas Resiliency Center and a professor of ecological engineering. 

Smithfield’s plan for making its farms carbon neutral illustrates the complexity of meeting corporate climate goals: Soil health practices and more efficient use of fertilizer will reduce feed emissions. 

Simultaneously, Smithfield plans to capture the methane from its farms’ hog manure and turn it into renewable natural gas. Finally, Smithfield will also use more wind and solar power generation to power its operations. 

The Environmental Defense Fund has been working with Smithfield on projects to improve the sustainability of corn and soybeans, one in North Carolina, and another in the Midwest, the latter of which involves sourcing of small grains to help farmers break up their corn-soybean rotation and reduce fertilizer usage. 

One of the goals of the North Carolina project is to ensure Smithfield farms have access to local grain sources, reducing the distance the feed has to be transported, which in turn limits its carbon footprint. 

“That has a really big impact when a company like Smithfield … steps up and says this is really important to our supply chain and we want to work with you, EDF, and you, the farmers, to figure out to do this in way that’s scientifically robust and also good for the farmers,” said Shelby Shelton, a EDF project manager for working lands.

Sustainability fixes vary by sector, company

Other companies and sectors are taking or may take different approaches to reducing their environmental footprint. 

A few companies, including Campbell Soup Co., are tying pledges to individual commodities that they buy. 

Campbell has pledged to source five key ingredients — jalapeños, potatoes, soy, tomatoes and wheat — from farmers participating in sustainable agriculture programs by 2025. So far, 90% of its tomatoes meet that commitment, but the same can be said for only 8% of its wheat and none of its jalapeños, potatoes and soy. 

Campbell sources tomatoes from a limited number of producers, 50 growers in northern California within 40 miles of the processing plant. The company has worked with the growers to select seeds with genetics that have high solid contents while resisting drought, said Andrea Chu, Campbell’s manager for responsible sourcing and risk management.

Del Monte has a goal of increasing the use of cover crops by its farmers by 5% a year, with a special emphasis in its Midwest growing areas of Wisconsin and Illinois. In 2019, cover crops on Del Monte vegetable fields increased nearly 12% in Wisconsin, the company says. 

Interested in more coverage and insights? Receive a free month of Agri-Pulse.

To meet its pledge, General Mills is emphasizing regenerative agriculture practices, pledging to support their use on a million acres of U.S. farmland by 2030, while also tailoring sustainability projects to its key ingredients. 

The company has three pilot projects underway, one on oats in North Dakota and the neighboring Canadian provinces, a wheat pilot in Kansas and a dairy project in Michigan. 

General Mills isn’t directly compensating farmers for regenerative practices but sees its participation in ecosystems credit markets as a way to ensure that farmers who reduce greenhouse gas emissions while conserving water and protecting water quality potentially make more money than other farmers.

Offset markets will ensure that “we're not treating all farmers as equal,” said Jay Watson, who is in charge of sourcing sustainability and regenerative agriculture at General Mills. 

Jay Watson

Jay Watson, General Mills

“The ones that are really working to rehabilitate their land and regenerate their ecosystems and providing cleaner water, protecting water quality, improving air quality … improving soil health, they really should be compensated differently,” he said. 

For U.S. cotton growers, the pressure on sustainability and carbon emissions originated with clothing brands based in Europe. Dozens of brands and retailers, including H&M, Ikea, Target, Gap and Walmart, have pledged to source 100% sustainable cotton by 2025. And a new survey carried out for the industry by the Economist Intelligence Unit indicates that industry CEOs are broadly intent on sustainability issues. 

Some 60% of 150 fashion, retail and textile leaders surveyed said implementing sustainability measures was a top strategic objective for their company, second only to improving customers’ experience. More than half the CEOs said they were collecting on data on suppliers’ greenhouse gas emissions and 59% on water and energy usage. 

To provide evidence to those and other CEOs that U.S. cotton is being produced sustainably, the National Cotton Council launched the Cotton Trust Protocol, which set a series of goals for the industry to reach by 2025, including a 30% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and an 18% increase in irrigation efficiency. (By comparison, Levi Strauss and Co. has pledged to reduce its carbon emissions by 40% by 2025.) 

