The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

State News

June 12, 2014

Companies work with farmers on sustainability

DES MOINES (AP) — U.S. companies relying on farmers for the raw materials in their products must take a more active role in ensuring the crops are grown in a way that minimizes damage to water, soil, and environment, a report released Wednesday said.

Ceres, a Boston-based nonprofit network of investors, companies and public interest groups, focused its report on the effect climate change has on corn production. It said farmers and the companies they supply must deal with drought and other weather extremes, an increase in groundwater depleting irrigation, and more fertilizer use.

“Climate change and pressures on water supplies pose financial risk to our agricultural industry but it’s not just the corn belt’s problem,” said Brooke Barton, water program director at Ceres and co-author of the report. It argues that increased corn production has depleted land and water resources in some areas and contributed to increased water pollution from fertilizer runoff.

“Companies that depend on U.S. corn have a big role to play in sending market signals that these issues matter,” she said.

Food giants working with Ceres include General Mills and Unilever, both of which have adopted sustainability programs suggested by the organization that set specific goals for suppliers and farmers.

The report calls for the establishment of corporate policies for goals to reduce the environmental impact, procurement contracts that require sustainably grown crops, and efforts to identify areas of high water stress, groundwater pollution and overuse of fertilizer.

Ceres also recommends that companies substitute other grains for corn where environmental benefits are well demonstrated, and disclose to investors the company’s exposure to climate and water-related risks in its agricultural supply chain.

General Mills, the maker of Cheerios, Wheaties and Green Giant vegetables, increasingly has been involved in providing money and support to improve the use of water and fertilizer since it began a sustainability program in 2005.

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