Smithfield Foods, Inc., Smithfield, Va., through its Smithfield Renewables, implemented a nationwide expansion of innovative projects designed to help reduce the company’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions 25% by 2025.

As part of the expansion, Smithfield is:

  • Setting the goal to implement “manure-to-energy” projects across 90% of Smithfield’s hog finishing spaces in North Carolina and Utah, and nearly all Smithfield’s hog finishing spaces in Missouri over the next 10 years.
  • Converting existing anaerobic treatment lagoons to covered digesters or constructing new covered digesters to capture biogas, which will be transported to central processing facilities to be converted into renewable natural gas (RNG) in North Carolina, Missouri and Utah.
  • Launching new programs that target GHG reductions and bolster Smithfield’s sustainability efforts at farms, plants and throughout the company’s transportation network.

“When we set an objective, we go big at Smithfield to achieve it. Today’s announcement is the culmination of decades spent studying and perfecting the commercial viability of ‘manure-to-energy’ projects. Our investment in these projects underscores our longstanding commitment to sustainability, as well as our promise to produce good food in a responsible way,” says Kenneth Sullivan, president and CEO. “The scale of these projects is audacious. But, through partnerships with a broad coalition of stakeholders, including family farmers, government, energy partners and other constituents, we’re confident we can bring about sustainable, revolutionary progress in our effort to minimize our environmental footprint.”

Commitment to renewable energy
With a longstanding commitment to innovation and continuous improvement, Smithfield has been researching and exploring sustainable ways to transform manure into energy for many years.

“Now, thanks to the dedication of our team members, technological advancements and a viable market for RNG, ‘manure-to-energy’ projects are a sustainable endeavor for hog farms,” says Stewart Leeth, vice president of regulatory affairs and chief sustainability officer. “We are proud to expand our efforts across the country, shrinking our environmental footprint and investing in the protection of our planet’s resources.”

North Carolina
In North Carolina, Smithfield, in concert with several of its contract farmers, spearheaded the pilot program known as Optima KV. Operational since late March, Optima KV uses five anaerobic digesters to capture and clean biogas collected from in-ground digesters at five of Smithfield’s contract hog farms. The gas is then transported to a central facility to be converted into RNG. The facility is located on Smithfield property and operated by Cavanaugh & Associates, Winston-Salem, N.C., in partnership with OptimaBio, LLC, Raleigh, N.C.

Optima KV is said to be the first to leverage Smithfield’s relationship with its contract farmers, who raise and care for Smithfield’s hogs, and will create enough RNG to power 1,000 homes each year. It is also the first project to both source and create RNG in North Carolina.

“I am proud to be on the ground floor of an initiative that provides my operations with an additional source of revenue, and also supports even stronger environmental management practices,” says John Kilpatrick, owner of Circle K II Farms, Deerfield, Ohio, and a Smithfield contract grower. “I am also quite proud of my role in providing clean energy to my community—a role that challenges conventional thinking about agriculture and what it means to be a farmer.”

Following the success of the pilot project, Smithfield will expand its renewable energy efforts across eastern North Carolina. Smithfield will work with contract farmers to convert existing anaerobic treatment lagoons to covered digesters or construct new covered digesters to capture biogas, which will then be transported to central processing facilities to be converted into RNG. In 10 years, more than 90% of Smithfield’s company-owned and contract hog finishing spaces in North Carolina will have the capabilities to produce RNG. In addition to converting “manure-to-energy,” the covered lagoon digesters will mitigate potential issues associated with severe rain events such as hurricanes.

To complement the renewable energy efforts taking place on farms, Smithfield’s Tar Heel, N.C., facility will leverage its wastewater treatment system to create RNG. The company is working with OptimaBio to build a refinery and gas injection system that will collect and clean biogas from an existing onsite digester. The cleaned biogas will be injected into the natural gas pipeline to serve local consumers. The engineering for this initiative is complete, and the project will be operational within one year. Once complete, the project will power more than 2,000 homes in the surrounding area each year.

“These projects, whether on a farm or at a plant, strengthen two key industries in North Carolina—energy and agriculture,” says Gus Simmons, director of bioenergy at Cavanaugh & Associates. “Smithfield is leading the charge in expanding the state’s renewable energy portfolio while creating new economic and environmental benefits for the agriculture industry.”

In Missouri, Smithfield and Roeslein Alternative Energy (RAE), St. Louis, Mo., are embarking on a joint venture to launch the second phase of a project that currently converts manure collected from company-owned farms into RNG, enough to power 15,400 homes per year. By the end of this phase, Smithfield and RAE will have jointly installed biogas infrastructure across all company-owned finishing farms in Missouri. In 10 years, nearly 100% of Smithfield’s company-owned hog finishing spaces in Missouri will have the capabilities to produce RNG.

In addition to using manure to create RNG, this project will harvest prairie grass for methane generation. The harvested grasses, which supplement the biogas generation particularly during the cold winter months, are part of a prairie restoration effort that Smithfield has supported in Northern Missouri for some time. Earlier this year, Smithfield expanded its support for these efforts by becoming what is dubbed to be the first food company to participate in EDF’s Monarch Butterfly Exchange, a program that restores monarch butterfly habitats on private lands, including Smithfield hog farms in Missouri.

“From their leadership in creating renewable energy to conservation, Smithfield is changing what it means to be a food company,” says Rudi Roeslein, president of RAE. “Smithfield’s willingness to embrace the power of prairie proves the industry can play a meaningful role in seizing the economic benefits of conservation.”

In Utah, Smithfield is directly investing in RNG production by building 26 hog farms equipped with covered lagoons specifically designed for anaerobic digestion. This project marks the first time that Smithfield is building U.S. hog farms equipped with renewable energy technology. The engineering includes in-ground digesters to collect biogas that will be refined and pumped into the natural gas pipeline. Once complete, the project will create enough RNG to power 4,000 homes each year. Smithfield is constructing the farms, which will ultimately be owned and operated by contract growers, providing new economic opportunities to local Utah farmers.

In 10 years, more than 90% of Smithfield’s hog finishing spaces in Utah will have the capabilities to produce renewable energy.

Further renewable innovations
In addition to renewable energy projects, Smithfield is implementing several other projects across its operations and supply chain designed to positively impact carbon reduction efforts.

  • On its hog farms, Smithfield is introducing new technologies that will reduce truck traffic and miles traveled by more than 85% on certain routes.
  • Smithfield is adopting low trajectory application tools to more efficiently apply recycled nutrients to farmland.
  • The company is planting more vegetative buffers on its farms.
  • The company’s partnership with Anuvia Plant Nutrients, Zellwood, Fla., re-uses organic matter found in hog manure to create a commercial-grade fertilizer that achieves better crop yield compared to regular fertilizer.
  • At its processing facilities, Smithfield continues to implement energy efficiency initiatives, including refrigeration, boiler and other equipment projects.
  • In its grain supply chain, Smithfield is on-track to meet its goal to source 75% of its grain from farmers who use efficient fertilizer and soil health practices.
  • Finally, Smithfield will continue to collaborate with university and other partners to better quantify the impact of “waste-to-energy” technology on environmental outcomes and endeavor to further develop improvements to manure management systems.

“While we have much to be proud of in our first year, we are excited about the significant opportunities ahead,” says Kraig Westerbeek, senior director of Smithfield Renewables. “I am confident that we will build on our momentum in the coming years and long after 2025.”