Author Archives: Suzy Friedman

Improving water quality is a shared responsibility

Iowa farmer Denny Friest surveys his fields from his combine.

Iowa farmer Denny Friest (Photo credit: John Rae)

I spent the summer meeting with farmers, commodity groups and food companies in the Midwest to discuss collaborative conservation approaches. Whether we were in Missouri, Iowa or Minnesota, water quality was top of mind.

Agriculture has a large impact on water quality – the sector is the source of 70 percent of the nutrients that flow down the Mississippi River and cause dead zones in the Gulf of Mexico.

Farmers have made big strides on implementing and scaling conservation measures to improve water quality and agriculture’s overall environmental footprint. Unsung heroes like Tim Richter, Kristin Duncanson and Denny Friest are constantly fine-tuning nutrient and soil management with new efficiency tools, finding better ways to implement cover crops or reduce tillage, installing wetlands and buffers, and introducing new crops into their rotations. Read More »

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This Illinois farmer is breaking down siloes. Here’s how.

My first impression of Len Corzine was that he isn’t the kind of guy who sits back and waits for people to bring him ideas on how to innovate or improve stewardship – he actively searches for them himself. He then shares these ideas with peers and colleagues.

When I visited Len’s farm in Assumption, Illinois, five years ago, I immediately saw that Len was an early adopter of tools and technologies to help him grow more with less. Like a kid with a brand new bike, Len could not wait to show me the computer software he was using for soil samples and variable rate application of nutrients, or the maps that helped guide his every decision.

To date, Len’s farm has reduced soil erosion, cut fertilizer use per bushel by half, and adopted satellite-guidance technology in its tractors to reduce fuel and chemical use. All while yield productivity has increased 80 percent. Read More »

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3 ways the Farm Bill can protect croplands from extreme weather

Photo Credit: Flickr user Benjamin Disinger (License)

Here’s a statement that everyone can agree on, regardless of politics: Farmers benefit from making their croplands more resilient to the effects of extreme weather.

Report after report, including a study this week in the journal Nature Geoscience, has shown that shifting climatic conditions will hit agriculture hard, threatening food supplies and farmers’ incomes. This week’s report found that in years when the Arctic was warmer than normal, the average decline in yields across the United States was as high as 4 percent – and in Texas, corn yields were as low as 20 percent of what they are in typical years.

Farmers can take steps to protect their operations from extreme weather – but they can’t do it alone.

The 2018 Farm Bill can and should play a powerful role in helping farmers adapt to changing climatic conditions by prioritizing and supporting public-private partnerships, innovation, and financial models that can accelerate deployment of conservation practices.

Read More »

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What does the end of the Paris deal mean for agricultural innovation?

Agriculture has faced increasing disruption from extreme weather and climate shifts over the past 40 years.

In the face of an ever-changing climate, agricultural innovation is more important than ever.

No matter your views on climate change, the United States’ exit from the Paris agreement could compromise the ability of farmers and agribusinesses to become more resilient in the face of extreme weather events.

In the absence of federal leadership, individual farmers, state and national ag associations, food companies, retailers, and environmental organizations will need to fill the void.

I’m confident we can do this, because all the farmers I’ve ever known are incredible innovators and are willing to implement practices that can mitigate the effects of an unpredictable climate – practices that also protect their businesses. Read More »

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A call to help us strengthen the economic case for sustainability practices

Green tractor on Iowa corn farm

Visiting my friend and Iowa corn farmer, Tim Richter.

Before installing a new heating system for your home, you’d want to conduct an analysis to make sure it’s worth the money, right? The same logic applies to farming – before a producer considers implementing conservation practices or new technologies, he or she will need to know how those practices will affect an operation’s bottom line.

Despite some good anecdotal information and several isolated field trial studies, the reality is we don’t have nearly enough information on the economic impacts – good or bad – of individual conservation practices. That means we cannot yet make an ironclad business case that will persuade the majority of farmers to implement conservation practices.

There are several key reasons for the dearth of information, and that’s partly my fault.

I’m hoping you can look past this and consider my call to work together to collect the necessary data to strengthen the case. Our food, livelihoods and landscapes depend on it. Read More »

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Conservation relies on profitability

Conservation practices help make this wheat field more profitable Whether in agriculture or any other business, if you don’t have enough money coming in to pay the bills, it’s hard to find the time or resources for anything other than working to turn a red budget spreadsheet black.

A wheat farmer friend from Washington recently told me that current prices are $4/bushel, the same as 40 years ago. Take into account inflation, and that’s a significant decline. Nationally, the USDA predicts that net farm income will drop by almost 9 percent this year, the fourth year in a row of declines after reaching a record high in 2013. Farmers also face enormous volatility in income, with fluctuations in yield, demand, as well as crop and input prices.

It’s no surprise then that environmentalists’ calls to cut crop insurance, disaster programs or other conservation payments fall on deaf ears in the agricultural community – or serve only to raise blood pressure levels across the Corn Belt. Read More »

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Meet sustainable agriculture’s new whiz kid

Scott Henry is the business development manager for LongView Farms, a row crop grain operation in central Iowa that specializes in seed production

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

To keep farming, growers need to be profitableOn 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.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

Farm in 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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    Meeting growing demands for food and water in ways that allow people and nature to prosper.

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