Working with farmers to fight climate change

Margaret Henry partners with growers and suppliers to ensure PepsiCo’s entire agricultural footprint stays resilient and sustainable.

 

“Farmers think about their careers differently,” explains Margaret Henry, Director of Sustainable Agriculture for PepsiCo. She says they tend to have about 40 harvests in their lives. Knowing farmers’ livelihoods depend on making the most of these limited seasons, Margaret says her role is to “help make each season be better than the last and ensure there is a future for farming and for our business. That's important to me, and it’s what drives me at PepsiCo.”

Margaret is tapped into the importance of farming on a personal level, too. She was born and raised on a Kentucky dairy farm where sustainability was never a topic at the dinner table — but protecting the health of the water and soil was always a was priority. Her parents also founded an NGO focused on creating a more sustainable food system. “They wanted the creeks and fields where I played to be healthy for the long term,” she remembers. “They were sustainability entrepreneurs, but really they were practical farmers who wanted their farm to last and their kids to swim in the stream.”

That innate understanding of sustainability plays into Margaret’s role at PepsiCo in a very big way. She meets with farmers and suppliers around the world to assess the environmental footprint of the corn, oranges, potatoes and oats that go into the products PepsiCo produces. She also evaluates the impact agricultural practices can have on human rights for the people who live in surrounding communities, and collaborates with external organizations like NGOs and independent farmer groups to inform PepsiCo’s sustainability agenda. Her aim: to shape programs that will benefit the tens of thousands of farmers in the company’s supply chain. “In my heart, I still connect with any given farmer trying to make a living season to season,” she explains. “If you want a future for sustainable food systems, it has to start with the farmers. Their voice has to be front and center.”

PepsiCo understands agriculture in a way that most large food and beverage companies do not. We take our global goals and make them relevant to the communities we touch.

As climate change impacts more farmers, Margaret has been instrumental in developing programs that increase the reach of regenerative agriculture, a set of practices that improve and restore ecosystems while building resilience — for PepsiCo, the environment and farming communities. This week, PepsiCo announced a goal to expand regenerative farming practices across 7 million acres of farmland by 2030. Those practices can involve providing farm management training to women in West Bengal, India, managing soil health in Iowa to help reduce carbon emissions, or using drones in Brazil to scout for crop diseases.

PepsiCo Employee Margaret Henry at an orange grove in Brazil

Margaret at an orange grove in Brazil.

Her work involves traveling to potato plots and oat fields to see firsthand what issues farmers are facing and how PepsiCo’s regenerative agriculture agenda can help address them. “My work requires me to act as an owner in securing the future of PepsiCo,” she explains. “We need to think strategically beyond this quarter to keep our supply chain strong.” That means seeking ways to bring farming, sustainability and business together. “We’re seeing that farmers using these regenerative agriculture practices have better yields in the increasingly common bad years from climate change,” she explains.

In my heart, I still connect with any given farmer trying to make a living season to season.

For proof, look no further than a field of green corn stalks in Royal, Illinois. Through the Illinois Corn Growers Association, Margaret works with experts who help farmers implement regenerative practices. One example: planting cover crops, a practice of growing crops in the off season to improve soil health and reduce carbon emissions. “In a drought year, those fields were the only green ones in the area,” Margaret explains. “You’re basically reversing climate change by putting carbon in the soil while improving farm resilience for the long term.”

PepsiCo Employee Margaret Henry visiting a demonstration farm in Vietnam

Margaret visiting a demonstration farm in Vietnam.

Being able to make improvements to the agriculture system in a way that benefits both farmers and business is what first drew her to PepsiCo five years ago. “PepsiCo understands agriculture in a way that most large food and beverage companies do not,” Margaret says. “We take our global goals and make them relevant to the communities we touch.”

Still, thinking about her work, it’s the personal stories that really hit home. “When I hear about a woman in India who says that improving soil health means she can send her children to school,” Margaret says, “it’s hard to get more inspiring than that.”

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