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Burger King Partners with Cargill and WWF on Grasslands Restoration

Burger King and Cargill are teaming up with World Wildlife Fund and ranchers within the Northern Great Plains to launch a three-year grasslands restoration program. This initiative brings together two major companies who deliver beef to Americans to support the rehabilitation of unproductive soil into thriving ecosystems– with cattle playing a critical role. The goal of this program is to restore grasslands that support ranchers, wildlife, and the environment.

© Photo Courtesy of: ChrisBoyer/Kestrelaerial.com/WWF-US

Project Objectives

As part of the companies' dedication to help achieve the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals, the program aims to restore nearly 8,000 acres of grassland (equivalent to more than 6,000 football fields) that had previously been plowed and replaced with crops and non-native grasses, changing the ecosystem of the Northern Great Plains. Instead of remaining as large patches of unproductive soil - known as marginal cropland - the land will be converted back to ecologically diverse plains, with beef cattle serving as the primary grazers in the ecosystem to maintain it. In addition to supporting biodiversity, the reseeding project aims to help keep our climate stable by reducing greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. If successful, the program is projected to save the carbon equivalent of driving nearly 70 million miles in an average passenger vehicle.1

The project is part of Burger King's and Cargill's continued efforts to help make beef more sustainable. The collaboration builds on WWF's existing Sustainable Ranching Initiative, further expanding the opportunity for ranchers to implement sustainable cattle grazing practices after plants have had time to establish.

quality assurance© Photo Courtesy of: ChrisBoyer/Kestrelaerial.com/WWF-US

Benefits of Reseeding

The reseeding process reintroduces the ecosystem's native grasses, which have evolved to support grassland wildlife and keep the environment intact through their deep-reaching root systems. The roots, 10 to 15 feet long in some cases, perform multiple functions:

  • They pull carbon from the atmosphere and store it underground to create one of the world's most stable carbon sinks, which helps to keep our climate stable.2
  • The roots secure the plants and topsoil from being blown or washed away.
  • Crucially, the roots also effectively pull water underground. This both stores water for use during the grassland's cyclical droughts and keeps rain from running off into nearby waterways with excess soil and pollutants such as residual crop fertilizers. 3
  • Native grasslands also provide habitat for a broad diversity of birds and other grassland species.4

The Northern Great Plains depend on large herds of grazing animals to maintain the health of the ecosystem. Grazers keep grasslands healthy by maintaining the balance in the plant community and by naturally drawing more water and carbon into the soil while eating. When managed well, cattle can fulfill this important role, helping grasslands and wildlife thrive.

roots

A rainfall simulator is a tool used to illustrate the role of grasslands in capturing trillions of gallons of rainfall and snowmelt each year. Click on the infographic to learn more, and watch the demonstration video here.

 

Industry Collaboration

With about one fifth of all U.S. beef cattle coming from states containing the Northern Great Plains5, most of this ecoregion spanning five U.S. states and two Canadian provinces is privately owned, and some of the families who live there have been ranching their land for more than 150 years. With the help of local groups such as the Rancher Stewardship Alliance, participants will be identified to reseed the marginal cropland with these carbon-sequestering native grasses. Focused in Montana and South Dakota, the effort will aim to amplify work already underway in the ranching community, and there is high demand from ranchers in the area to participate. Cattle ranchers will be at the forefront of this effort to develop a foundation for ecosystem restoration that encourages increased participation as the program grows.

roots© Photo Courtesy of: Jim Richardson

Measuring Progress

To monitor the progress of the grasslands restoration effort, changes in soil carbon, water infiltration, and the wildlife response to this grassland restoration effort will be measured using the latest industry standard practices. Carbon measurement tools will be explored and tested to continuously evolve best practices.



Through this project, Burger King, Cargill, and World Wildlife Fund aim to restore nearly 8,000 acres of the Northern Great Plains, support ranching communities and wildlife, and potentially mitigate the effects of climate change.

Claims were verified by WWF's Northern Great Plains Science Lead, Patrick Lendrum and WWF's Senior Director, Research and Strategic Initiatives, Forests, Martha Stevenson.

1 The estimate was made by using the US Department of Agriculture's COMET Planner (a greenhouse gas accounting system for ranches and farms) in combination with the US Environmental Protection Agency's Greenhouse Gas Equivalencies Calculator .

2 Sanderson, John S., et al. "Cattle, Conservation, and Carbon in the Western Great Plains." Journal of Soil and Water Conservation, vol. 75, no. 1, 2019, doi:10.2489/jswc.75.1.5a.

3 Kerlin, Kat. "Grasslands More Reliable Carbon Sink than Trees." Science and Climate, University of California, Davis, 13 May 2020, climatechange.ucdavis.edu/news/grasslands-more-reliable-carbon-sink-than-trees/.

4Werling, B. P., et al. "Perennial Grasslands Enhance Biodiversity and Multiple Ecosystem Services in Bioenergy Landscapes." Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, vol. 111, no. 4, 2014, pp. 1652–1657., doi:10.1073/pnas.1309492111.

5"National Agricultural Statistics Service." USDA, US Department of Agriculture, www.nass.usda.gov