US agri co-op giant CHS details its latest moves on sustainability

The report points to actions including wastewater recycling, responsible soybean sourcing and the monitoring of climate emissions

CHS – the USA’s largest co-operative by turnover – has released its 2022 CHS Sustainability Report, setting out its approach to sustainability and highlighting of some of its initiatives.

The co-op has put a number of initiatives in place, such as an innovative water treatment partnership between its refinery at McPherson, Kansas, and the city of McPherson. CHS has developed a way to use treated city wastewater to help run its refining operations, reducing demand on the groundwater aquifer by a million gallons of water per day.

It is also working to improve water use at its soybean processing facility in Mankato, Minnesota, upgrading to stainless steel water tanks to enhance reliability of its systems.

And the co-op has worked to develop more efficient fertiliser technology to improve grower return on investment and reduce the risk of phosphorus runoff into water sources.

In April 2022, CHS joined other agricultural leaders to publicly support the Field to Market Climate-Smart Innovative Finance Initiative proposal to the USDA. It says: “We are committed to scaling climate-smart practices and strengthening markets for climate-smart commodities. We welcome the opportunity to explore how innovative financial solutions can support native grain and oilseed farmers in accelerating sustainability and allocating associated climate benefits to customers.”

On climate emissions, the co-op says it is monitoring its processing plants, leading to “long-term improvement” – for instance, it has tracked a steady drop in direct emission from its soy processing facility in Mankato, Minnesota.

Projects are also run overseas. In Brazil, CHS teams have joined in several programmes to ensure soybeans and other crops sourced there are produced on existing agricultural acres and not on land recently cleared through unlawful deforestation. These include the Amazon Soy Moratorium, Green Grains from Pará, and the Roundtable on Responsible Soy (RTRS) Association.

It adds that it has joined with nongovernment organisations such as SOS Mata Atlântica and Save Cerrado to preserve and restore native forests, especially in regions where CHS operates (Cerrado and Mata Atlantida biomes).

The co-op says it also provides native plant seedlings to employees and their families for planting around CHS storage facilities. “This outreach helps promote a better quality of life for local citizens and encourages compliance with environmental standards,” it adds.

Related: Australian co-op apex BCCM calls for fresh action on climate change

CHS is also exploring technologies that impact supply chain automation, real-time soil sensing and traceability in row crops as part of its sustainability efforts.

To continue to drive such projects, the co-op is expanding its innovation team and appointing a dedicated climate director, noting that “technology advancements will play a key role in our long-term success”.

“CHS is integrating sustainability into our core businesses and creating opportunities for owners and customers,” said president and CEO Jay Debertin. “In 2022, we added dedicated leaders and support resources and formalised our sustainability business function. We also focused on developing the internal governance and processes needed to execute long-term success related to environmental and social factors.”

CHS says these changes will help to reduce impact on the planet, respond to opportunities related to enhanced sustainability and continue to build a better future for its farmer and rancher owners.

This year, it added Megan Rock as vice president, sustainability and innovation and chief sustainability officer (CSO). “As we formalise our sustainability function, we will continue to develop our efforts in environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) programs through a dedicated climate director and by expanding our innovation team, as technology advancements will play a key role in long-term success for CHS and our owners,” she said.

The co-op says it is placing greater emphasis on helping owners and other stakeholders understand its approach to ESG reporting, including providing definitions and interpretations in the 2022 CHS Sustainability Report.

“CHS is committed to working closely with co-operative owners, customers and other stakeholders on developing an outcome-based approach to sustainability that leads to a stronger co-operative system,” added Rock, “one that is able to feed the world through sustainable business practices that protect and preserve our limited resources.”

Owned by 900 local co-ops, 75,000 individual farmers and ranchers and 20,000 preferred stock holders, CHS supplies agricultural services and products including energy, seed, grain marketing, animal nutrition products and risk management services. It operates petroleum refineries and pipelines and manufactures, markets and distributes Cenex brand refined fuels, lubricants, propane and renewable energy products.

It operates in 43 states in the US and markets grain in 65 countries.