USDA lacks policy alignment for true food systems transformation

Read the full story at GreenBiz.

Many people have become rather disillusioned with the prospect of progress in American politics. I often feel the same way, but today, I’m here with more government praise than criticism — for the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), out of all agencies.

Last week, the USDA announced a new Food System Transformation framework with a $2.2 billion investment across food value chains. This announcement follows the $1 billion investment in climate-smart commodity pilot projects announced in February and the $700 million pandemic relief grant package for small food, agriculture and fisheries businesses launched last fall. 

With all this movement, the agency is starting to chart a new course for sustainable, equitable and resilient food systems. 

Closing the Green Gap: Corporate Sustainability Goes from Commitment to Impact

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Recent research by Oxford Economics and SAP SE has uncovered significant barriers to corporate sustainability initiatives.

The problems include a lack of communication and engagement by executives, ineffective use of data, siloed technologies that don’t share processes or information and a lack of cross-company and industry collaboration and partnership.

Climate-driven flooding poses well water contamination risks

Read the full story from the Associated Press.

Though estimates vary, roughly 53 million U.S. residents — about 17% of the population — rely on private wells, according to a study conducted in part by Environmental Protection Agency researchers. Most live in rural areas. But others are in subdivisions near fast-growing metro regions or otherwise beyond the reach of public water pipes.

While many private wells provide safe water, the absence of regulation and treatment afforded by larger municipal systems may expose some users to health risks, from bacteria and viruses to chemicals and lead, studies have found.

Risks are elevated after flooding or heavy rainfall, when animal and human feces, dirt, nutrients such as nitrogen and other contaminants can seep into wells. And experts say the threat is growing as the warming climate fuels more intense rainstorms and stronger and wetter hurricanes.

Innovation Center For U.S. Dairy announces 2022 Sustainability Award Winners

The U.S. Dairy Sustainability Awards program recognized a class of seven exceptional farms, businesses and partnerships for their socially responsible, economically viable and environmentally sound practices and technologies that have a broad and positive impact.

This year’s winners displayed excellence in areas such as methane and other greenhouse gas reduction practices as well as water use efficiencies that support the industrywide 2050 Environmental Stewardship Goals.

The awards, hosted by the farmer-founded Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy, have recognized more than 80 winners from nearly 300 nominees since their creation in 2012.

“This year’s winners exemplify how forward-thinking and regenerative efforts across the entire supply chain have led to positive results and what it means to be an environmental solution,” said Barbara O’Brien, CEO of the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy. “Considered collectively, these stories of success serve as examples of all the good things U.S. dairy is doing for planetary health and why the aggressive goals we have set are within reach.”

The awards are judged by an independent panel of dairy and conservation experts who consider innovation, scalability and replicability when evaluating nominations. Among the criteria to apply for the awards is participation and good standing in the National Dairy Farmers Assuring Responsible Management (FARM) animal care program and agreement to participate in the FARM Environmental Stewardship online tool for determining their GHG and energy footprint. Both initiatives are part of the U.S. Dairy Stewardship Commitment, U.S. dairy’s social responsibility pledge to consumers, customers and other stakeholders.

“As a dairy farmer, I understand the importance of community and being a true caretaker of the environment that surrounds our farm and these winners demonstrate these values to their neighbors every day,” said Marilyn Hershey, Pennsylvania dairy farmer and chair of the Dairy Management Inc. board of directors. “These all are solution- and results-oriented businesses who are not only making meaningful contributions locally but to the U.S. dairy industry overall.”

The 2022 U.S. Dairy Sustainability Awards winners are:

Outstanding Dairy Farm Sustainability: Deer Run Dairy, Kewaunee, Wisconsin
At Deer Run Dairy, farming is a continuous learning process. Partners Duane Ducat, Derek Ducat and Dale Bogart actively participate in Wisconsin’s Demonstration Farm Network and Discovery Research program. The region’s topography, shallow soils and proximity to Lake Michigan pose water quality challenges, and the partners have implemented numerous conservation practices to protect the water and to improve soil health. As big believers in the value of cover crops, they set and achieved a goal to seed 100% of their cropland with cover crops in the fall of 2021. Additional goals encompass the entire 1,850-cow operation, including minimal antibiotic use and feeding trials to reduce methane gas production in the rumen of the cow. All goals ladder up to the ability to be a profitable business on land that is sustained for generations to come. 

