How technology and venture capital can help the food industry meet 2030 emissions targets

By the end of the decade, many food companies will face deadlines for their emissions reduction targets. A race to invest in sustainable technologies over the next few years could significantly reduce emissions, experts at the non-profit organization Ceres said.

In its latest report, the organization details how manufacturers can use strategic investments to reduce their carbon footprints and pinpoints industry players who are already doing so.

Manufacturers are making their supply chains more sustainable, but not investing enough in growing those efforts, said Merrill Richards, Ceres’ acting program director.

“We wanted to look at how they plan for the next phase of emissions reduction, outside of existing practices, because there are some sources like enteric methane, like nitrous oxide from fertilizers, that are a little more difficult to address and will require technological innovation,” Richards said.

Ceres highlighted The 100+ Accelerator – an accelerator program launched by big names such as AB InBev, Coca-Cola and Unilever – to test agricultural solutions that can help the industry meet its climate goals. According to the program’s website, it gives up to $100,000 to start-up companies to implement technological equipment in the food industry.

Technology that reduces methane, a potent greenhouse gas, is a key part of the equation. This could include feed additives that naturally reduce methane, the report said. The Ceres report drew attention to Ben & Jerry’s use of red algae supplements, which the company claims can reduce emissions from cows by 82%.

For food producers who work with livestock, Ceres specified cattle methane capture devices that convert cow gas into water and carbon dioxide. Zelp, a startup piloting the technology, received funding from dairy giant Danone and has a partnership with agricultural giant Cargill. Cattle vaccines, which can help animals produce antibodies directed against methane-producing microbes, are another solution companies should explore, Ceres said.

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To put their money where their mouth is

Venture capital investment in the food industry, which has stagnated in the food sector in recent years amid an uncertain economy, could provide producers with new ways to reduce their emissions, according to the report.

The report highlights that CPG’s venture capital arm – Tyson Ventures invests in start-ups that can help provide solutions for farmers in the supply chain.

The report’s focus on methane emitted by livestock drew attention to the meat sector, but Richards said investing in new efforts in the agriculture space could help producers in the industry reduce their emissions.

“There’s innovation to address fertilizer emissions, with a new green ammonia fertilizer, and then there’s quite a bit of research going on around perennial grains that would require less fertilizer and also have deeper root systems to emit potentially more carbon,” Richards said.

These nanofertilizers can reduce fertilizer application and related lost nutrients on farms by 20 percent, Ceres said in the report.

Another Ceres effort described in the report is an experimental way to produce renewable energy on farms known as agrivoltaics. This involves planting crops under solar panels and embedding the panels in livestock pastures. The nonprofit said the practice can nearly eliminate carbon dioxide emissions from on-farm energy use when combined with electric tractors and other equipment.

The potential for greater technology investment should be part of a multi-pronged strategy as food manufacturers tackle their emissions, according to Ceres.

“There are a number of companies that are tying in with in-house R&D, pilot testing, or otherwise helping market development,” Richards said. “There’s also advocacy that they can do, making sure that their lobbying is aligned with the research that needs to happen.”

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