In a year, PepsiCo buys around 4 billion pounds of potatoes to make potato chips. It’s one piece of the massive web of farms that supply the company, which the company wants to use to help make an equally massive change: By the end of the decade, it now plans to work with the tens of thousands of farmers in its supply chain to spread regenerative agriculture—practices that can help improve sustainability—across 7 million acres, or roughly its entire agricultural footprint. It estimates that the changes will eliminate at least 3 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions.
“This certainly matters to us, but it really matters to everyone,” says Jim Andrew, chief sustainability officer at PepsiCo. “It’s really affecting food security, and it’s affecting the ability to feed a planet with an ever-increasing population at a time when climate is causing more and more challenges. And agriculture is one of the biggest levers that we can pull to actually have a positive impact on food security overall.”
The company is helping farmers adopt practices such as crop rotation, no-till farming, and planting cover crops. That can help make the soil healthier and more fertile so yields increase, so farms don’t have to expand onto as much new land—something that’s especially critical in places where farms are edging out forests—and small farmers can make more money. It can improve watershed health and biodiversity. And many experts believe that it can also store much more carbon in soil, helping fight climate change. The exact climate benefits are still to be proven; PepsiCo’s estimate of eliminating 3 million tons of emissions is very conservative, Andrew says.
PepsiCo runs demonstration farms to show farmers new techniques, offers financial incentives for farmers to make changes, and collaborates with nonprofits and other partners. It’s also hoping that other major food companies make similar commitments. (Many are beginning to: General Mills, for example, announced a plan to make 1 million acres of farmland regenerative in 2019.) “We think that the industry, the food and beverage industry, can absolutely make a difference. Especially if our peers and other industry companies are committed. We’re trying to show leadership, and hopefully, with that, we’ll get the whole industry. Because that’s how big the problem is.”