Burger King, Cargill and WWF work to mitigate effects of climate change with new grassland restoration project

Three-year reseeding project will use cattle grazing to restore ecosystem and protect wildlife.

As global demand for protein increases, ranchers, agribusinesses, restaurants and conservation partners are coming together to feed a growing population, address climate change and protect the planet. Burger King and Cargill have teamed up with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and ranchers within the Northern Great Plains to launch a three-year grasslands restoration programme. This initiative brings together two companies who deliver beef to Americans to support the rehabilitation of less productive soil into thriving ecosystems – with cattle playing a critical role.

Through reseeding, the programme aims to convert nearly 8,000 acres of marginal cropland throughout Montana and South Dakota to ecologically diverse grasslands with beef cattle as the primary grazers in the ecosystem to maintain it. If successful, the programme is projected to save the carbon equivalent of driving nearly 70 million miles in an average passenger vehicle.

Matthew Banton, global head of innovation and sustainability for Burger King, said: “We recognise the opportunities we have to advance sustainability in food production together. Through our parent company’s Restaurant Brands for Good framework, we have showcased our commitment to implementing more sustainable business practices. Via the Grasslands Restoration project, we are proactively engaging with our peers, experts and industry stakeholders to help advance beef sustainability and mitigate the effects of climate change.”

According to Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations, the North American beef supply chain is already more than 35% more efficient from a greenhouse gas (GHG) perspective than the global average. The project builds on the leadership of farmers and ranchers in this region, by providing additional opportunities to expand their grazing land.

Climate benefits of reseeding grasslands and cattle grazing
The reseeding efforts will focus on large areas of marginal cropland in the Northern Great Plains – where the land is not productive for farming or other agricultural uses. Native grasses, with root 10-15 deep in some cases, pull carbon from the atmosphere and store it underground to support one of the world’s most stable carbon sinks. The roots also secure the plants and topsoil from being blown or washed away, and effectively pull water underground, supporting the resiliency of the grasslands during times of drought.

Markus Erk, a rancher from South Dakota, commented: “Through this project, the producers recognise the potential to improve the ranches for future generations. I’m thrilled to team up with partners who want to come along side us to help us enhance our conservations practices.”

When managed well, cattle grazing can help stimulate the growth of grasses and maintain a healthy ecosystem, similar to the role of the regions native bison used to play. Cattle’s hooves break through hard ground, allowing more water to be absorbed into the soil. The restored grassland can also provide a habitat to wildlife in the region.

Martha Kauffman, managing director of WWF’s Northern Great Plains programme, added: “Our collaboration with Cargill and Burger King will restore formerly plowed areas within these vital ecosystems back to grasslands through the seeding of native grasses. As these ecosystems rebuild under the management of our ranching partners, the environmental value and the health of our grasslands, including their ability to support wildlife, will continue to grow for years to come.”

Progress through partnerships
The project is part of Burger King’s and Cargill’s efforts to help make beef more sustainable. The fast food hamburger chain has been working to advance commitments made through its sustainability framework, Restaurants Brands for Good. Launched last year, Cargill’s BeefUp Sustainability initiative which seeks to reduce GHG emissions throughout the company’s beef supply chain by 30% by 2030, measured on a per pound of beef basis against a 2017 baseline. Efforts by both companies support the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Cattle ranchers will be at the forefront of this effort to develop a foundation for ecosystem restoration that encourages increased participation as the programme grows. The collaboration also builds on WWF’s Sustainable Ranching Initiative, further expanding the opportunity for ranchers to implement sustainable cattle grazing practices after plants have had time to root.

Heather Tansey, sustainability lead for protein and animal health businesses, Cargill, concluded: “We are building on the strong environmental stewardship led by farmers and ranchers, and will partner with producers, customers and innovators to drive sustainability solutions. At Cargill, we are in a position to drive connection across the entire North American beef supply chain. Together, we can scale realistic solutions that address sustainability challenges.”