Wal-Mart is adding some detail to its recent pledge to create a more sustainable food system, revealing goals to help farmers manage input use and changes in buying practices aimed to reduce fruit and vegetable waste.
Officials at the Bentonville, Ark.-based retail giant said in early October the chain would work to decrease the environmental impact of agricultural practices by launching what it called the Climate Smart Agriculture Platform. The tool will provide “increasing visibility” over the next decade to agricultural yields, greenhouse gas emissions, and water usage, while driving adoption of best practices in sustainable agriculture, according to a news release from Wal-Mart.
Tara Greco, director of sustainability communications for Wal-Mart, said in an e-mail that the world’s biggest retailer is working with suppliers to incorporate more technology into growing practices to increase agricultural productivity.
“For example, to help with fertilizer management, which can take up nearly half the cost of farming, we’re working with suppliers on data modeling technology that allows farmers to monitor and adjust their fertilizer application for crops in real time,” she said in the e-mail.
One fertilizer management option that could help grower is the Adapt-N tool, Greco said. Created by Cornell University, the technology helps growers precisely determine the penetration of fertilizer in their fields on a real-time basis. After growers input information about their fields — type of soil, size of fields, specifics on seeds/crops — the program applies information related to climate, soil composition, weather patterns and temperature to run a series of simulations. The report then provides a reading of the fertilizer balance and advises needed adjustments, she said.
Wal-Mart is also seeking to take on food waste in a bigger way, Greco said, which some studies say account for about 30% of food that is produced.
”We are addressing this in three ways: in horticulture, purchasing more of the ‘whole crop’ across a spectrum of specs for use in our private label as well as on our produce shelves,” she said in the e-mail.
In addition, Wal-Mart is on a mission to reduce shrink in stores — in emerging-market stores and clubs by 15% and in other markets by 10% by the end of 2015 compared to the chain’s 2009 baseline. “We are on track to meet those goals,” Greco said.
Wal-Mart will continue to use its food donation program to minimize food waste. Greco said that in 2013 Wal-Mart donated more than 571 million pounds of food to food banks and hunger relief organizations like Feeding America and its 200 food banks across the nation. Wal-Mart also has donated more than 180 trucks and refrigerated trailers to food relief efforts.