The program, whose board members include representatives of Levi’s, the World Wildlife Fund and The Nature Conservancy, finished a pilot project this year with 300 growers with the goal of having half of all U.S. growers participating by 2025. 

"These brands and retailers are needing transparency,” said the protocol’s Burton. They’re needing something that allows them to hit their marks.”

Eventually, if the program works as designed, clothing companies and retailers will have access to credits generated by the protocol and the right to use the protocol label on their products. The credits would provide funding to compensate growers for the time they spend on record keeping as well as a grant program to help growers pay for implementing practices. 

Interested in more coverage and insights? Receive a free month of Agri-Pulse.

The fruit, vegetable and nut industry, meanwhile, has organized an initiative called the Stewardship Index for Specialty Crops to measure the sector’s environmental footprint. Metrics are currently being developed on food loss and waste as well as on greenhouse gas emissions, which is being measured by fuel use, electricity use, fertilizer production, nitrous oxide emissions and soil carbon.

Sustainability cover crop video

Agri-Pulse Sustainability Series: Introduction to soil health and cover crops

In the first video of our sustainability series farmers and experts discuss soil health, its impact on climate change and the role of cover crops in modern farming systems.

Members of the program’s coordinating council include officials with Campbell Soup, Del Monte Foods, Panera, the Produce Marketing Association, Smuckers and the Western Growers Association.

Many companies in the fruit and vegetable sector have focused their commitments on water efficiency. 

For example, in addition to its 2030 for zero carbon emissions from its farms, Dole Foods also is pledging to limit its water usage. Dole has specific 2025 goals to use 25% less water in fruit processing and to have 75% of its fresh vegetable converted to drip irrigation. 

In the long run, the U.S. industry may move toward more decentralized, localized production, much of it in greenhouses, said University of Arkansas’ Matlock, who advises the Stewardship Index for Specialty Crops. That will reduce the sector’s environmental footprint by reducing food waste and transportation and shift some production from water short regions such as California’s Central Valley.

Localized production will have markets with restaurants as well as retailers such as Walmart, which has committed to buying 10% of its produce from within the state where stores are located, he said.

One young company, BrightFarms, is growing lettuce, spinach, arugula and basil hydroponically in regional greenhouses and distributing them through 2,000 supermarkets, including Walmart and Kroger stores, in the Northeast, mid-Atlantic and Midwest. 

The company, which claims its products require 80% less water, 90% less land and 95% less fuel for shipping than conventional field-grown leafy greens, recently announced that it secured $100 million in financing to expand and expects to be in 15,000 stores by 2025. 

Reducing food loss and waste is a key way to lower the greenhouse gas emissions of specialty crops, because half of all vegetables produced in the U.S. are typically discarded, Matlock said. 

Farmers to companies: Show us the money

The big question for farmers and ranchers — and for many of the companies trying to show that they are reducing their environmental footprint — is whether and how producers will be compensated. 

That depends on a number of factors, including the development of private credit markets, which experts say will require a reliable system of measuring and verifying emissions reductions. Farm bill programs generally only provide only short-term financial assistance, though they could be expanded. 

Cover cropsThe benefits to farmers may not necessarily be direct compensation, or through the selling of ag carbon credits. For example, a carbon footprint calculator being developed by the National Pork Board would allow producers to make adjustments to their feed or other operations to make their hogs more appealing to a processor. 

Feeding pigs corn that was produced with cover crops, or using sorghum rather than corn, could both lower the farm’s carbon footprint, potentially giving the producer an edge over competitors.

Lillibridge, the Iowa grower, says it’s currently hard to measure the economic benefits of cover crops, making it difficult to know whether they are worth the investment. He said that planting cover crops adds $40 to $50 an acre to his costs.

Numerous research projects are underway in the Midwest, South and elsewhere to determine the costs and benefits of those and other practices depending on the farmer’s location, the timing of the cover crop seeding, and other factors. 

“We can see a cover crop is keeping the soil green and its developing root systems (to aid in water runoff) and capturing nutrients. We all realize that that is a good thing but we don't know how to measure it and it costs money,” said Lillibridge. 

