Cargill wants to show its end users and consumers how modern agriculture can help the planet. One approach is applying the 4R Nutrient Management program throughout its Canadian grain network.

Cargill uses 4R to show benefits of modern agriculture

Cargill provides food ingredients to processors and end-users all around the world, and these processors and end-users want to share the story about how their ingredients are grown. Consumers are demanding it, they say, which puts the onus on Cargill to work back through its supply chain to write a good story.

Cargill has a goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions produced throughout its extended supply chain by 30 per cent per tonne of product by 2030. Nutrient use efficiency is a big part of the plan.

“As a global food company, Cargill is trying to reduce carbon at every step of the food chain,” says Simon North, Cargill agronomy technology lead for Western Canada. “Fertilizer is one of the bigger sources of emissions, so one way we will achieve that goal is by partnering with farmers worldwide on projects to improve soil health, increase soil carbon storage and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

For crops produced in Western Canada, Cargill wants to be able to measure the reduction in carbon and greenhouse gases.

North sits on the Fertilizer Canada nutrients committee which helped to develop the 4R program that promotes the four ‘Rights’: Right Source at the Right Rate, Right Time, Right Place. He says practices that make the biggest measurable differences are direct seeding and zero till, which maintain the carbon in the soil, and placement of fertilizer in the ground, which reduces losses to the environment and puts it where it’s needed. Advanced practices include split applications that can align more with the “right time”, variable rate applications that improve the “right rate”, and “right products” like nitrogen stabilizers.

North says most farmers in Western Canada already follow many of the basic 4R practices. Having their acres counted under 4R Nutrient Stewardship means they’re recognized for this, and Cargill can use this program participation to improve the brand and value of Canadian grain.

To have their acres counted, farmers have to an approved fertilizer plan by an agronomist with a 4R designation from Fertilizer Canada. North says Cargill has 4R-designated agronomists at 90 per cent of their locations across the Prairies, and it will be at 100 per cent soon.

Agronomists going for their 4R designation need to have their CCA or P.Ag. for base knowledge. Then they take a course through Fertilizer Canada and sign an “attestation” form.

Meanwhile, Cargill is running a pilot program to measure how 4R practices will reduce the greenhouse gases per tonne of grain. “Cargill has already shown a 700-tonne reduction in greenhouse gas output with just a small number of farmers in the pilot program,” North says. “This is the equivalent of taking 150 cars off the road.”

He emphasizes that the goal is not to reduce productivity. “We need to grow the food, so the point is not to cut yields,” he says. The goal is improve profits and reduce carbon output per tonne of crop produced.

Farmers in the program achieve more efficient use of their input dollars. And Cargill can share these measured improvements with its customers. “We can use this to sell modern agriculture to consumers,” North says. “As agriculture in general comes under more scrutiny, this is a win for everyone. That is why individual farmers are starting to do it without being told to do it.”

Cargill isn’t the only company that is active on 4R and as Canola Digest continues with this series, it will feature other companies and other farmers. Farmers looking for Western Canadian agri-retailers with designated agronomists can go to Check “What’s in it 4R me?” under the Nutrient Stewardship tab.

“We recognize that no single company or sector can solve all of our environmental challenges alone,” North says. “We all have a role to play. Agriculture is how we can make a more meaningful impact, together. That’s why Cargill is committed to partnering with farmers, customers, nonprofits and academic institutions to catalyze and advance innovation in this space.”

Canola Digest - November 2020