Agriculture Summit Highlights
ROSEMONT, Ill. — The sixth annual Sustainable Agriculture Summit, held virtually Nov. 18-19, attracted a record 800 attendees. The summit is hosted jointly by five organizations representing U.S. dairy, commodity crop, specialty crop, beef, and pork industries, including the checkoff-founded Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy.
Barbara O’Brien, president of the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy, opened the Sustainable Agriculture Summit with a review of the COVID-19 crisis and its impact on the world. She says Feeding America projects an 8 billion meal deficit in the charitable food system over the next 12 months, and that the virus created a “reframing” of how people think about and define a sustainable food system.
“Brands, companies, and industries, including agriculture, can no longer sit on the sidelines of the conversation,” O’Brien said during the summit. “We don’t have the luxury to stay silent on environmental, social, and economic issues as non-governmental organizations, customers and consumers make it an expectation of business.”
O’Brien recognized the 2050 Environmental Stewardship Goals announced by the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy and applauded the resilience of U.S. agriculture this year, saying its collective strength positions the industry for a bright future.
A panel discussion led by Krysta Harden, executive vice president of global environmental strategy for Dairy Management Inc., focused on how environmental, social and governance issues are revolutionizing sustainability throughout the value chain. For agriculture, these challenges include climate change, food waste, labor, and the treatment of essential workers.
Harden referenced dairy’s proactivity in launching its U.S. Dairy Stewardship Commitment in 2018. The commitment is a voluntary social responsibility pledge to consumers and customers that processors and cooperatives will transparently meet defined criteria in areas including animal care, environment, and food safety. Harden says 29 dairy companies representing 70% of U.S. milk production have adopted the Stewardship Commitment.
“Investors are increasingly seeking a strong link between corporate sustainability performance and financial performance, which is why it’s important for agriculture to take note and make sure we are prepared to accelerate these areas,” Harden says.
The summit also featured a panel discussion on how COVID-19 heightened public awareness around food security and how food and agriculture can build sustainable supply chains in a disrupted world.
Denise Osterhues, senior director of sustainability and community engagement for The Kroger Co., says the company’s Zero Hunger | Zero Waste program that aims to end hunger and reduce waste in its communities by 2025, took on added relevance this year.
Kroger’s top priority during the onset of COVID-19 was to stay in business so consumers could continue having access to safe, healthy, and affordable food, according to Osterhues. The grocer invested more than $1 billion in health and safety measures for employees and customers. Kroger also accelerated its e-commerce business and offered curbside and delivery services.
Oosterhuis also referenced a milk donation program in Michigan that was in place before COVID-19 hit, in which Kroger collects surplus milk from co-ops and donates the processing. More than 130,000 gallons have been donated into the Feeding America pipeline as a result.
“One lesson we believed from the start but has become more clear is that we totally need everyone,” Osterhues says. “It will take all of us to do our own parts and more. We’re excited about the innovation we have seen. Some of the start-ups, entrepreneurs, and college students who have risen to the moment are putting creative solutions in place and making things happen.”
Other panel sessions addressed subjects including preserving biodiversity, climate-smart agriculture and working alongside underrepresented communities to build a more just, equitable and inclusive food system.
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Source: Cheese Market News