Tyson Foods is committed to helping U.S. row crop farmers maximize profitability, while benefiting soil health and water resources.
While Tyson Foods doesn’t own grain farms, we are the largest purchaser of feed corn in the industry. This corn is used to feed poultry, as well as the cattle and pigs raised by independent farmers and ranchers. Over the past 50 years, the U.S. poultry industry has reduced the amount of grain required to produce a pound of chicken by half. Meanwhile, cattle farmers have learned to raise grain finished beef cattle on 46% fewer acres of harvested corn grain, and pig farmers are using 75.9% less land (inclusive of grain) and 25.1% less water per pound of pork produced. All of this progress means we will reduce land use, water consumption, GHG emissions and nutrient runoff intensity.
Yet, growing grain remains a resource-intensive activity, and there is still more work to be done. Since grain production is part of our supply chain and is a significant contributor to our overall carbon footprint, we’re taking steps to lessen its environmental footprint.
Improving Land Stewardship Through Data
Tyson Foods defines land stewardship as the application of environmental and conservation best practices focused on soil health, water quality and conservation, nutrient stewardship, and wildlife habitat. The overall goal of our land stewardship commitment—the largest ever by a U.S. protein company—is to provide farmers with tools to inform them how to improve their economic and environmental bottom line, as well as lower the GHG emissions generated by our supply chain. Our commitment is to support improved environmental practices on 2 million acres of row crop corn by the end of 2020. This represents enough corn to feed all of Tyson Foods’ annual broiler chicken production in the U.S., as well as some of the pigs and cattle the company buys from independent farmers and ranchers.
Pounds of Nitrogen Used
Per Bushel of Corn
Distribution of Tillage
Practices In the U.S.
(Percentage of Acres)
We launched two pilot projects in FY2019 to move us closer toward this goal. The first pilot equipped a network of agronomists with MyFarms, a farm management software program, to provide farmers with insights about the value of conservation practices. Using MyFarms’ platform, farmers can anonymously learn from one another about opportunities to improve yield and economic performance through the adoption of conservation practices such as planting cover crops, and improving soil and manure management. In 2019, a difficult planting season meant that we enrolled 11,000 acres in the program, falling short of our target. With two years remaining in our agreement with MyFarms, we will continue to enroll acres and evaluate how this approach can provide value to farmers.
The second pilot, is in partnership with Farmers Business Network (FBN), an organization offering technical and agronomic assistance across a network of of 10,000 farmers who span nearly 35 million acres. This large network enabled FBN to recruit from their vast farmer membership, enrolling 408,000 acres of farmland in the first year. This wealth of baseline data allowed us to identify both use of conservation practices and areas for improvement. For example, many farmers are making use of effective practices such as reduced-till agriculture, cover crops and nitrogen inhibitors. At the same time, the volume of nitrogen fertilizer used on corn by FBN members is higher than the national average, presenting an opportunity for farmers to optimize practices.
As farmers implement increasingly efficient land and nutrient management practices, the effects can be felt throughout the supply chain. We hope to see, through optimized nutrient management, less demand for fertilizer, resulting in less energy used to produce the fertilizer. But, more importantly, there will be less fertilizer lost per acre, resulting in reduced GHG emissions from farmland. Improved land stewardship also positively impacts farmers’ livelihoods, helping them avoid purchasing more fertilizer than necessary and increasing the health and resilience of their fields for years to come.
Sustainably Managing Poultry Litter
We encourage farmers to use sustainable nutrient management practices, and we educate them about the potential agricultural benefits of responsible litter management. Although we own the chickens in our poultry business, the poultry litter (manure) is owned and managed by contract poultry farmers. The Tyson Foods Supplier Code of Conduct requires farmers to maintain a dedication to protection of the environment and a commitment to sustainable business practices.
Through various nonprofit partnerships, we’ve helped to move approximately 1.3 million tons of poultry litter out of the Illinois River Watershed—which covers parts of eastern Oklahoma and northwest Arkansas—since 2005 (this figure includes litter from other brands). The litter is redistributed to areas with less density of nutrients available.