Growing Returns

Selected tag(s): corn

New program verifies claims of fertilizer efficiency tools

NutrientStar LogoBig name food companies are starting to source sustainably grown grains to increase transparency and reduce climate and water risks in their supply chains. Precision agriculture tools can help farmers meet this new demand, but it’s difficult to tell which ones perform as advertised because little data exists – or is publicly available – to prove a tool’s effectiveness on the ground.

That’s why EDF developed NutrientStar, an independent, science-based program that verifies the fertilizer efficiency claims of products on the market.

NutrientStar identifies fertilizer management tools that effectively keep nutrients on the farm, reduce fertilizer losses, and improve air and water quality. Scientific assessments conducted by an independent review panel provide valuable information on a tool’s performance, and on-the-ground research trials show performance in working fields. As tools and products are reviewed, the analysis will be posted on the NutrientStar website. Tools and products assessed to date include:

  • Adapt-N (made by Agronomic Technology Corp.), an online software program that uses a linked crop model and soil model to estimate nitrogen rates for individual fields or areas within fields.
  • Fertilizer management products including N-Serve® (made by Dow AgroSciences); AGROTAIN®, AGROTAIN PLUS®, and SUPER U® (made by Koch Agronomic Services).

Here’s what this new program means for the entire commodity crop supply chain – from farmers to food companies. Read More »

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Animal feed is at the heart of grain sustainability

monast tractor

Building my energy-efficient home in North Carolina.

My passion for improving the food system for the health of my family, my fellow citizens and our planet is in my genes.

My grandmother ran a natural foods business out of her kitchen in the 1950s, a time when the country was moving towards more processed food. My parents, who took me on annual Earth Day trash walks to pick up garbage alongside the road by our house, instilled in me a deep respect for the environment. My mother, a teacher, also started a composting and gardening program at her school that incorporates what the students grow into the school menus.

I draw on my family’s heritage in my life and work. That’s why I’m proud to be part of the team that helped Smithfield Foods establish and deploy a program to improve the sustainability of the grains they feed their hogs.

EDF and Smithfield don’t agree on everything, but we do agree that farmers growing animal feed have an important role to play in reducing the climate and water impacts of agriculture.

Here’s why a career focused on feed grain sustainability is a perfect fit for me – and why I believe that momentum in animal feed sustainability is a great way for protein companies across the supply chain to make tangible improvements to air and water quality. Read More »

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How an ag retail program is scaling up sustainable practices

shutterstock_144822175SUSTAIN™ is continuing to gain momentum with food companies and government agencies.

Just today, the world’s largest pork producer, Smithfield Foods, said it would begin using the platform to reduce nutrient losses across its Midwest sourcing areas. And last week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced $720 million in funding through the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCCP) to advance sustainable practices. SUSTAIN is part of two RCPPs in Illinois and Iowa that will encourage more growers to engage in voluntary nutrient management and conservation practices.

SUSTAIN was developed by United Suppliers, Inc., a cooperative of agricultural retailers whose customers span 45 million acres across the U.S. and Canada, in coordination with EDF. The program trains ag retailers in using proven, effective technologies, practices, and products that advance sustainable agriculture. The retail staff then bring this knowledge to the growers they serve.

This unique business model has the potential to bring sustainable farming measures to scale. One ag retail location can for example reach hundreds of growers and thousands of acres.

Here are the details on why these two announcements mean a big leap forward for agricultural sustainability. Read More »

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Fertilizer runoff is just one piece of the dead zone puzzle

Credit: Ohio Wetlands Association

Dead zones (also called hypoxic zones) are caused by a rapid growth in algae that leads to less dissolved oxygen in the water and the death of aquatic species. Credit: Ohio Wetlands Association

It’s true that fertilizer runoff, sewage, and other pollutants from the Corn Belt have significantly boosted dead zones in the Gulf of Mexico. That’s because up to half of the fertilizer applied isn’t absorbed by crops, and in order to grow more food we’re using 20 times more fertilizer in the Corn Belt today than in the 1950s.

But even if we optimize fertilizer use on all cropland in the Upper Mississippi and Ohio River Basins, nutrients will still be lost to rivers and streams and carried into the Gulf of Mexico. Some of this loss is inevitable given factors like unpredictable weather, but my colleagues and I set out to quantify other reasons for why the Corn Belt exports so much nitrogen.

We discovered that an increase in fertilizer inputs is only one part of the problem. Three other distinct but interconnected factors also contribute to water pollution and the Gulf dead zone: the loss of perennial cover, the construction of artificial drainage systems, and the loss of wetlands. Read More »

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How to make meat production more sustainable? Start with corn.

Fao

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations celebrates World Food Day each year on October 16th.

