LEIGH ANN JOHNSTON, Director of Sustainable Food Strategy

Forecasting Agricultural Sustainability was this year’s theme at the largest-ever annual Sustainable Agriculture Summit in Denver, Colorado. The summit called on food companies, government and non-government agencies, retailers, farmers and other members of our diverse and dynamic industry to unify and lead to drive large-scale advancements in agricultural sustainability.

The agenda was packed full of opportunities to engage with leading experts to learn more about sustainability challenges in the U.S. agricultural industry. Some key sessions included discussions on the role of rendering in sustainability; the future of pork; novel feed ingredients for livestock; lessons learned from California’s agricultural industry; on-farm worker well-being and safety; tracking and reducing food loss and waste; and the rise of REGENERATIVE AGRICULTURE.

Following a keynote address where Tom Vilsack (President and CEO, U.S. Dairy Export Council & former Secretary, U.S. Department of Agriculture) discussed consumer demand for reassurance that sustainability is an industry value and not just a buzzword, five farmers took the stage to share how they are future-proofing their operations through sustainability. This panel discussion really hit home with me because it was a unique opportunity to hear from an invaluable member of our supply chain – the farmer! Here are a few of their key messages.

We must invest in our future.

Family farms are implementing long-term strategies that include not only how the farm will be run but WHO will run the farm. There’s a decline in the number of children that want to stay involved with the family farm because maintaining a successful and profitable farm operation is no small task. The children don’t mind the work but financial commitments and uncertainty in market prices and regulatory oversight cause them stress. Farmers must create a vision and plan for their farm to ensure their operations are socially, environmentally, and economically viable and can support future generations.

Monitoring and measuring drives economies of scale.

There was a time when farmers talked about their farms in large tracks. Today, farmers talk about a specific acre and how they are managing that acre to be more sustainable. When farmers measure and monitor data related to key indicators such as water usage, fertilizer application, soil health, and yield, they realize efficiency gains and improvement opportunities that can bring economies of scale to their operations.

Technology is critical to advancing agricultural practices.

Farmers depend on technology to advance their farm operations. Technologies such as weather tracking, soil and water sensors, satellite imaging, and radio frequency identification accelerate precision agriculture and give farmers the information they need to make decisions that improve efficiency, increase yield, and enhance environmental stewardship. And much like Tyson Foods, farmers involved in the raising of poultry and livestock are keenly interested in robotics and other technologies that limit human-animal interaction.

The U.S. agricultural system is one of the most efficient in the world and is ready to feed the world’s growing population. We must do this in a transparent way that consumers feel good about. While our food supply chain is complex, it was clear during the Summit that those involved in food and agriculture are committed to identifying solutions that ensure safe, great-tasting, sustainably produced food is accessible for all. And this commitment directly aligns with our purpose of raising the world’s expectations for how much good food can do!

Published November 28, 2018.

Director of Sustainable Food Strategy at

Leigh Ann Johnston, a graduate of the University of North Georgia, joined Tyson Foods, Inc. in 2001. In her current role, she is responsible for developing and implementing the company’s sustainability strategy and related efforts. She coordinates with all business units within Tyson Foods to develop programs, metrics, and targets to ensure the fulfillment of the company’s sustainability strategy. She advises the company on sustainability trends and stakeholder expectations. She assists the company in building partnerships with key internal and external stakeholder groups such that sustainability is embedded in all aspects of the company’s operations. She also leads the development of the company’s sustainability report.

Leigh Ann also contributes to industry sustainability efforts, including serving as the company’s representative on the U.S. Roundtable for Sustainable Beef, and the U.S. Roundtable for Sustainable Poultry and Egg. She also served as the company’s representative on the Global Reporting Initiatives Food Processing Sector Supplement Work Group. Leigh Ann lives in Springdale, Arkansas and enjoys spending time with her family, cooking, playing with her two dogs, and managing Red Kite Coffee Company, which she co-owns.