Aug 08, 2012 • By

Growing sustainable wheat in Idaho

Southeastern Idaho is truly spectacular. The Rocky Mountains set an idyllic scene for the abundant fields that blanket the region, which is one of the largest producers of wheat in the country. Farmers here are typically on a crop rotation cycle that includes the famous Idaho potato, sugar beets and wheat.

Much of the wheat grown in Idaho is harvested and used in the breakfast cereals that millions of Americans enjoy every day – like Wheaties, Total and Fiber One.

Needless to say, the sustainable future of wheat is important to our business.

Last month, I traveled to Idaho to learn more about a wheat pilot program General Mills is working on through Field to Market: The Keystone Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture.

Through the pilot, we’re working with approximately 25 growers to learn more about how their on-farm decisions impact yields and the environment.

To track this, participant growers are using a software tool called the Field Print Calculator. This provides growers detailed reports on how they are performing against key indicators such as carbon emissions, soil loss, yield efficiency, water use and energy use.

This resulting “field print” gives them a baseline to see how their operations compare to other growers in the region, across the state and nationally. The participants are entering information for three growing years, 2010, 2011 and 2012.

On this trip, I spoke with Jerry Lynch, vice president and chief sustainability officer at General Mills, who provided an overview of the pilot and why sustainable agriculture is so important to General Mills.

“We want to be proactive – not reactive in how we source our ingredients,” says Jerry. “Our business relies on these natural resources, so we need to do everything we can to protect and conserve them.”

Hear more from Jerry in this audio interview.

I also talked to Steve Peterson, director of sustainable sourcing at General Mills, about how this pilot fits within General Mills’ sustainable sourcing strategy.

“Field to Market is a key part of General Mills’ sustainable grain sourcing strategy,” Steve says. “Through the Idaho wheat pilot, we hope the use of the Field Print Calculator will both improve grower profitability and help preserve the earth’s essential resources.”

As Steve points out (Listen to the audio clip with Steve), the growers participating in the pilot represent just a fraction of the wheat that is grown in the area.

During my trip, I had the chance to hear from two farmers involved in the pilot.

Ray Tominaga is a second generation farmer in Blackfoot, Idaho. Ray’s father founded their farm about 60 years ago. He could see a lot of potential in the program and believes it will give them a chance to improve their operation, as he explains in this interview.

Kyle Jacobs is another second generation farmer, from Hamer, Idaho. He runs the family farm with his dad. Kyle works the finance end of the operation and told me he was attracted to the pilot program because he believed it would better help their farm keep track of costs associated with growing their crops.

Ultimately, the program will allow growers to share best practices in nutrient management, pest management and other farming practices that will lead to more environmentally sustainable and economical production of wheat.