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Jon Nash: Committing to BeefUp Sustainability

The BeefUp blog kicks off with a frank conversation with Jon Nash, Corporate Senior Vice President, Cargill Protein & Salt.

[image]: A young Jon Nash, on the right next to his younger brother, at his family farm raising Cargill Honeysuckle White turkeys

Jon Nash, President of Cargill Protein North America

First, you have to be grounded in the fact that climate change is real. Then, you have to decide: what are you going to do about it?

Courtney Hall: Hi Jon, thanks so much for joining me. First, why don’t you tell everyone a bit about yourself?

Jon Nash: Sure, Courtney, and thanks for inviting me to chat. I spent my early years on my family’s farm, where we raised Cargill Honeysuckle White turkeys, along with cattle, corn, beans and milo, a typical diversified farm. My dad taught me first-hand that we have a responsibility to care for the animals and the land we are entrusted with, now and for future generations. That mindset of environmental stewardship has stayed with me throughout my career at Cargill. I have a 360° view of agriculture: growing up on a farm, my 20+ years at Cargill across operations and plant management, and now heading up our protein business.

Our purpose at Cargill – to nourish the world in a safe, responsible and sustainable way – is more important than ever. The Earth’s population is expected to increase 25% by 2050, from 7.8 billion to nearly 10 billion people. And global demand for protein will grow as incomes rise.

We have a big responsibility at Cargill, to help feed people in a sustainable way. Farmers, ranchers and our plant employees throughout North America all play a critical role. We’re supporting them to do more with less: to raise more food, more efficiently, using less land, less water and fewer resources.

It’s a huge challenge, but I am passionate about this work, and excited about the advances we’re making.

CH: Your connection to the land gives you a distinct perspective on sustainability. You mentioned Cargill’s purpose: to nourish the world in a safe, responsible, and sustainable way. What does this look like in action?

JN: Our purpose is incredibly meaningful. I believe deeply that we have a responsibility to feed more people, more sustainably. We know that beef provides high-quality protein, with essential nutrients to nourish families around the world.

The beef industry contributes over 80 billion dollars to the US economy each year, supporting the livelihoods of ranchers, farmers, their families and communities – millions of people are impacted by the beef supply chain.

We have a huge opportunity to make a positive impact throughout the supply chain. Our role is to work alongside farmers and ranchers, to advance creative new sustainability ideas and accelerate good conservation practices within the industry.

To make meaningful change, you must invest time, money and people power. We are highly committed, investing millions of dollars each year to ensure we make a real impact. I’m amazed by the potential for our plant employees, farmers and ranchers to do good in the world, and proud of all their hard work so far. Our focus and investments in sustainability are really moving forward.

CH: As leader of the BeefUp Sustainability initiative, I find that so motivating. You and I talk often about Cargill’s environmental priorities. Why is the environment so important to you – and to our business?

JN: We have a legacy to protect for future generations. At Cargill, we believe that agriculture is how we’re going to feed a growing population and help protect the planet, as we face the urgent crisis of climate change.

In our protein supply chain, our commitment to sustainability has been a priority for decades. More than 20 years ago, we started adding technologies and efficiency projects into our plants, like methane capture to replace natural gas in our boilers, reducing our carbon footprint. We reduced water and electrical usage. We even installed batteries to go off-grid at high impact times in certain areas. From solar water heating to waste reduction projects in progress at all of our plants, we’ve made great strides in environmental stewardship.

We definitely prioritize environmental capital investments in our budgeting process. We’ve set really high bars, strong environmental metrics that we track against daily, weekly and monthly, to ensure we’re making the necessary progress. Every plant has new yearly goals to reduce emissions and waste. There’s no better way to show we’re serious than to make these major investments and to help our people understand the importance of sustainability.

Next, with BeefUp, we’re moving beyond our own plants and operations and expanding sustainability across our entire beef supply chain.

Photograph of old sign: 'Dave Nash, quality producer of Cargill honeysuckle turkeys'

CH: BeefUp Sustainability was one of the first things you pushed forward when you became leader of Cargill Protein North America. Why did you feel this was so important for us to invest in?

JN: First, you have to be grounded in the fact that climate change is real. Then, you have to decide: what are you going to do about it?

One of our Cargill values is: Do the right thing. Agriculture, like all almost human activity, has an impact on the environment. Our job is to figure out how to minimize that impact. We believe that agriculture can actually be part of the solution, to feed a growing population more sustainably.

Second, you have to look in the mirror as a leader and say, “What am I doing to make a difference?” Cargill plays such a major role in the supply chain, I wanted us to double down on our commitments and investments, to signal to our team, our shareholders, our communities and the industry how important sustainability is to us.

This is where BeefUp comes in. We’re focused on innovation, grazing management, feed production and food waste. I’m really excited about our plans for making a meaningful impact in these four areas.

We looked at our current business to find practical and scalable ways to advance meaningful climate change solutions. I’m so proud of the work you and the entire team have done to create the strategy, with help from external experts and people throughout our business, assessing greenhouse gas reduction capabilities across the supply chain.

At the end of the day, I believe, along with everyone at Cargill, that beef can be a force for good. Beef can address the urgency of climate change while nourishing our people and building an even more resilient world.

We can’t do it alone, and we’re not doing it alone. With BeefUp, we’re developing partnerships – collaborating, learning and sharing ideas with people across the supply chain and sustainability experts outside the beef industry. I firmly believe agriculture is how we’re going to succeed, unlocking the potential of beef to benefit us all.

CH: I can feel the passion coming through in your voice. Anything else you’d like to share?

JN: Yes. As a leader, my personal values drive my work. I’m fortunate to work for a company that has strong values that align with mine. At Cargill, we put our people first, do the right thing, and reach higher.

I learned to respect the land on our family farm, and I carry that responsibility forward to protect the Earth’s resources for future generations. I do it for my daughter, and hopefully some grandchildren down the road! I wonder if she’ll read this…

My dad always had the highest respect for Cargill and its people. I wore a Cargill hat every day back on the farm. I still have that hat in my office today, to keep me grounded.

The fact is, sustainability is embedded in how we think and act – and it’s part of our Cargill business plan. Our sustainability work will ensure we have a viable business – and a viable industry – long term. That’s really important to me. In our North America Protein business, we have around 30,000 people. I think about their families, their communities and the responsibility we have to do things right.

I honestly believe the solutions are within our reach. We want to make our business sustainable for the next 150+ years. That means making tough choices and taking action now.

I’m proud of the work we’re doing today, collaborating with plant employees, farmers, ranchers, and beyond. We are serious about our purpose to nourish the world in a safe, responsible and sustainable way.

Cargill hat, next to a photograph of Jon wearing the hat as a child on the farm

CH: Thank you, Jon. As a new mom, I appreciate your sentiments on doing this for future generations. You’re stepping up as a leader to face the challenge of our times, and I’m glad our audience can hear your perspective.

JN: Thanks, Courtney. I appreciate you inviting me. Kudos to you and the team for all the great work you’re doing.

CH: Thanks, Jon. Readers, please come back to the blog to find exciting program updates and conversations like this with other thought leaders.