Growing Returns

How a data-driven approach makes profitable on-farm conservation possible

New data and insights are now available from Precision Conservation Management, a partnership organization that connects 280 Illinois and Kentucky farmers with conservation specialists from local soil and water conservation districts to provide actionable data on conservation financials.

Over the last five years, PCM gathered field-level farm management data — including the number of passes across the field, the rate of inputs into those fields, tillage passes and cover crop use — integrating that management data with cost tables created by the University of Illinois to provide farmers with the financial outcomes of different conservation practices.

Here are the top three insights from five years of farm data. Read More »

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How financial data can bridge the investment gap to scale soil health

This blog post was co-authored by Camille Morse Nicholson of the Midwest Row Crop Collaborative.

The increasing attention being directed at agriculture and the environment by policymakers and the private sector is a welcome shift — one on which the future of our agricultural system depends.

However, there remain a host of uncertainties to be resolved as we shift the system to one that not only produces food, fuel and fiber, but also delivers soil health, biodiversity and climate resilience benefits.

The Midwest Row Crop Collaborative (MRCC), a coalition of companies and NGOs, is working to break down barriers to scaling climate-smart practices, including closing the information gap on the financial benefits of conservation practices like cover crops and nutrient management, and helping farmers invest in these practices, confidently. Read More »

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Cargill and Soil Health Institute find farmer experience with soil health pays off. Here’s how.

Findings from a recent Soil Health Institute study add to growing evidence that soil health practices can provide financial benefits to farmers.

The Soil Health Institute, with support from Cargill, interviewed 100 farmers across nine states to measure the farm budget impacts of soil health practices.

“I believe this work is a critical area and critical question that we need to better address as we look at scaling up of soil health principles,” said Ryan Sirolli, Global Row Crop Sustainability Director at Cargill, during a webinar hosted by the Soil Health Institute. Read More »

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Farm budget analysis finds 3 ways conservation affects the bottom line

Soil health practices can provide many public environmental benefits including reduced soil erosion, increased soil organic carbon and improved water quality. However, adoption of soil health practices such as no-till and cover crops only represent 26% and 4% of U.S. farmland respectively.

Still, we know farmers can be rapid adopters of new technologies, including new seed varieties and equipment, when presented with a profitable solution. Read More »

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Federal Reserve warns of financial risks from climate change. Agricultural banks must act fast.

Climate change poses a multitude of financial risks and financial leaders are increasingly calling for the measurement, disclosure and mitigation of these risks.

The Federal Reserve recently highlighted climate change in its annual financial stability report, warning that climate-driven weather events could cause price instability and other significant financial system vulnerabilities. The Fed’s report adds momentum to a growing wave of attention being paid to climate-related financial risk. Read More »

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How can we measure the profitability of healthy soils? There’s a new guide for that

Any investment, from Wall Street to a local park, requires investors to establish expectations for the costs, benefits and timing. They dedicate significant resources to researching and identifying these expectations to optimize their investment decision.

Investing in soil health should be no different.

Read More »

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Could catalytic capital help shape the agriculture of tomorrow?

Investing in climate-smart agriculture is a hot topic. Startups in plant-based meats and dairy alternatives are taking the market by storm. Major food companies are setting sustainability targets and investing in soil health practices.

Yet farmers face poor farm economic conditions stemming from trade disputes, COVID-19 supply chain disruptions, and increasingly frequent, extreme and destructive weather events.

Farmers across the U.S. have felt the pain of extreme weather in 2020, from the derecho that wreaked havoc in the Midwest to the destructive wildfires that continue to rage out West. (Photo credit: National Weather Service).

It’s clear that more innovation is needed to make the food system fit to face 21st century challenges, and fast. Catalytic capital can help.

Read More »

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Anticipating sharp declines in 2021 farm profitability, experts suggest cost savings from fertilizer efficiency

Farmers across the country may not see profitable conditions for some time as the effects of COVID-19 suppress already meager profit margins.

Projections from the University of Illinois and the University of Missouri show that farm profits could fall significantly in 2021, and economists are recommending farmers examine fertilizer application and tillage passes for the potential to provide highly needed cost savings. Read More »

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As if things weren’t already hard enough, farmers must brace for another wet spring

Farmers have already been dealing with tough economic conditions exacerbated by a trade war, extreme weather and now the coronavirus. Unfortunately, the latest 2020 spring flood outlook shows that farmers in the Midwest could be facing yet another wet year.

Although projected to be less severe than 2019, the U.S. Spring Flood and Climate Outlook for 2020 predicts widespread flooding across 23 states with severe flooding in North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota. As a result of the 2019 floods, soils across the Midwest are full of moisture this spring, increasing the likelihood of flooding in 2020. Source: NOAA 

Making American farmland resilient to growing weather shocks like flooding requires greater adoption of conservation practices such as no-till and cover cropping practices that improve water infiltration and reduce erosion and field runoff. Despite the financial benefits of these practices, adoption remains low across the country. In 2017, only 3.9% of U.S. farmland adopted cover crops.

How can we scale conservation practice adoption to reduce risk and boost resilience of the agricultural sector? Read More »

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