Walmart and General Mills join forces to harvest more sustainable crops

General Mills chief sustainability officer Jerry Lynch has revealed how his company is working with Walmart to accelerate innovation in sustainable agriculture down the supply chain.

Both companies are working with farmers through an initiative called Field to Market (FTM) to examine how nitrogen fertiliser optimisation technologies can help boost crop yields whilst conserving natural resources and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The aim is to double the reach of FTM so it covers 2.5 million acres of farmland by 2015.

Writing in a blog for Walmart, Lynch said that a meeting took place last week with farmers in Idaho, US, to “kick off an innovation challenge” using three different types of technology.

“The technologies selected through this challenge will help farmers make sure that every pound of nitrogen they apply is used by their crop as effectively as possible, bringing the greatest yield at the lowest cost and reducing the impact on the environment,” he said.

The technologies include a fieldprint calculator that will enable farmers to track information related to their specific farm. They can then compare how they are doing against average results in their area.

“The farmers can then identify opportunities to improve their results and increase their productivity in future years while having a positive impact on land use, conservation, soil carbon, irrigation water use, water quality, energy use and greenhouse gas emissions,” Lynch added.

Another approach is fertigation – a technology that allows the application of nitrogen at the same time irrigation water is applied. According to Lynch, this helps prevent the loss of nitrogen into the air that occurs when fertiliser is applied to the top of the soil by placing the nitrogen right at the roots of the plants, where it is needed.

Aerial imagery analysis is also being adopted. “This technology is helping farmers target specific parts of their fields that require herbicide or fertilisation treatment, avoiding the cost and potential environmental damage of spraying an entire field,” Lynch said.

He added that the toolkit of technologies might be built upon further towards the end of year, when General Mills and Walmart look to announce the results of its FTM innovation challenge.

The companies announced their commitment to work together on this initiative in April, when Walmart staged its first-ever Sustainable Product Expo in Arkansas, US.

Walmart is increasingly looking to engage and collaborate with its suppliers to drive its sustainability commitments forward. In May edie reported that the retail giant had brought together members of its supply chain to help develop a $100m Closed Loop Fund to improve US recycling rates.

Maxine Perella

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