Water, climate risks are a growing threat to U.S. corn
Corn Buyers’ Response
Ceres’ report finds that 16 separate sectors from fast food companies to fertilizer manufacturers to grocery retailers depend on U.S. corn as a key ingredient for their products, or as a market for their inputs and services. In 2013, the top 45 companies in the corn value chain earned $1.7 trillion in revenue, which is more than the annual GDP of Australia.
A growing number of food & beverage companies and grocery retailers are increasing demand for more sustainable products, are setting public goals to source more sustainable ingredients, and are participating in new supply chain initiatives to help farmers address the risks profitably. Among these encouraging efforts:
- Walmart recently announced a goal for U.S. farmers in its supply chain to increase efficiency of their fertilizer use by 30 percent on 10 million acres of corn, wheat and soybeans by 2020.
- Coca-Cola announced in July 2013 a goal to sustainably source all of its key agricultural ingredients by 2020, including the corn that goes into its high fructose corn syrup.
- Field to Market – a multi-stakeholder initiative involving major growers associations, agribusinesses, food companies, retailers and other groups – has developed sustainability metrics and an online calculator for farmers of U.S. row crops, including corn, to promote continuous improvement and data reporting in the supply chain.
"A critical factor for improving the environmental performance of production agriculture is to get the individuals managing the land, the farmers themselves, to see that environmental stewardship enhances profitability and is crucial to the long term viability of modern agriculture," said Paul Helgeson, Sustainability Manager at GNP Company, a Minnesota-based poultry company.
Despite these efforts, many companies that depend on U.S. corn are not yet taking steps to address these risks. The report recommends how corn-buying companies and their investors can incentivize farmers to reduce risks, enhance yields and protect water resources. Recommendations for companies include:
- Setting a corporate policy with time-bound goals for sourcing agricultural ingredients (including corn) that are grown more sustainably.
- Integrating requirements for more sustainable agricultural production into supplier codes and procurement contracts.
- Supporting corn growers to adjust farming practices by providing direct agronomic assistance, performance guarantees and credit, as well as financial support to local and regional organizations that assist farmers.
- Supporting federal and state government policies that address climate change and encourage risk-reducing, environmentally beneficial farming practices and water stewardship.
Maps and Infographics
The report includes four interactive maps and infographics showing corn production and ethanol plants relative to regions of water stress, groundwater depletion and nitrogen pollution: www.ceres.org/cornmaps.
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