A Peek Behind Walmart's Sustainable Ag Push

A Peek Behind Walmart's Sustainable Ag Push

Produce - CC license by Flickr user mjb84

Throughout Walmart's new agricultural goals around small and medium farms and local produce, the company is taking a region-by-region approach to what works best.

In sourcing more food from smaller farms and providing training on crop selection and farming practices, Walmart is not setting any specific guidelines or goals around the use of fertilizers, pesticides, genetically modified seeds or organic crops, said Leslie Dach, Walmart's executive vice president of corporate affairs and government relations, during a media conference call that followed Walmart's agricultural program announcements.

Dach said Walmart will look at each individual country, region or farm to help farmers determine how to be most efficient with their land, a strategy he said was advised by environmental groups, non-governmental organizations and academics.

In some cases that might mean increasing fertilizer or water use, and in other cases, fewer resources might be used. "We've also seen that people can get the same results using different approaches," he said.

The regional approach also affected its local food goals. Walmart is defining local food in the U.S. as food that is grown and sold in the same state, a designation partially guided by customer expectations of local, Dach said. "People in Michigan want to buy Michigan produce," he said.

While Walmart's local food goal for the U.S. is to source 9 percent of its produce locally by 2015, its goal in Canada it to source 30 percent of its produce locally. Andrea Thomas, Walmart's senior vice president of sustainability, said the difference is due to allowing each market's operations to determine what goal is best and what is possible.

And to increase purchases of local food, Walmart will use a mix of making purchases from new farmers and increasing produce purchases from current local suppliers.

Produce - CC license by Flickr user mjb84