• By Julie Deering, HighQuest Group

Celebrating National Ag Day: We Are More Than Food, We Care

While extremely grateful for the doctors, nurses, and healthcare providers who are the frontline defenses in this global fight against COVID-19, we as a nation are extremely blessed to have access to safe and affordable food — be it through a drive-through or with a few swipes of a finger or cooked with care in the comfort of your own home.

Today is a special day designated to celebrate agriculture and those involved in food production, from seed to retailers. “Food Brings Everyone to the Table,” is the theme for this year’s National Ag Day Celebration. Even though fewer than 2 percent of the U.S. population is directly involved on the farm, when you take those raw ingredients all the way to the table, more than one in 12 jobs is dependent on agriculture.

Food, farming, and agriculture is a critical part of the economy and considered critical infrastructure. For some, that might not be more evident than it is today as we go to our local retailers and see empty shelves. The refrigerators with milk, eggs and butter sit bare. I can see through the shelves that normally house items such as bread, rice and flour. I hear reports that meat counters from California to New York sit empty until the next delivery.

Meanwhile, amidst all the chaos, farmers are preparing planters to carefully and precisely place seed in the soil when temperatures are most conducive to a productive crop. Cattle buyers are still showing up at sale barns. Employees at companies such as Tyson, Smithfield, General Mills, ADM, and Cargill continue to show up to work each day to ensure the supply chain continues to operate, and that Americans from coast to coast have food on their table and that farmers can continue to operate … so that we have food on the shelves when we go to the grocery next week and next year.

Being on the frontlines to ensure enough food to feed a growing population isn’t enough. Today, food and agricultural companies are investing in sustainability initiatives, engaging in the fight against climate change, and using technology to drive smart decisions so that we make the most of our limited, finite resources.

Many company executives know, if left unaddressed, climate change and water availability present undeniable business risks, not to mention the detriment to ecosystems and recreational activities. That’s also why they are at the forefront of pushing change.

As an example, through the use of environmental conservation actions, Cargill is working to restore forest areas while also helping to increase cocoa productivity in Pará. Closer to home, the company has partnered with the Soil Health Institute to assess and promote the benefits of soil health management systems on the farm.

“Our sustainability efforts are critical to our growth,” says Roger Watchorn, president of Cargill’s North American agricultural supply chain business. “Not only does it bring us closer to our customers, from farmer customers to end consumers, but it helps us understand what’s important to them, so we can help drive improvements and productivity in all areas of the supply chain.”

Also interested in improving the productivity and sustainability of its supply chain is General Mills. With a global footprint, in 2014 the company set out to sustainably source its Top 10 priority ingredients by 2020, one of which is milk.

Dairies are resource intensive farms, and milk is a key ingredient for a number of General Mills products. Since 2016, the company has been working with Organic Valley to help conventional dairy farms transition to certified organic. Furthermore, the company is working with farmers and cooperatives in the supply chain to use a tool called the FARM Environmental Stewardship Module. This tool collects data from individual farms and calculates the sustainability impact from the farm to the production facility.

Today, 91 percent of the raw fluid milk purchased by General Mills is sustainably sourced and the company is on track to meet its goal of 100 percent by the end of the calendar year.

“It’s a business imperative for us to be responsible stewards of natural resources within our walls while ensuring that same accountability across our value chain,” says Mary Jane Melendez, General Mills chief sustainability and social impact officer. “We are dependent upon the availability, health and quality of natural resources …”

These are just two of the many, many food and agricultural companies working to improve the sustainability of production agriculture and create a better world for all. While we have a long way to go and our work will never be over, all who work in food and agriculture or on behalf of — from the 30-head cow-calf operator in Missouri to the data analyst in Silicon Valley and from the banker in New York City to the plant manager in Indiana — deserve a huge “thank you” on this National Agriculture Day.

Thank you for what you do! Thank you for putting on your boots at 5 a.m. before you go to your day job. Thank you to those who punch in and wear safety goggles and hard hats. Thank you to those who step into board rooms. Thank you to those who deliver a hot meal with a smiling face. Thanks to each and every one of you, we have choice, we have quality, and we have healthy, nutritious food on which our families depend. Thank You!

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Julie Deering is an editor, a writer, a speaker, a mom and pork producer converted cattlewoman who’s spent the better part of a decade covering or working on behalf of the seed industry and ag businesses. Today she serves as senior content manager for the Agribusiness Division at HighQuest Group, which includes work on the Women in Agribusiness Summit series and the Organic & Non-GMO Forum. Deering can be reached at jdeering@highquestgroup.com.

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Lynda Kiernan is Editor with HighQuest Group Media and of the Oilseed & Grain News. If you would like to submit a contribution for consideration, please contact Ms. Kiernan at lkiernan@highquestgroup.com.

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