It’s World Food Day, which promotes awareness of the planet’s most challenging food issues, including eradicating global hunger. All food production depends on environmental health, but food production itself can harm the planet.

So to address hunger and increase food security, we’ll need to address the environmental impacts of food production and how the food choices we make every day affect the planet.

These choices affect the stability of the climate, the availability of clean drinking water and running rivers, and the persistence of native habitats and the wildlife they house.

No matter our political or cultural differences when it comes to food, there’s one trend that is clear: across the globe, we are making the choice to eat more meat.  Read More »

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Sustainability and profitability go hand-in-hand, says Iowa corn farmer

TimRichter

Tim Richter, owner of Saratoga Partnership.

Farming is a tough business. With constantly changing crop prices, difficult to predict and increasingly extreme weather variations, and changing consumer demands, growers don’t have an easy time of it.

Like any business, profitability is the number one priority. And it should be – if you are not profitable, it’s very hard to stay in business.

All the growers I’ve worked with care deeply about their land. In a recent survey of a group of Midwestern farmers, “land stewardship” ranked as their top value. And sustainability is in a farmers’ best interest since healthy lands plays a huge role in whether farms will be around – and productive – for the next generation. But making agriculture truly sustainable will require investment from farmers.

Here’s the good news: sustainability and profitability can go hand-in-hand. Efficiencies like fertilizer optimization can result in cost savings. And with those savings, growers can invest in new technologies and cover crops, which can help make farms more resilient and increase yields, generating long term economic gain.

I asked Tim Richter, owner of a swine and corn farm operation spanning 9,000 acres in northern Iowa and Missouri, to tell me his profitability and sustainability story. Read More »

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How cover crops can help growers beat droughts and floods

Cover crops can include grasses like cereal rye.

Cover crops can include grasses like cereal rye.

Corn is trying to fight this summer’s extreme weather, and unfortunately, the weather is winning.

There are serious floods in the Midwest, devastating droughts in California, and brutal heat waves along the eastern seaboard. Ohio for example had a record June rainfall of 11 inches, which stunted corn roots and prevented many growers from planting any corn crops. In Northwest Ohio alone, 100,000 acres were left unplanted. At the same time, places in my home state of North Carolina experienced a June heat wave during the critical corn pollination period, significantly damaging corn yields.

These extreme weather events leave many farmers searching for ways to make the best of a challenging growing season. Although June’s weather was the opposite in Ohio and North Carolina, cover crops offer a proven solution to deal with both conditions. Read More »

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No illusion here. Optical sensors can save farmers money.

19159_Husking CornPrecision agriculture is on its way to becoming mainstream. First, farmers need tools and technologies that make this kind of smart farming dramatically easier.

Optical sensors are one of the most promising technologies available now. This technology is very exciting because it helps farmers save money on fertilizer – and improve crop yields.

Optical sensors are devices attached to a farmer’s fertilizer applicator. As the farmer travels across the field applying fertilizer, the technology reads how green or healthy the crop is, and it applies the right amount of fertilizer in accordance with each plant’s needs. Read More »

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General Mills selects United Suppliers to increase fertilizer efficiency in the field  

SUSTAIN logo_circle_4cIsn’t it nice when somebody steps forward boldly to do the right thing and is rewarded for doing so? General Mills did just that for United Suppliers and the SUSTAIN platform, which will help farmers improve nitrogen use efficiency and productivity.

In July, General Mills put out a call for proposals to help the company meet increased production needs in ways that contribute to cleaner air and water.

It was almost like a future posting in sustainability want ads: “General Mills, a 17+ billion dollar food company, has the following need: Seeking best practices in nitrogen fertilization (nitrogen optimization) technologies for sustainable agriculture.”

The company recognized the pressing need to limit nutrient losses while also helping farmers produce more of the wheat, corn, soybeans and other crops it needs to make the products we buy.

And the winners are….
Read More »

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Reducing risks to corn production requires a supply chain solution

Photo: © John Rae

Photo: © John Rae

Corn is our country’s biggest crop economically and takes up nearly one-third of U.S. cropland. It is a pillar of our food production system – a key ingredient in everything from drinks, sauces and snack foods to dairy products, fuel and meat.

So when news about corn’s risky future pops up, we should all take note, and the entire agricultural supply chain should work toward solutions.

Water & Climate Risks Facing U.S. Corn Production, produced by the nonprofit sustainability advocate Ceres, is the latest analysis to sound the warning bell.

Last year U.S. corn growers harvested a record 14 billion bushels of corn, making them among the most productive farmers in the world (this year’s harvest is expected to be huge as well). But climate change and groundwater depletion are threatening to undermine corn’s success as global demand increases. Inefficient fertilizer use is compounding the problem.

Read More »

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