Outstanding Dairy Farm Sustainability: Grayhouse Farms, Inc., Stony Point, North Carolina
When it came time to build a new dairy five years ago, Jimmy and Andy Gray designed a dairy that is, as Jimmy calls it, “conservation and efficiency by design” with dozens of water and soil conservation practices in use. The flush manure management and sand separation system allows sand to be recycled nearly 100 times, and a four-stage lagoon is designed to best utilize nutrients and water. The facility for their 1,120 cows was also built to maximize cow comfort, from ventilation and fans to rubber matting, sprinklers and sand bedding. Soil conservation practices include GPS placement of nutrients, cover crops, filter strips and 100% no-till farming. Land that is not well-suited for farming is cared for with an equal amount of attention to wildlife conservation. “We understand that we hold the title of this property, but we are the caretakers, and we must be vigilant in how we farm,” says Jimmy. 

Outstanding Dairy Farm Sustainability: Steve and Cheryl Schlangen Dairy Farm, Albany, Minnesota
Steve and Cheryl Schlangen’s mindset of continuous improvement is a way of life on their 60-cow, 200-acre farm in Stearns County, Minnesota. They count more than 30 conservation practices, from LED lighting and cover crops to a manure-stacking slab that prevents nutrient leaching into the water and a manure injection system that uses less time, less fuel and has virtually eliminated the need for commercial fertilizer on their crops. Their enthusiasm for sharing ideas and results with others has earned them a national reputation as leaders in regenerative agriculture. Schlangen Dairy provides a blueprint for beginning farmers and generational farms to follow.

Outstanding Dairy Farm Sustainability: Bar 20, Kerman, California
Bar 20 Dairy’s on-farm energy investments have added up big for the environment. LED bulbs provide lighting in all the barns, reducing the demand for electricity by 75%. Two solar array installations provide electricity for the dairy barn and offset power usage of the farming operation. A dairy digester captures methane from the 7,000-cow herd and converts it into renewable electricity via fuel cells. Through a partnership with BMW North America, the combustion-free, dairy-derived electricity is transmitted via the utility grid to power electric vehicles. The methane emission reductions at the farm, when combined with the renewable energy generation, result in carbon emission reductions equivalent to providing clean power to over 17,000 electric vehicles per year. Electricity generated by the fuel cells also powers a feed mixing system, replacing diesel and reducing smog-forming emissions by 90%.

Outstanding Dairy Processing Sustainability: Milk Specialties Global, Monroe, Wisconsin
A whey processing project at Milk Specialties Global (MSG) demonstrates how making one change can deliver sustainability benefits across the supply chain. To meet surging demand for dairy protein in foods and beverages, MSG acquired a plant in Monroe to collect and process whey, a by-product of cheesemaking, into whey proteins. However, the whey supply from local cheesemakers far outweighed processing capacity. Instead of trucking the whey to a larger plant, MSG found a way to double capacity at the plant without increasing the facility’s footprint. Artisanal cheesemakers saw a waste product turn into a revenue stream. The local community benefitted too: Truck miles decreased by 237,232 miles, saving 47,446 gallons of diesel fuel and reducing GHG emissions by 486 metric tons; 2.9 million gallons of water are now reclaimed and returned to the local watershed; and more than 53,000 pounds of whey protein is produced annually to fuel athletes and animals around the globe.

Outstanding Community Impact: Maryland & Virginia Milk Producers
Maryland & Virginia Milk Producers Cooperative Association (MDVA) is a community of more than 900 dairy farm families. With 90% of these located within the critical Chesapeake Bay watershed, the cooperative recognizes its responsibility to bring environmental solutions to its members and their communities. Through supply chain and partnerships with corporations, customers, and conservation non-profits, they have delivered more than $19 million in funds to make meaningful sustainability investments on member farms. To drive community impact, volunteers from MDVA and its partners participate in events such as planting riparian buffers on dairy farms and trash pick-ups along waterways. Planting riparian buffers helps protect critical waterways far beyond the reach of the farm, while also exposing people throughout the dairy supply chain to agriculture.

Outstanding Supply Chain Sustainability: Bel Brands, Land O’Lakes Inc., Boadwine Dairy
This multi-year program is designed to demonstrate the value of feed production practices that improve soil health and reduce greenhouse gas emissions and supports Bel Brands’ and Land O’Lakes’ shared ambitions to improve sustainable farming practices and reduce dairy’s environmental footprint. The project provides cost incentives, access to resources and expertise, and the use of the Truterra™ Insights Engine to participating farms. The first pilot took place on Boadwine Dairy, a member-owner of Land O’Lakes, where efforts to improve soil health have been ongoing for more than ten years, and is being expanded to dairy farms ranging in size from 450 to 2,000 cows in two regions.