“So how do you measure a rate of return on that cost of investment? It's difficult and that is what is turning people away, especially in an ag environment that is not overly profitable right now." 

The Soil and Water Outcomes Fund, which also involves the Iowa Soybean Association, that he’s participating in started with 10,000 acres and next year will expand to 100,000 acres. 

“We'd much rather solve this through one of the voluntary innovative ways that agriculture can lead and show the path forward right that's good for everybody,” said Cargill’s Sirolli. 

“Let's do it voluntarily before we get, you know, forced or regulated to do something.”

How food and ag giants set climate targets — and what they've promised

Corporate greenhouse gas emissions fall into one of three categories, or “scopes,” depending on the source. Scope 3 emissions are the ones that affect farmers and ranchers. 

Scope 1: Emissions are those generated by a company's in-house operations, including fleet vehicles, boilers etc. 

Scope 2: Emissions are those caused by the electricity the company purchases. 

Scope 3: Emissions are a company’s indirect emissions. They include company business travel as well as emissions from shipping products and the emissions that result from producing the raw commodities, ingredients and finished products that the company purchases. 

Some companies haven’t committed to reducing Scope 3 emissions or don’t track them. One of those is the food service giant Sysco Corp., which says collecting Scope 3 data “is not an immediate business priority.” Costco Wholesale Corp. also tracks only its Scope 1 and 2 emissions.

Land O’Lakes doesn’t have a Scope 3 goal but has committed to make a reduction of 10 million metric tons that it will contribute toward Walmart’s Project Gigaton goal of cutting supply chain emissions by a billion tons. 

Some big corporations, such as Kraft Heinz and restaurant giant Yum! Brands, which operates the KFC, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell chains, have committed to develop goals. 

Through a nonprofit group, CDP, formerly the Carbon Disclosure Project, many companies file detailed reports on their emissions and measures they are taking to reduce their risk from climate change. 

In its 2020 CDP report, food giant ConAgra Brands Inc. estimates its emissions from agriculture and forestry (which includes the paper used for packaging at 2,989,975 metric tons). ConAgra hasn't set a target for reducing those emissions, but the company describes in its CDP report some measures it is taking to address the impact of climate change.

The report says, for example, "Changing consumer preferences and customer requirements have impacted some of Conagra’s product lines and strategy in the short to medium term. For example, we have expanded certain product lines (such as Healthy Choice and Reddi-wip) to include more plant-based options and have analyzed sales trends for climate-beneficial food products."

What they’ve promised

Here is a look at what many major corporations have promised in greenhouse gas emissions that would affect agricultural commodities. The information is based on information made available by the companies on their websites, through the Science Based Targets initiative or provided in answer to questions from Agri-Pulse.

Revised Sustainability Chart

ADM (processing) — Reduce its greenhouse gas emissions 25% by 2035 from its 2019 baseline. A former goal, set in 2010, was to reduce emissions 15% by 2020 from what they were in 2010. The target was achieved in 2019. 

*Ahold Delhaize (grocery) — Reduce Scope 3 emissions 15% by 2030. 

*Anheuser-Busch InBev (beverage)Reduce GHG emissions across the alcoholic beverage company’s value chain by 25% by 2025. The company says it has achieved a 6.9% reduction since 2017. 

Bunge Ltd. (processing) Reduce emissions 10% by 2026 and reduce water use by 25% in high water stress regions. 

Campbell Soup Co. (food manufacturing) The company previously set goals to reduce emissions and water use for tomatoes 20% by 2020 from 2012. The company says that goal was achieved with a 26% reduction in emissions and 25% cut in water use. The company had a goal to reduce nitrogen use on tomatoes 10% by 2020. The actual reduction was 8%.

*Cargill Inc. (processing) Reduce GHG emissions 30% by 2030 from what they were in 2017. 

*The Coca-Cola Co. (beverage) — The company set a goal in 2013 to reduce the carbon footprint of the “drink in your hand” by 25% by 2020.

* ^Danone SA (food manufacturing)Reduce emissions 50% by 2030, become carbon neutral by 2050. 

