Feb 07, 2012 • By

Projects push for sustainable agriculture

Think about this. The United Nations projects that our planet’s population could reach 9 billion people by 2050.

This surge in global population is expected to double the demand for food, raising questions about how we will grow enough to feed people in a sustainable way that works long term.

As scientists debate strategies around how the world’s food supply will meet rising demand, most experts agree that more sustainable approaches to agriculture must be part of the equation.

General Mills is working to be part of the solution. For example, two new company initiatives – one in Canada and one in Idaho – are helping farmers grow more while having less impact on the environment, according to Tom Rabaey, a principal scientist at our agricultural research center.

Providing farmers with better insight on how their farming operations influence their environmental footprint is key, according to Tom.

“Farmers need access to tools and information that will help them understand how everyday decisions about irrigation, tillage, crop rotation and nutrient management impact environmental considerations like water consumption, land use, soil loss and energy use,” he says.


For one initiative, in Western Canada, General Mills is working with grower groups to study two decades of sustainability indicators on eight different crops, including wheat, oats, lentils, canola, peas and flax. Sustainability indicators include energy use, land use, soil loss, and climate impact.

The Canadian Field to Market Sustainability Project will serve as a “report card” of sorts for the sustainability of these Western Canadian crops, Tom says. “This research gives us a look back at how various farming practices have impacted key environmental metrics over time and provides a baseline to look forward as we measure future progress.”

General Mills, which buys oats as an ingredient in Cheerios and other oat-based products, was instrumental in adding oats to the research study.


The second new sustainability project is in eastern Idaho. There, General Mills recently launched a three-year pilot project with 25 wheat growers to study key environmental considerations for wheat production, including greenhouse gas emissions, irrigation water use, energy use, soil loss and land use.

General Mills is collaborating with Syngenta, Keystone’s Field to Market Initiative, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture on the project.

The company used its extensive grain operations network in Idaho to identify participating growers that can serve as “boots on the ground” for the research effort.

Tom says the first order of business is to help participating growers analyze and input their farming footprint for the 2010, 2011 and 2012 growing seasons.

He and Steve Peterson, General Mills’ director of sourcing, travelled to Idaho in early December to provide data collection training for the 25 growers, each of whom will provide records for their farms’ wheat production.

Ultimately, the program will provide focus on the specific environmental challenges of wheat production. And more importantly, growers will be able to identify and share best practices in nutrient management, pest management and other farming practices that will lead to more environmentally sustainable and economical production of wheat.

“Whether you are growing oats in Canada or harvesting wheat in Idaho, these projects will help farmers build more sustainable practices into their operations with the goal of improving yields with fewer impacts on the environment,” says Tom. “It’s a win-win for the farmer and the environment.”

Editor’s note: For more information on our sustainability efforts, please visit GeneralMills.com.