A formal celebration of the winners is scheduled in conjunction with the Dairy Sustainability Alliance® Fall Meeting, Nov. 14-15, in Glendale, Arizona.

The Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy® is a forum that brings together the dairy community to address the changing needs and expectations of consumers through a framework of shared best practices and accountability. Initiated in 2008 by dairy farmers through the dairy checkoff, we collaborate on efforts that are important both to us and our valued customers in areas like animal care, food safety, nutrition and health, the environment and community contributions. Through the Innovation Center, the U.S. dairy community demonstrates its commitment to continuous improvement from farm to table, striving to ensure a socially responsible and economically viable dairy community.

Produce packaging ripe for innovation

Read the full story from Packaging World.

From European plastic bans to consumers pushing for what they perceive to be more sustainable packaging, produce companies are finding ways to maintain or improve shelf life while contributing to a circular economy.

Puerto Ricans are powering their own rooftop solar boom

Read the full story at Canary Media.

Residents and shop owners are installing solar-plus-battery systems in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. Will the government get on board?

Global events spur search for alternative oils

Read the full story at Food Business News.

Since Ukraine’s national flower is the sunflower and the country is the leading global exporter of sunflower seed oil, according to the US Department of Agriculture’s Foreign Agricultural Service, the Russia-Ukraine war has affected supply and price. Sunflower seed oil, Midwest was trading at $1.13 per lb on May 13, which was up from 83¢ a year ago, according to the USDA.

“The lack of availability of sunflower oil is especially worrying for savory snack brands who depend on this ingredient as changing to other ingredients will lead to higher price points, both from a business and a consumer perspective,” said Alice Popple, consumer analyst at GlobalData, London, a data and analytics company.

Companies may check out the availability of other high-oleic oils.

Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances in Food Packaging: Second Alternatives Assessment

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This is the second Washington State Department of Ecology (Ecology) alternatives assessment
(AA) of per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in plant-fiber-based food packaging. This AA
is pursuant to the requirements of RCW 70A.222.070, which restricts the manufacture,
distribution, and sale in Washington of “food packaging to which PFAS chemicals have been
intentionally added in any amount.” PFAS are intentionally added to some paper food
packaging products to provide oil and grease resistance, water repellency, and leak resistance.
The restriction timeline depends on when we identify safer alternatives to PFAS in food

This AA: evaluates less toxic chemicals and nonchemical alternatives to replace the use of PFAS in food packaging; follows the guidelines for alternatives assessments issued by the Interstate Chemicals Clearinghouse (IC2); includes, at a minimum, an evaluation of chemical hazards, exposure, performance, cost, and availability.

The uncomfortable relationship between business and biodiversity: Advancing research on business strategies for biodiversity protection

Panwar, R., Ober, H., & Pinkse, J. (2022). “The uncomfortable relationship between business and biodiversity: Advancing research on business strategies for biodiversity protection.” Business Strategy and the Environment, 1– 13.

Abstract: The purpose of this article is to stimulate research on business strategies for biodiversity protection. To that end, we first dispel a common misperception among business scholars that biodiversity loss is caused by only a few industries, clarifying that it is driven by practically all. Further, we organize corporate biodiversity protection strategies into four categories based on temporal and spatial dimensions, namely, conservation, restoration, compensation, and reparation. Finally, we illustrate the unsettled nature of the field and the continuing debates among conservation biologists about the best approaches to biodiversity management. We argue that (i) a firm’s biodiversity protection strategy should aim to mitigate the primary driver through which the firm causes biodiversity loss; (ii) firms should report performance in each of the four biodiversity protection strategies separately; and (iii) interdisciplinary collaborations among corporate sustainability scholars and conservation biologists are critical to developing effective biodiversity protection strategies.

Renewable energy projects power up in tribal nations

Read the full story at GreenBiz.

From Florida to Alaska, dozens of tribes are working to harness energy from wind, sun and water to generate millions of dollars in revenue, create short- and long-term jobs and reduce utility costs for citizens, while also helping combat climate change and boost energy independence.

Solar energy is leading the way in Indian Country, with projects underway by the Navajo Nation, the Northern Cheyenne Tribe in eastern Montana, the Spokane Tribe in Washington, the Seminole Tribe of Florida, and others.