OSI Supports Grazing Initiative, Strengthening Supply Chains and the Environment
June 25, 2020
Cattle ranchers on the sweeping Northern Great Plains of Montana have played an important role in feeding Americans and others around the world for generations. A project launched last year, and supported by OSI, aims to support farmers interested in expanding regenerative grazing across Montana, while advancing the science of carbon sequestration at the same time.
The Montana Improved Grazing Project helps ranchers adopt a grazing practice shown to improve the health of their soil, productivity of cattle, and combat one of the key contributors to climate change. OSI, in partnership with other U.S. Roundtable for Sustainable Beef members, is providing funding, guidance and resources for expanding the program to 200,000 acres of grasslands surrounding Yellowstone National Park, and applying its lessons far beyond.
"The Montana Improved Grazing Project is exactly in line with our mission of merging sustainable farming practices and the economic viability of ranchers in North America and around the world," said Nicole Johnson-Hoffman, OSI's Chief Sustainability Officer.
In light of the recent health and related economic crises, which have exposed vulnerabilities in supply chains, the program is ever more pertinent, offering industry insight into practices that will produce more sustainable beef that is able to overcome environmental and business challenges. The work is also supported by the U.S. Roundtable for Sustainable Beef, a designation conferred on projects verifying sustainability indicators and metrics and judged to be in line with the mission, vision and guiding principles of the roundtable.
HOW IT WORKS: A MORE SUSTAINABLE GRAZING MODEL
The program is being implemented by NativeEnergy, a company that sells carbon-offset credits to businesses interested in reducing their carbon footprint, in partnership with Western Sustainability Exchange, a regional non-profit. The project centers on expanding adoption of regenerative grazing practices for Montana ranchers who are interested in improving forage on their land, but may have faced barriers when transitioning to higher intensity rotational grazing in the past. This type of grazing mimics the natural way bison and other undomesticated animals travel from fresh pasture to pasture, offering grazed land the undisturbed time it needs to regenerate. Healthy soil — especially that with flourishing perennial grasses, native species, and riparian zones —improves the local ecosystem and the health of the herd, while trapping carbon, a greenhouse gas that, in the atmosphere, contributes to climate change.
Ranchers interested in participating in the program receive educational resources and financial support that enables them to make infrastructure changes or any other adjustments in operations needed to implement regenerative grazing. Adopting these changes and seeing the resulting productivity and soil benefits also opens a new income stream: The additional amount of carbon sequestered, or pulled into their soil each year, directly translates to financial compensation derived through carbon-offset credits sold to companies through service providers like NativeEnergy.
“The ranchers need upfront financing to improve their grazing practices because it takes a lot more fencing and a lot more labor to move the cattle regularly,” said NativeEnergy’s Manager of Project Development Kirsten McKnight. “We’re just trying to tip the scale by providing resources up front and the organizational capacity to do it.”
RESILIENT RANCHES: A GUARD AGAINST SUPPLY CHAIN DISRUPTIONS
Ranches that practice this grazing method are also better suited to weather disruptions for several reasons: First, regenerative grazing has been shown to make land more drought resistant and resilient in the face of weather or climate disruptions. It also provides ranchers with more financial stability, through both an additional "carbon capture" income stream, as well as long-term savings on feed and the reduction of other operational expenses eliminated during transition to new grazing practices. Finally, this type of grazing allows cattle to stay on the farm longer in case of delays or disruptions at processing facilities.
“The new challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic are leading us all to reassess our impacts, and we are confident that our commitment to sustainability is the strongest foundation for recovery,” said Johnson-Hoffman. “We are proud to support farmers and ranchers who demonstrate leadership in climate smart agriculture because now more than ever, regenerative grazing is an important answer to food security, supply chain disruption and climate change.”
OSI USING ITS SUPPLY CHAIN INFLUENCE TO SCALE THE MODEL
As a supply chain leader, OSI also sees potential implications beyond this project, not just in the United States, but also around the world. The lessons it learns from its involvement in the Montana Improved Grazing Project can be shared with other partners across the 18 countries where OSI operates, multiplying the environmental and economic benefits of sustainable grazing practices.
"We look forward to the outcomes of the project and believe many others, including our fellow roundtable members, will be interested in taking the lessons learned here to scale across the industry because these issues are on the minds of other farmers in our network and in other parts of the world," Johnson-Hoffman said.
OSI, in partnership with other global food corporations, is providing support for the next stage of the program in order to recruit more ranchers and to expand, measure and verify progress in regenerative grazing and carbon sequestration. The support of the partnership will also allow the Montana Improved Grazing project to expand soil testing throughout Montana, adding to the U.S. soil dataset and providing better predictions of the amount of additional carbon that can be sequestered through regenerative grazing practices.
"While initiatives like the Montana Improved Grazing Project directly impact key stakeholders in our supply chain, they also impact our industry by showing the important conservation work done by farmers and ranchers around the country," Johnson-Hoffman said. "It is our responsibility to help share that story and move the industry forward in sustainability for the good of the environment, the animals within our supply chain and the people that eat our food."