Niman Ranch, the natural meat leader that has grown one farm and ranch at a time to a network of 750 farm families today, has released its first impact report. The new publication highlights the company’s leadership in environmental sustainability, humane animal care, farmer support and community impact.

“The new impact report clearly illustrates how unique Niman Ranch is in the meat sector,” shared Chris Oliviero, Niman Ranch general manager. “Our founding farmers and ranchers broke the mold when creating this company, aiming to build a new business model that worked for the producers, animals, environment and rural communities. I’m incredibly proud of all that we’ve achieved over the years and the path we have charted for the future.”

Regenerative leadership

The report includes findings from an independent analysis of Niman Ranch’s farming practices (page 7) by The Sustainable Food Lab, a leading organization helping scale sustainable agriculture in the U.S. and around the globe. Through comprehensive surveys, in-depth qualitative interviews and data reviews, the analysis shows that Niman Ranch farms are successfully implementing regenerative practices that build healthy soil, support biodiversity, sequester carbon, and reduce runoff.  

The analysis also showed that the company’s model helps spur use of sustainable techniques and approaches including broad adoption of no-till and crop rotation and managing pollinator habitats. Additionally, Niman Ranch farms are using more cover crops than other farms in their area: ten times more than the regional average.

“What we found is a farmer network that already leads in many aspects of regenerative agriculture,” shared Elizabeth Reaves, senior program director at the Sustainable Food Lab. Reaves continued, “One key difference that stood out in our conversations was the premium pay and stability the program provides farmers, creating a different risk management strategy. Without financial sustainability, it is unlikely that farmers will experiment with new sustainable practices.”

Outsized economic impact

The report includes a new analysis of the economic impact Niman Ranch farmers have within their community (page 30). Conducted by Iowa State University economist Dave Swenson, the data shows Niman Ranch’s significant contributions to the Iowa economy in jobs and labor income. Niman Ranch was found to produce over 150 percent more jobs across the state than its conventional counterparts and generate more than 50 percent more economic value for the local economy, per 100,000 hogs.

“Local economies would prosper if more adopted Niman Ranch’s approach,” concluded Swenson.

A community of leaders

The inaugural impact report showcases many of the leaders and changemakers from both Niman Ranch’s past and today.

  • In a piece authored by award-winning journalist Marilyn Noble, four women trailblazers—Phyllis Willis, Dr. Temple Grandin and Diane and Marlene Halverson—are highlighted for their core role in helping Niman Ranch set the highest standards for animal care in the industry (page 22).
  • The legacy of the late Dave Serfling of Southeast Minnesota, an early Niman Ranch hog farmer, is celebrated (page 10) for his vision and initial draft of what became the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP). CSP is the largest federal conservation program in the country and considered a gold standard for a working land conservation program that takes a whole-farm approach.
  • Other partners highlighted include Dawn Sherman of Native American Natural Foods (page 15), Adrian Lipscombe of 40 Acres & a Mule (page 29) and numerous farmers and ranchers supplying Niman Ranch today.

Looking forward

The impact report shares new Niman Ranch partnerships and initiatives to support a more sustainable and equitable food system. From advocacy on important animal welfare policies, like California’s Proposition 12 (page 19), to developing programs and partnerships that support opportunities for BIPOC farmers and culinary leaders (page 32), Niman Ranch continues to use its voice and resources for progress.

Looking at the path ahead for Niman Ranch, Chris Oliviero is optimistic. “When Paul Willis first started the pork program, he didn’t set out to check boxes on some set of protocols that somebody else had come up with. He wrote his own playbook and then made it available for others to follow. Having the willingness to do that is why the Niman model has excelled, and it will inform our course well into the future.”

The impact report can be viewed and downloaded here. Niman Ranch is also offering print copies of the impact report for free home delivery.

Source: Niman Ranch