Alliance Intends to Improve Water Sustainability in Beef Production

A partnership between the Nature Conservancy, Nestlé Purina and Cargill will launch a three-year program to improve water sustainability across the beef production chain.

Irrigation of row crops dedicated to cattle feed accounts for more than 50 percent of water use in U.S. beef production. To start out the project will begin in Nebraska and focus on row crop irrigation with a goal of providing a scalable solution for irrigation that can be utilized across the country by farmers.

Smart weather sensors will be installed in Nebraska crop fields using Internet of Things (IoT) technology on sprinklers connected to a smart phone app. The goal is to enable Nebraska farmers to make more informed irrigation decisions. Finding low cost and efficient technology to help advance irrigation should help improve the environmental footprint of beef production.

“By using smart weather sensor technology in row crop irrigation, this program could help save 2.4 billion gallons of irrigation water over three years, which is equivalent to roughly 7,200 households over that time period,” says Hannah Birge, water and agriculture program manager at The Nature Conservancy. “The reduction of pumping also means less energy used and less labor expense for farmers.”

The selection of Nebraska was a natural fit because of the Ogallala Aquifer spaning most of the state and Nebraska having the second largest cattle herd in the U.S.

“Nestlé Purina believes in adding value to agricultural lands that represent our supply chain,” says Diane Herndon, senior sustainability manager, Nestlé Purina. “Ranchers and farmers are doing important work to make sure that they are protecting our natural resources for future generations. We all need to continue to adapt to a changing marketplace and a changing climate, and this project helps to improve water use efficiency in irrigated row crops used as cattle feed.”

The project between the three organizations will utilized Field to Market’s FieldPrint Platform to track progress and was initiated through the efforts of the Midwest Row Crop Collaborative.

Midwest Row Crop Collaborative is a group of conservation organizations and companies that are focused on advancing water conservation, water quality and soil health by accelerating farmer-led programs in key agricultural states.

“Farmers are continually innovating to bring food to the table more sustainably,” says Courtney Hall, Cargill technical sustainability manager. “By working with them, and alongside The Nature Conservancy and Nestlé Purina, we’re scaling these solutions around water conservation to ensure an even more sustainable future for beef supply chains.”

“This project builds upon the success of a 2014 pilot in Western Nebraska, where we studied irrigation patterns and examined the impact on watersheds,” says Roric Paulman, Farmer Advisor of the Western Nebraska Irrigation Project. “Through collaborations like these, we will leave a legacy of water quantity and quality for generations.”

-Wyatt Bechtel

For more information on water use in beef production and sustainability read the following stories: pilot