February 14, 2022
Tyson uses 9-10 million acres of farmland for corn and soybean productions, research says
Tyson Foods utilises between nine and 10 million acres of farmland – an area almost twice the size of New Jersey, the United States – to produce corn and soybeans to feed the more than two billion animals it processes every year in the US alone, according to new research.
The study by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) also estimates that only about 5% of this land, 408,000 acres, has been enrolled in sustainable farming programs announced by Tyson in 2018.
The UCS findings are based on calculations of the amount of corn and soybeans Tyson required to feed the approximately six million head of cattle, 22 million hogs and nearly two billion chickens it processed in the US in 2020, drawing on data reported by Tyson.
Gidon Eshel, research professor of Environmental Physics at Bard College, said the scale of farming needed to produce animal feed contributes to many of the environmental problems of large-scale agriculture. These issues include changes to soil and the natural flow of water, the way solar energy relates to the earth and disruption of plants and animals. Pollution from fertilisers and pesticides are another big concern, and the risks of contaminating drinking water and harming ecosystems.
While Tyson itself does not own feed crop farms, its influence over the thousands of farmers in its supply chain is huge. The company, which produces about 20% of the pork, beef and chicken consumed in the US, is one of the nation's largest buyers of feed.
In 2018, the company announced a commitment to "support improved environmental practices" on two million acres of corn it uses for feed crops by the end of 2020. Tyson said the pledge would "encourage grain farmers to adopt more efficient fertiliser practices and take additional measures to reduce water runoff and soil loss".
Tom Hayes, the company's then chief executive officer, said in a statement at the time: "The world needs a more sustainable food system, and we believe it's up to big companies like ours to set the pace with bold goals."
Today, however, only 408,000 acres have been enrolled into pilot sustainability programmes and the company has pushed its deadline to meet the two million mark to 2025, mainly citing COVID-19-related delays.
Tyson's dominant position means the company could be a leader in sustainable food practices but its current efforts fall short, said Marcia DeLonge, a senior scientist in the food and environment programme at the UCS and co-author of the report. "Two million acres is an important step, but not only did they delay that goal, they've also only come through on 408,000 acres."
Even if Tyson achieves its two million acre pledge, this land is only a fraction of the company's overall impact. According to UCS's estimates, Tyson's total feed crop footprint is more than five times larger and close to 23 times the size of its current progress.
Tyson Foods recently set a goal to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
Sustainable feed crop farming means growing crops without damaging the environment, degrading resources or exploiting people, said DeLonge. "Achieving this would mean building and maintaining healthy soils, managing water wisely, minimising pollution, promoting biodiversity and treating workers with dignity and respect," she said.
- The Guardian