Smithfield Foods has announced the expansion of its program MBGro, a collaboration with the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) to advance on-farm conservation practices and food supply chain sustainability. The program, developed by Smithfield, works with grain producers to reduce fertilizer runoff and greenhouse gas emissions while improving water quality and soil health. The USDA Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) awarded these efforts a $500,000 grant to expand the program to grain suppliers in North Carolina.

RCPP will deliver funds directly to grain farmers located in North Carolina who implement conservation practices. These methods include establishing nutrient management systems, planting cover crops, practicing conservation tillage, and other techniques that both improve the environment and crop productivity.

"This public-private collaboration engages producers, researchers and other stakeholders in expanding conservation practices in agriculture," said Rachel Carr, agronomist and project specialist at MBGro. "The project helps to ensure a strong, sustainable grain production industry for North Carolina while demonstrating the environmental and economic benefits of a sustainable grain supply chain to broader audiences."

The project will encourage grower participation by reaching producers through the North Carolina Farm Bureau, Soybean Producers Association, Corn Growers Association, Small Grain Growers Association and the North Carolina Pork Council. North Carolina State University and The University of North Carolina have joined the effort, helping to study and measure the project's success. NC State will analyze cover crops for short-term nutrient and water benefits while UNC will conduct a watershed modeling program to assess water quality and show the impact of conservation practices.

"With this program, Smithfield Foods and its partners are leading efforts to create a sustainable grain supply chain that will serve as a model to others in the food and agriculture industries," said Stewart Leeth, Vice President of Regulatory Affairs and Chief Sustainability Officer, Smithfield Foods. "The project demonstrates Smithfield's dedication to finding innovative solutions that both create value throughout the food supply chain and better the environment."

This latest project furthers Smithfield's goal for 75 percent of its 500,000 grain-sourcing acres to adopt sustainable farming practices by 2018. In 2015, Smithfield helped grain farmers implement cover crops, nitrogen sensors and other conservation practices on nearly 100,000 acres in the Southeast. In February, the company expanded the program to the Midwest with the support of agricultural retailer South Central Coop and the United Suppliers SUSTAIN program. Supporting its collaborative effort with EDF, this USDA grant further expands Smithfield's sustainable grain program and will allow more grain farmers to participate.

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