Author Archives: Suzy Friedman

Meet sustainable agriculture’s new whiz kid

Scott Henry, 27, a partner and business development manager for LongView Farms

Every year right before Commodity Classic, EDF brings together a group of farmers who share their lessons learned in sustainable agriculture – and offer insights on bringing conservation practices to scale. These producers are our advisors, sounding boards and partners. They help us understand what agricultural policies really look like when implemented on the farm, and how best to convey to farmers that not all environmentalists point fingers at ag.

This year we had a new addition to the group, someone who brought an important perspective because he’s far younger than the average-aged farmer. Scott Henry is a 27-year-old partner and business development manager for LongView Farms, a row crop grain operation in central Iowa that specializes in seed production. Scott is responsible for business growth, strategy, production operations and the implementation of precision agriculture technology across the farm.

I asked Scott about his start in farming, about the importance of financial expertise in agriculture and whether sustainability really is good for growers’ bottom lines. Read More »

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There’s good reason to end the agriculture versus the environment fight

On paper, I appear to be the picture perfect stereotype of an east coast liberal: I’ve been working at environmental nonprofits for over 20 years, I’m an Ivy League grad, and I live in the “bluest” county in Virginia. When it comes to first impressions in the world of agriculture, I’ve been met countless times with skepticism and even contempt.

The reality is that I spend nearly every waking hour of my career collaborating with farmers – exploring ways to implement on-the-ground practices that help producers save money and protect yields while also reducing impacts to water and air. After years of building relationships, I’m proud of the diverse and unlikely partnerships I’ve formed. Many of my closest friends and allies would be labeled as “big ag.”

But I’m worried that today’s political divisions will roll back the decades of progress reducing nutrient runoff across the Corn Belt and beyond. I don’t want to see doors closed because of assumptions on either side of the political divide that now dominate the country. Read More »

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Farmers' voices are essential to figuring out sustainability. Let's listen up.

The corn and soybean fields that stretch for miles across the Midwest are quiet this time of year, mostly frozen surfaces waiting for the spring planting season.

Although many farmers are not in the field dawn to dusk during the winter, they are still plenty busy. Between planning for the next season, taking care of animals and attending countless meetings, farmers are seldom idle even if their crop fields are.

But lucky for us, winter does afford more time to talk.

One friend from Iowa who works hard to use fertilizer efficiently to avoid runoff and optimize plant uptake of nutrients said he worries that food companies don’t always recognize the sustainability efforts of mainstream farmers. Too often, he said, it seems food companies look for simple labels like organic.

A soybean grower I know from Ohio who has invested a lot of time learning farming practices that will help restore nearby Lake Erie told me it is a constant struggle to balance making a living with repairing decades of agricultural nutrient runoff that have imperiled the health of the lake. Read More »

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Three areas ripe for public investment in U.S. agriculture

Sichuan Province, China

Sichuan Province, China

Agriculture doesn’t often attract big investments like those that flow to technology.

But that may have just changed.

The Chinese government recently announced plans to invest $450 billion over the next four years – yep, billions – to help modernize agriculture and scale up practices that increase food security while hopefully minimizing impacts to the environment.

This eye-popping investment should be seen as a wake up call to the United States. Read More »

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This Iowa farmer proves that profit and sustainability go hand in hand

Photo credit: John Rae

Photo credit: John Rae

Denny Friest is one of the most progressive and savvy farmers I’ve ever met. Through his participation in the Iowa Soybean Association’s On-Farm Network since 2001, Denny conducted replicated strip trials on his operation to compare different nitrogen application rates and find ways to be more efficient and profitable.

The Iowa legislature saw so much value in this field trial program that it provided funding to reimburse farmers who lost yield in their efforts to improve efficiency. With no risk involved, Denny was able to see “how low he could go” with fertilizer applications before he had an economic loss in production. Read More »

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Why Kansas farmer Justin Knopf strives to emulate the native prairie

I first met Justin Knopf at a meeting in DC about five years ago. At 6’3”, he definitely stood out, but not just physically. He openly conveyed how important his family and his land are – the reason he cares so much about making sure his Kansas farming operation can live on is for his children. It’s rare to meet someone so articulate, sincere and committed to sustainability.

Over the years, I have become more and more impressed by Justin, who started farming at age 14 when his father gave him the means to rent land and buy seed and fertilizer.

