(Raleigh, NC) Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) today announced a collaboration with Smithfield Foods and its livestock production subsidiary, Murphy-Brown LLC, that will help farmers optimize fertilizer application to grain grown for animal feed. Efficiently applying fertilizer reduces water pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, while maintaining crop yields and lowering farm input costs.
Fertilizer is needed to grow crops, but excess nitrogen fertilizer not absorbed by crops can run off the land and pollute lakes, streams and drinking water. Excess fertilizer also emits significant amounts of nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas (GHG) 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Agriculture is the fifth largest source of GHG emissions in the United States.
“Commercial fertilizer is an often overlooked and significant opportunity to combat climate change and improve water quality," said David Festa, EDF Vice President, Ecosystems. “Our initiative with Smithfield is an important part of a comprehensive effort underway at EDF to ensure agricultural production meets human needs for food and contributes to the resilience of our environment. By working with farmers and engaging all points along the food supply chain, we can significantly reduce fertilizer runoff, safeguard our environment and ensure farm productivity.”
Smithfield is a major supplier of pork products sold to Walmart, which is asking suppliers who use commodity grains like corn, wheat and soy in their products to develop plans that reduce fertilizer loss on farms. Out of 15 fertilizer optimization plans submitted to Walmart by its major suppliers, Smithfield’s plan, which features its work with EDF, was selected as “best in class” by the company.
“Smithfield and Murphy-Brown believe that this project will demonstrate how innovative fertilizer application practices will benefit farmers while providing additional environmental protection. Through this collaborative effort with EDF, we will be able to reach out to the local grain farmers with whom we do business and leverage the economic and environmental benefits for all involved,” said Dennis H. Treacy, Executive Vice President and Chief Sustainability Officer.
The new program will help farmers who sell grain to Murphy-Brown learn to use new tools and practices that more precisely match fertilizer application with their crops' needs and improve soil health. The company, which raises hogs in North Carolina, says the goal is to have 75 percent of its Southeast grain-sourcing acres participate in a fertilizer optimization and soil health program by 2018. The program will roll out in North Carolina, Virginia and South Carolina this year. It will expand to grain Smithfield buys from Midwest farmers in 2015.
EDF estimates that the collaboration with Smithfield will reduce excess nitrogen fertilizer on over 450,000 acres and reduce GHG emissions from agriculture by over 60,000 tons. This emissions reduction is equivalent to taking approximately 13,000 cars off the road.
The collaboration with Smithfield and Murphy-Brown is the latest initiative undertaken by EDF to reduce fertilizer runoff and cut GHG emissions. EDF's Sustainable Sourcing Initiative works with farmer networks to identify and reduce environmental impacts of agriculture in the supply chain. The program has helped reduce fertilizer loss by an average of 20 percent on a half million acres, while maintaining or increasing crop yields. Meeting the challenge of feeding a growing population will require increased crop yields while reducing the environmental impacts of crop production.