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The Word On Water

Hormel Foods has taken up the AgWater Challenge, a joint project of Ceres and the World Wildlife Fund.
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  • Ethan Watters

March 4, 2016

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Story

Last year, the World Economic Forum named water the No. 1 risk factor facing the planet. Given the numerous stresses on our complex and interconnected water system, the ranking is well deserved.

Agriculture accounts for 70 percent of fresh water use worldwide, but one-third of all the world’s food is grown in areas stressed by drought or increasingly contentious competition over water. The most productive farming regions — including California’s Central Valley, the North China Plain and the Great Plains of America — are overtaxing their water supply. Droughts and climate change are disrupting rain patterns, while underground aquifers that have existed for millennia are drying.

To help face these realities, Hormel Foods has taken up the AgWater Challenge. A joint project of Ceres and the World Wildlife Fund, the challenge is intended to create aggressive and transparent targets for the conservation and sustainable treatment of water through the agricultural supply chain. At the end of the challenge, companies able to demonstrate top tier leadership will be recognized as “AgWater Stewards.”

Taking the AgWater Challenge is one of many examples of the company’s commitment to water conservation. Using 2011 as a benchmark year, the company internally committed to save half a billion gallons by 2020. The company has found opportunities to conserve water in many places. Upgrading the high-pressure belt washers in the Austin (Minn.) Plant, for instance, will save over four million gallons of water. Similarly, more efficient nozzles in the Jennie-O Turkey Store plant in Faribault, Minn., will save 34 million gallons. With such efforts, the company has already reached 83 percent of its 2020 goal and is on pace to reach the half-billion gallon reduction target well ahead of that deadline.

The commitment and drive for improving sustainability is strong within Hormel Foods

Tom Raymond, director of environmental sustainability at Hormel Foods

Significant as those water savings are, Tom Raymond, director of environmental sustainability at Hormel Foods, sees an even greater opportunity. While each company must do its part, the promise for a true change lies in working collaboratively and transparently with non-profits, competitors and partners throughout the food industry.

“The commitment and drive for improving sustainability is strong within Hormel Foods” Raymond said. “But, we realize that we need to tap into external expertise on a much higher level to achieve our desired results. The AgWater Challenge allows us to share our knowledge and achievements while providing us access to third-party experts and peer-to-peer learning of best practices.”

In taking on the AgWater Challenge, Hormel Foods has committed to developing a comprehensive sustainable agriculture policy and goals that will include specific expectations related to water stewardship. “We look forward to sharing our vision of improved water stewardship and sustainable sourcing throughout our supply chain,” Raymond said. “This is part of an ongoing collaboration between all stakeholders to ensure we protect and strengthen our shared water systems.”

The AgWater Challenge is not the company’s only multi-stakeholder project. Hormel Foods is a founding member of programs including the Minnesota Environmental Initiative’s Sustainable Growth Coalition and the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Call to Action on the Future of Sustainable Agriculture.

Adding up all the lakes, glaciers, ponds, rivers, aquifers and wetlands, freshwater accounts for only three percent of the Earth’s water. Freshwater habitats compose only one percent of the world’s total surface, and many of these wet places are disappearing at a rapid rate. Projects like the AgWater Challenge that push companies to be increasingly transparent, collaborative and outward facing, are becoming exceedingly important for protecting the future of water.