Fast forward to today, and Justin is one of the country’s champions of no-till farming – a practice that has boosted his yields and made his crops more resilient to the effects of extreme weather. His dedication and success caught the attention of Miriam Horn, author of the new book Rancher, Farmer, Fisherman: Conservation Heroes of the American Heartland.

Rancher, Farmer, Fisherman tells the stories of five individuals in the enormous Mississippi River watershed (Justin included) who are embracing sustainability and defying stereotypes. I asked Justin about the book, his beliefs on sustainability and what’s next for no till. Read More »

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A coalition of uncommon bedfellows is bringing sustainable agriculture to scale

160526_0265Today represents a huge advancement for sustainable agriculture, and a new era of food company collaboration. At the Farm Progress Show in Boone, Iowa, we are officially launching the Midwest Row Crop Collaborative (MRCC): a diverse coalition working to expand on-the-ground solutions to protect air and water quality, enhance soil health, and maintain high yields throughout the Upper Mississippi River Basin.

Founding members of the MRCC include Cargill, Environmental Defense Fund, General Mills, Kellogg Company, Monsanto, PepsiCo, The Nature Conservancy, Walmart, and World Wildlife Fund. The coalition will work directly with growers to help foster continuous improvement and implement conservation activities across three pilot states responsible for 44 percent of corn, soy, and wheat production in the United States: Illinois, Nebraska, and Iowa.   Read More »

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How animal agriculture can help meet the Paris Climate Agreement goals

corn fieldThe Paris Climate Agreement included a special emphasis on food security and the threats it faces from extreme weather events. Despite only brief mentions of agriculture in the preamble to the agreement itself, a recent study from the University of Vermont reveals that global emissions reduction targets absolutely cannot be met without significant contributions from the agricultural sector.

According to this new research in Global Change Biology, agriculture needs to reduce emissions by one gigaton per year in 2030, yet current mitigation strategies can only meet 40 percent of this target, at most, and may deliver as little as 21 percent of what is needed.

The authors argue that agriculture needs to play its part, and I couldn’t agree more. We are dependent on agriculture not only to keep us fed, but also to lead the way in addressing climate change threats. Agriculture represents approximately 9 percent of total emissions in the U.S., and between 10 to 29 percent of emissions globally, though this figure is projected to increase.

Despite the fact that 119 nations included agricultural mitigation as an in-country strategy for meeting the Paris Agreement reduction targets, no country has yet reported on how to accomplish these pledges.

Ultimately, the responsibility to implement tangible on-farm changes that reduce emissions falls on billions of farmers, but there is an even greater responsibility for animal agriculture companies. Here’s why – and what these companies can do to help tackle the climate challenge. Read More »

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Want to bring ag sustainability to scale? Collaboration, not confrontation.

_Y1C0891One year ago, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced 10 “building blocks” for climate-smart agriculture and forestry, with the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by over 120 million metric tons by 2025.

The agency’s focus on partnering with farmers and ranchers – as well as with the private sector – was a huge step in the right direction toward widespread implementation of climate-smart agriculture techniques and programs.

Tomorrow, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack will announce another big investment in conservation stewardship and climate-smart agriculture approaches to advance the building blocks agenda. I’ll be joining Secretary Vilsack to talk about EDF’s partnerships within the agricultural supply chain and our collaborative approach to ag sustainability.

Working across public-private sector lines, through a collaborative approach, and with the entire ag supply chain is the only way to bring sustainability to scale while protecting farmers’ livelihoods.

Here’s what key sectors of the ag supply chain are doing – and can do – to improve water quality, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and increase agricultural resilience. Read More »

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A newly re-energized sustainable ag movement

Walmart_Store_RFLast month I spent some time in Bentonville, Arkansas, at Walmart's semi-annual “Sustainability Showcase,” a celebration of the company’s progress in implementing environmental initiatives.

During the showcase, Walmart CEO Doug McMillon invited the executives of major Fortune 500 companies in attendance to share their insights on sustainability – and I was inspired. On stage were the CEOs of Cargill, Kellogg, as well as Dr. Mehmood Khan, Vice Chairman and Chief Scientific Officer, Global Research and Development for PepsiCo.

I was struck by how open and bold these CEOs were in recognizing the need and their responsibility to help solve major environmental challenges such as climate change and water pollution. McMillon, for example, started the discussion by explaining that 20 percent of lakes in Minnesota are not drinkable, a situation that "touches people personally every day."

Here’s my take on the top two agricultural highlights – and why I’m more confident than ever that sustainable farming initiatives will improve water and air quality across the U.S. Read More »

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