The retail and grocery giant is getting into the regenerative farming business with new goals around improved sustainability practices and greenhouse gas emissions for its farming suppliers.
By working with the nonprofit Midwest Row Crop Collaborative (MRCC), Walmart is helping farmers in this region ensure that 30 million acres switch to regenerative practices that will increase soil health, decrease greenhouse gases and improve water quality and biodiversity. The company is supporting 30,000 midwestern farming operations with the transition and is hoping to show measurable impact on at least 1 million of that 30 million acreage by 2030. These goals were developed as a coordination between Walmart and MRCC and according to Walmart, the organizations are working together to develop key performance indicators (KPIs).
Along with the regenerative agriculture changes such as cover crops and no-till to increase carbon sequestration in the soil, the company is also committing to helping farmers reduce on-farm emissions by 7 million metric tons. This is part of Walmart’s Project Gigaton, working to reduce 1 billion metric tons of emissions, also called one gigaton of emissions (hence the name), by 2030.
Walmart has a goal to become a regenerative agriculture company. Walmart sought to first drive regeneration through key crops such as wheat, corn, soy and rice. More recently, the company has updated Row Crop position statement and philanthropic endeavors to develop smarter agricultural practices that are in line with and part of Walmart's broader commitment to becoming a regenerative company.
As a retailer, what’s important for us to recognize is none of these things can be achieved alone.
Walmart is not alone in working towards regenerative agriculture goals. Danone and Cargill are working on their own regenerative agriculture commitments. MRCC works with many other large food companies including Cargill, Kellogg’s, Unilever and other NGOs, but Walmart is the only retailer in the mix, giving it a unique position. As a retailer, consumer brands sit at the very end of Walmart’s supply chains but it has a lot of influence over its many suppliers.
"As a retailer, what’s important for us to recognize is none of these things can be achieved alone," said Mikel Hancock, senior director of sustainable food and agriculture at Walmart. "But what we have a great power to do is we have good power to convene. We brought together all sorts of actors throughout that supply chain. Now we can send a signal, but we’ve got to have these different actors working together."
According to Hancock, the program with MRCC will help connect farmers in a peer-to-peer network for learnings and strategies for regenerative agriculture and help with financial assistance through cost sharing models between all the participants. Technical training and assistance will be the critical focus of the program.
"The farmer is the original steward of the land," he said. "When you visit these farmers, they've got half the things down, but they do need some technical assistance and some training to help them see how these regenerative practices are not just delivering conservation but are giving them tools to make their business more profitable in the short term and in the long term."
Beyond the work with MRCC, Walmart has been working on different sustainability changes since 2005 when it started an Acres for America partnership with National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. Since then it has done everything from upgrading to solar in 2006 to committing to sustainably sourcing 20 key commodities such as coffee, cotton, beef and seafood by 2025. According to Hancock, 98 percent of private branded coffee for Walmart are sourced 100 percent sustainably. In July 2020 Walmart’s private-label seafood achieved 100 percent sustainability and the company is working with suppliers to achieve a 100 percent segregated palm oil, meaning non-sustainably sourced palm oil is not mixed in with the sustainably sourced material, in all Walmart private brand food and consumable products. The sustainability certificates were certified sustainable through Fair Trade USA, Rainforest Alliance or UTZ.
Of course, achieving sustainability isn’t tied to one set of goals forever. It’s a constant journey, especially if Walmart wants to get the 1 million acres of measurable impact up to the 30 million it’s hoping to encourage sustainable changes on.
"We recognize that we might take a step back two years from now to see if that goal is big enough or not," Hancock said. "And we know that as the science continues to change, we may have to tweak that goal."