Sustainability at Snake River Farms
For a business, the core idea of sustainability is to structure the company to fulfill the needs of people today without compromising the needs of future generations. As the world’s population has increased, so has the demand for more sustainable practices. On a practical level, as more homes are built in areas traditionally used for agriculture, there is less land available for food production.
Here’s how Agri Beef Co. (the parent company of Snake River Farms) works to increase sustainability in every part of our business.
REDUCING OUR CARBON FOOTPRINT
The first step we took to become more sustainable was to evaluate current programs and determine our existing carbon output. Agri Beef and Snake River Farms conducted a comprehensive life cycle assessment to understand and measure the actual carbon footprint (the amount of GHGs generated) of our beef production. The assessment included water usage, waste avenues, and emissions. This investment in time and money established a baseline for each part of our beef production and allows us to measure true progress.
Using this baseline, our team made real changes to our processes to significantly reduce our company’s total carbon footprint. Our sustainability program includes four core pillars: ranching, feeding, processing, and community.
Ranching is the first step of the beef life cycle and closely ties to with our goal to support the Western way of life. Our cattle are born and raised on family owned-and-operated ranches throughout the greater Pacific Northwest. We’ve established and nurtured relationships with hard-working ranch families. Many of our relationships have endured for multiple generations. As part of our sustainability program, our company is focused on strengthening the livelihood and economic viability of our partners. Working with well-managed and caring ranches ensures land stewardship by using rotational grazing and practicing the highest level of animal health and handling.
RANCHING HIGHLIGHT: Producer Grant Program
Ranchers, or producers, are the foundation of our success. The Producer Grant Program is a five-year initiative that reimburses ranches for projects related to sustainability, environmental stewardship, animal welfare, and the preservation of the Western lifestyle. It’s a tangible way for us to work together with ranching families while encouraging the development of sustainability programs.
Producing world class, highly marbled beef starts by sourcing cattle with superior genetics. We work with our ranchers to utilize herds with a history of scoring high on the USDA scale. Once these cattle are under our care, we raise them with strict and humane animal welfare practices — including advanced nutrition, which is critical to our success and to the health of our animals.
For example, we add steam-flaked corn to their rations. This easily digested food source naturally shortens the amount of time it takes to bring cattle to market, reducing the amount of GHGs produced by our operations.
Our cattle enjoy the benefits of farm-fresh rations sourced near our facilities. Working with local farmers strengthens our ties to the surrounding communities while supporting local economies. From a practical perspective, using feed located nearby ensures the best quality food sources and reduces the cost of transportation. This decreases our carbon output and saves fuel costs.
FEEDING HIGHLIGHT: Synergy with Local Farms
We work with local farms to revisit time-honored techniques and create solutions to shared problems. In several locations, the manure from our feeding operation is processed into organic compost. Farms use the fertile, nutrient-rich organic material to replace expensive conventional fertilizers that are manufactured from petroleum.
Another example of using traditional farming methods for more sustainable farming is the use of cover crops. We work with a farm that raises beans which is a crop susceptible to mold. Before the invention of chemical fungicides, farmers would combat mold by planting cover crops in alternate rows. This method works well and eliminates the need for added chemicals. Our pilot program uses triticale, a hybrid of wheat and rye, as a cover crop to reduce mold in the bean fields, while reducing the cost of fungicides. Once harvested, we use the nutritious triticale to feed our cattle.
We utilize the information obtained from our success and move it to additional bean farms. This rediscovered, old-world technique is an example of how we create environmental and economic benefits for our company and partners.
Agri Beef owns and operates its own USDA-approved processing facility in Toppenish, Washington. Food safety is a top priority. To meet our high standards and to sell our beef in international markets where food safety requirements exceed those in the United States, we are Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) certified. GFSI is recognized as the gold standard of food safety audits and certification exceeds the strict requirements of the USDA.
Processing requires a significant amount of water, so our team targeted this as a primary opportunity to increase sustainability. Our audit led to the implementation of systems to reclaim and reuse water. These changes reduce the overall amount of water used and as an added benefit, reduces our energy requirements.
Tallow is a natural by-product of beef processing. We provide tallow in multiple food and industrial grades, ranging from the same basic ingredient your great-great-grandmother might have created for soap to technical tallow, a highly refined product that can be used as biofuel.
PROCESSING HIGHLIGHT: The Biodome
Our wastewater system uses an aerobic lagoon with microbes that naturally break down solid matter. This process creates methane, a GHG — but instead of releasing GHGs into the atmosphere, we covered the lagoon with a biodome to capture them. The gas is purified to remove contaminants and water vapor and is pumped to a boiler system to heat water used in our plant. This reduces our natural gas usage and decreases costs.
Agri Beef is a large employer in the communities where our businesses are based. We make every effort to be a good employer and a good neighbor by creating safe work environments and offering fair wages and competitive benefits. But our commitment also extends to creating a culture of caring and success.
We support local schools and organizations, just like any friendly neighbor would. Agri Beef prioritizes programs that support child and family services, food insecurity, and education (with an emphasis on the agricultural field). Our company is also involved and engaged in the beef industry through national organizations.
COMMUNITY HIGHLIGHT: Beef Counts
In 2010, Agri Beef partnered with local ranchers, feeders, industry associations and food banks to create a program to provide beef to families in need in Idaho and Washington, the states where our business operations are located. Food banks are often in short supply of high-quality protein and the need for beef has increased in recent years.
Our employees volunteer at food banks to sort, box and distribute products to the community through mobile pantries. We have been a part of contributing over 4.5 million servings of beef and donated over $1.2 million in cash to the program.
WHAT ABOUT CARBON OFFSETS?
One of the simplest ways for companies to decrease their environmental impact is through the purchase of carbon offset credits. A carbon offset credit is a transferable instrument certified to represent reduction of a specific amount of greenhouse gases (GHGs). A company that purchases an offset credit can claim the underlying reduction toward their own GHG reduction goals.
Carbon offset credits do offer a real value, but a downside is the possibility for a company to purchase them, show a reduction in GHGs and make no actual changes to their business practices. As demonstrated in this article, our goal is to find practical solutions in order to become a truly sustainable company
Sustainability programs create better use of natural resources and make our business more efficient. In addition to environmental benefits, efficiency has a positive economic impact. The hard work and cost to develop a more sustainable company makes sense for the long-term health and viability of Snake River Farms and our customers. Our teams in all functional areas will continue to identify and implement programs.
Producer livelihood, land stewardship, animal welfare, genetics, and quality
Build relationships with local farmers, utilize waste as fertilizer, synergy with cover crops
Water reclamation, capture methane, create biofuels, food safety
Giveback campaigns, employee welfare, industry involvement