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(Article Summarized by Meridian Institute) In 2016, Walmart announced that it planned to cut one gigaton of greenhouse gas emissions from its supply chain by 2030. The announcement led Smithfield Foods, the largest pork producer in the world, and one of the more reviled agribusinesses among environmentalists, to announce its own plan to reduce emissions. Walmart is Smithfield’s biggest retail outlet. Smithfield said it would reduce emissions 25 percent by 2025. Much of the burden of reaching that goal is being passed to the farmers who produce the grain needed to fatten the 19 million hogs the company slaughters each year, despite the fact that the biggest chunk of the company’s emissions comes from animal manure. Rachel Grantham is an agronomist with Smithfield; she works with farmers in Harnett County, North Carolina - a region where 60 percent of the residents voted for Donald Trump - to encourage them to cut back on both tilling and fertilizing their crops. She deliberately avoids linking her mission with climate change. Yet worldwide agriculture accounts for about a quarter of global greenhouse emissions. In many ways, this article says, it’s surprising how little has been done to address this source, considering its immense size. Only two percent of the United Nations funding for climate change mitigation goes toward agricultural projects. There are, however, glimmers of hope, even with the depth of climate denialism in U.S. politics. For example, carbon-conserving U.S. farmers have been able to receive payments through California’s carbon market since 2011 and the USDA has an online tool that helps farmers calculate their carbon footprint and plan ways to reduce it. Eric Toensmeier, who teaches climate-friendly farming practices at Yale, says one reason why the impact from agriculture has been slow to permeate the climate change conversation is because agricultural emissions are mostly invisible and are difficult to measure. For her part, Grantham says her job is to “translate these ideas about sustainability into the real world. It’s like a pyramid: I help farmers put the basic building blocks into place that will make them more efficient economically but also environmentally. Once we get the foundations done — simple things like better soil sampling methods or calibrating their sprayer so the amount of fertilizer they think they’re applying is actually what goes onto the field — then things like sequestering carbon will be possible.” Kraig Westerbeek, the senior director of Smithfield Renewables, the company’s sustainability initiative, said the company’s carbon emissions pledge is based more on market demand and optics rather than ethics. “We understand that this is important to consumers, and we want to make sure that we maintain their confidence,” he said.

Posted January 12th, 2018
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