General Mills Starts Michigan Program to Cut Dairy Emissions

(Bloomberg) -- General Mills Inc. is starting a pilot program in western Michigan to make its dairy supply chain more sustainable -- part of a bet that consumers will continue to value environmental issues amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

The three-year initiative, located near a Yoplait yogurt plant, includes three dairy farms that manage more than 14,000 acres of land. Together, they produce 15% to 20% of the fluid milk used in Yoplait products at the nearby facility in Reed City, Michigan.

It’s part of General Mills’ ongoing effort to advance a practice known as regenerative agriculture, which aims to prevent carbon’s release into the air by improving biodiversity and soil health. The Minneapolis-based company has said it plans to drive 1 million acres of agricultural land into regenerative farming by 2030.

For dairy farmers, this includes the introduction of cover crops that help the soil retain moisture during droughts and protect it from erosion and runoff during heavy rains. Cows may also be moved to natural grazing, rather than dry feed or hay.

Food manufacturers have catered to a growing interest in sustainability among consumers, who have proved willing to pay a premium for products that are marketed as environmentally friendly. General Mills is betting this trend will be unaltered by the Covid-19 pandemic, despite a period of panic-buying that disrupted some consumption patterns.

“I think we will continue to see increased consumer demand for more sustainable products, especially as we get further outside of the pandemic,” Mary Jane Melendez, General Mills’ chief sustainability and social impact officer, said in an interview.

Earlier this year, the company began a regenerative-agriculture program with wheat growers in Kansas to improve the quality of water for the city of Wichita. Along with another project, it brings the total acreage designated for regenerative practices to about 70,000.

Danone SA’s Horizon Organic has also made commitments to regenerative farming and aims to become “carbon positive” by 2025. Big food companies hope these steps will help them meet sustainability goals, and that consumers will ultimately value regeneratively farmed goods the way they do organically farmed products.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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