How Smithfield achieved its grain sustainability goal

A case study about Smithfield Foods explains how supply chain partnerships generate shared value for businesses, farmers and the environment.

Smithfield engaged 80 percent of its directly sourced grain supply, or 560,000 acres, in conservation practices in 2018. This exceeded the goal it set in 2013 to engage 75 percent of its directly sourced grain supply, or about 450,000 acres, in practices that reduce fertilizer loss and improve soil health.

A case study, Shared Value: How Smithfield Foods creates environmental and business benefits through supply chain partnerships, explains how Smithfield was able to achieve its goal.

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Authored by Datu Research with contributions from EDF and Smithfield, the case study examines Smithfield’s grain sustainability interventions — both those that worked and those that didn’t — as well as the manure-to-energy projects Smithfield is implementing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Seven best practices

The case study can assist other food companies and retailers in designing effective supply chain sustainability initiatives. It offers seven best practices for companies setting out to achieve ambitious supply chain sustainability goals.

  1. Set big, audacious goals. Smithfield was one of the first animal agriculture companies to tackle grain sustainability, and it was the first major meat company to set an absolute greenhouse gas reduction goal for its supply chain.
  2. Recognize business value as more than just return on investment. Smithfield generated business value by building resilience within its supply chain, developing strategic partnerships, identifying new business opportunities and enabling the success of farmers.
  3. Integrate environmental impact into the decision-making of all business functions. Smithfield integrated environmental priorities into core business functions such as grain procurement and encouraged all employees to identify and improve environmental practices.
  4. Provide farmers with the support they need to successfully adopt new practices. Smithfield has partnered effectively with farmers to provide resources and support to help them make environmentally and financially sound decisions for their farms.
  5. Establish key metrics early and devote resources to ongoing measurement. Data collection methods are immature for many farm practices. Without the establishment of key metrics and resources dedicated to measurement, it is difficult to track progress.
  6. Look beyond traditional business partnerships. Partnerships with EDF, suppliers and other companies have all had a role in advancing Smithfield’s supply chain sustainability efforts.
  7. Accept that continuous improvement requires continual learning. Iteration and a sustained focus on specific environmental challenges has allowed Smithfield to drive change in their own organization and across their supply chain.

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