Del Monte Foods Inc. (processing) — Increase cover cropping on supplier farms 5% per year. Del Monte is specifically encouraging the implementation of winter cover crops in Midwest growing areas and recorded a 6% increase from 2018 to 2019 in cover crops on all vegetable crops in all states combined. 

* ^Diageo PLC (beverage) Committed to being carbon neutral by 2050.

Dole Food Co. Inc. (producer/processing) Achieve net zero carbon emissions at the farm-level from Dole-managed operations by 2030

* ^General Mills Inc. (food manufacturing)Reduce emissions 30% by 2030. 

*The Hershey Co. (food manufacturing) — Committed in 2019 under Science Based Targets Initiative to develop emissions reduction goals by 2021

* ^H&M Group (retail) Signed UN Business Ambition for 1.5°C pledge, to reduce emissions in line with keeping global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius. 

JBS USA (meatpacking)Reduce emissions 20% by 2020. JBS reported earlier this year that its emissions had been reduced by 17%. 

*Kellogg Co. (food manufacturing) — Reduce emissions 50% by 2050. The company set sustainability targets for 2020 to “responsibly source” 10 priority global ingredients: Corn, Sugar Cane, Wheat, Cocoa, Rice, Palm Oil, Potatoes, Fruits, Sugar Beets and Vanilla.

*The Kraft Heinz Co. (food manufacturing) — Committed to set emission reduction goals under SBTI. 

* ^Levi Strauss & Co. (apparel) Reduce emissions 40% across global supply chain by 2025. 

*Mars Inc. (food manufacturing) Reduce emissions 27% across value chain by 2025 and 67% by 2050 from 2015 base. Reduce unsustainable water use 50% by 2025 from 2019 base year. 

*McDonalds Corp. (restaurant) Reduce emissions 31% by 2030 from 2015 base. 

*Molson Coors Brewing Co. (beverage) Reduce emissions across value chain 20% by 2025. 

*Mondelez International Inc. (food manufacturing) — Reduce emissions 10% by 2025 from 2018 base year. 

^Nestle SA (food manufacturing) — Committed to becoming carbon neutral by 2050, now establishing interim targets. “Strive for zero environmental impact in operations by 2030.”

* ^Olam International (processing) — Signed UN Business Ambition for 1.5°C pledge, to reduce emissions in line with keeping global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius.  

* **PepsiCo Inc. (food manufacturing) — Reduce absolute greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions across value chain by at least 20 percent by 2030 from a 2015 baseline.

Smithfield Foods (meatpacking) — Committed to becoming carbon neutral in company-owned operations by 2030. 

* ^Sodexo (food service) — Reduce emissions 34% by 2025 from 2017 baseline.

*Starbucks Corp. (restaurant) — Reduce emissions 50% by 2030. 

*Suntory Beverage & Food Ltd. (food and beverage) — Reduce emissions 20% across value chain by 2030. 

*Target (grocery) — Reduce emissions (including scope 1, 2 and 3) 30% by 2030 from 2017 base. 

*Tate & Lyle PLC (processing) Reduce scope 3 emissions 15% by 2030. 

*Tyson Foods Inc. (meatpacking) — Reduce Scope 3 emissions from production of poultry, pork and beef (covering 80% of their scope 3 inventory) 30% by 2030 from a 2016 base. 

* ^Unilever (food manufacturing/personal products) — Committed in June to net zero emissions by 2039 from all products.

*VF Corp. (apparel) — Reduce Scope 3 emissions 30% by 2030 from a 2017 base, focusing on farm-to-retail materials, sourcing operations and logistics.

*Walmart Inc. (grocery) Committed in 2017 to Project Gigaton to reduce Scope 3 emissions one billion tons by 2030. 

Yum! Brands Inc. (restaurant) — Committed in 2019 under SBTI to develop targets for reducing GHG emissions. 

*Committed to set emission reduction goals under the Science Based Targets Initiative, which helps companies set targets in line with the 2015 Paris climate agreement intended to keep global warming below 2 degrees Celsius. 

^Signed UN Business Ambition for 1.5°C pledge, to reduce emissions in line with keeping global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius. 

Next: Measuring outcomes, potential payoff is the key to ‘sustainable’ farming.