Growing Returns

Selected tag(s): iowa

Farmers open their books to show financial impact of conservation

Farm accountants have a lot more to offer than advice on how to maximize tax returns. In fact, they play a pivotal role in scaling conservation.

Environmental Defense Fund and K·Coe Isom AgKnowledge, a managerial accounting service for farmers and ranchers, teamed up with three Midwestern grain farmers to study how the adoption of conservation practices affects farm budgets.

These farmers, based in Iowa, Kansas, and Ohio, have all adopted some combination of no-till, crop rotations, cover crops and nutrient management. They were generous enough to open up their books so that AgKnowledge could analyze the financial impact of these conservation activities.

The full report will be out later this year, but initial results show how conservation can benefit farmers’ bottom lines. Here are three lessons we learned from this analysis. Read More »

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$1 million USDA award expands public-private partnerships for ag sustainability

A collaboration between Smithfield Foods and Environmental Defense Fund has reduced fertilizer loss and improved soil health on more than 400,000 acres in the regions where Smithfield sources feed grain. That acreage is set to grow thanks to a new USDA Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) award of $1,080,000.

The RCPP project will expand Smithfield’s ongoing grain sustainability efforts in North Carolina and scale up the program in Iowa, providing additional opportunities for farmers interested in improving their operations. Participating farmers will be supported by the combined efforts of 16 partner organizations, which include producer groups, government agencies, universities and nonprofits. Read More »

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Climate-resilient agriculture requires both global and local action. Here’s how.

2017 saw 16 weather and climate disasters that cost a billion dollars or more, from freezes and hail, to fires and flooding. Agricultural losses from Hurricane Harvey, Hurricane Irma, Hurricane Maria and California wildfires alone totaled more than $5.7 billion – and counting.

With extreme weather becoming more common, we all have a stake in building a food system that can absorb and recover from such stress. A resilient food supply equips farmers with the tools and incentives to find climate-smart solutions, and that requires action globally and locally. 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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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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This Iowa farmer proves that profit and sustainability go hand in hand

Fertilizer application. 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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A coalition of uncommon bedfellows is bringing sustainable agriculture to scale

Farmers in fieldToday 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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New guidebook explains how and why to build a farmer network

Farmers educating about cornAmidst all the new tools and technologies being developed to make agriculture more sustainable, there is one tried and true method for testing on-site conservation practices that doesn’t get much attention: farmer networks.

Farmer networks consist of growers within a region working directly with advisors, agronomists and/or scientists to conduct on-farm trials. These trials can test the economic and environmental impacts of changes in crop management, adoption of soil health practices, or use of precision agriculture tools.  The data is then aggregated and analyzed to determine best practices for specific farm conditions and to inform future management decisions.

Originally established by the Iowa Soybean Association, the innovative farmer network model has since taken off, with Environmental Defense Fund and others establishing additional networks across the country. As University of Connecticut soil fertility expert Thomas Morris explains, participation in farmer networks has led to greater efficiency on hundreds of thousands of acres across the U.S – benefitting both the planet and yield. The potential for replication is limitless.

That’s why EDF created a how-to guide for other organizations, companies, and universities interested in creating a farmer network. The new Farmer Network Design Manual provides a roadmap to support sustainable agriculture practices, increase farm profits, and build resiliency. Read More »

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From Southwestern India to Iowa: Why farming is at the heart of sustainability

Hiking in India

Studying in the Western Ghats region of India.

When I was younger, I fantasized about becoming a Jane Goodall for the millennial generation. I imagined living in the wilderness to study animals’ behavior and help conserve land. During college, I briefly lived out my dream when I spent a summer in the biodiversity-rich Western Ghats region of India, living and working on a private wildlife sanctuary where I studied the local flora.

The sanctuary was an island of preserved land, surrounded by vast farms that dominated the region’s landscape. While there, I had an epiphany – one that brought me back to my own family’s agricultural history on a farm in Iowa.

I realized that if we don’t work with farmers to conserve wild places, we will never be able to create truly sustainable environments for animals and humans. If I really wanted to make an impact on the Ghats region and its biodiversity, I’d need to move beyond a private sanctuary and back toward my family’s farming roots.

India showed me first-hand the need to partner with farmers. Spending summers on my family’s farm in Iowa and steering the tractor with my grandfather taught me to appreciate the integral role farmers play in maintaining balance in the ecosystem – and that farming is incredibly hard work. Both of these experiences still influence my agricultural career, which is focused on deploying the SUSTAIN™ platform, developed by United Suppliers, Inc. in coordination with EDF, to assist growers in improving fertilizer efficiency and soil health. Read More »

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How this ag retailer is helping farmers scale the sustainability mountain

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SUSTAIN-authorized retailer Jake Rechkemmer

Eighteen months ago, I’d never heard of United Suppliers – a cooperative of 560 locally owned and controlled agricultural retailers who operate nearly 2,500 retail locations that serve 45 million acres in the U.S. and Canada.

Now, I spend 75 percent of my work day focused on the SUSTAIN™ platform, developed by United Suppliers in coordination with Environmental Defense Fund. SUSTAIN works to train and authorize ag retailers on tools, technologies and practices for fertilizer optimization and improved soil health – without sacrificing yield.

And SUSTAIN is on fire – by the end of this year, over 200 ag retail employees will be authorized as SUSTAIN representatives, and General Mills, Campbell’s Soup, Unilever, Kellogg's, and Smithfield Foods are all using or will use the platform in their sustainable sourcing efforts.

Part of the platform’s success is due to its unique model – it’s deployed through existing, trusted relationships that growers already have with their ag retailer. That’s why I asked SUSTAIN-authorized retailer Jake Rechkemmer, agronomy manager at Dunkerton Coop in Dunkerton, Iowa, to tell me about his SUSTAIN journey. Read More »

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