Growing Returns

Selected tag(s): conservation

Lenders want to support farmers’ conservation efforts. Here’s how their executives can help.

corn plants in a conservation practice field in the midwest

Low angle view of young corn plants in a field after the rain


A new survey of agricultural lenders in the upper Midwest reveals important insights about their perceptions and support for farmers’ conservation efforts. As the first of its kind, the survey can inform agricultural lending institutions’ climate and sustainability strategy development.

Farmers rely on agricultural lending institutions for loans to cover equipment, land and operating expenses. In particular, loan officers at these institutions hold relationships with farmers and are often seen as trusted advisers and sources of information. Their perspectives and knowledge of conservation agriculture can significantly influence farmers’ progress in adopting conservation practices.

179 loan officers participated in this survey across the states of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa and Illinois. Fifty-one percent of the surveyed loan officers said that agricultural conservation is very or extremely important to them personally, and 59% believe it is very or extremely environmentally beneficial. Despite this, many loan officers face challenges supporting their farmer clients’ conservation investments. This is where the support of executives at agricultural financial institutions becomes essential.

Drawing from the firsthand insights obtained from the survey of loan officers conducted by EDF, University of Wisconsin-Madison Division of Extension, University of Minnesota Water Resources Center and Compeer Financial, here are the specific actions executives at agricultural finance institutions can take to support conservation investments.

Provide educational opportunities on conservation for loan officers.

A key challenge hindering loan officers in supporting their clients’ conservation efforts is a lack of knowledge about the financial implications of conservation practices. Forty-two percent of the respondents identified a lack of knowledge about the financial costs and benefits of conservation investments as a significant barrier in supporting clients who want to include conservation practices in their loan proposals. Only 15% of the surveyed loan officers consider themselves very or extremely knowledgeable about the financial impacts of conservation practices, and 44% feel moderately knowledgeable.

To address loan officers’ knowledge gaps, leadership at agricultural finance institutions should provide targeted education and training on the financial impacts of conservation. These programs can be developed by engaging with trusted partners such as local producers with first-hand experience implementing conservation practices, university extension services and researchers, conservation professionals and relevant government agencies. The Conservation Economics & Finance Resource Hub developed by the authors of this survey offers a valuable resource for creating these training programs.

Support financial data analysis efforts on conservation practices.

Eighty-six percent of the survey respondents believe that having information on the financial implications of conservation practices would enable them to better support their farmer borrowers interested in these practices. Agricultural finance institutions should support projects that collect and analyze financial data on conservation practices and share the results with their staff.

One example of such initiatives is EDF’s collaboration with the Center for Farm Financial Management at the University of Minnesota, the Minnesota Farm Business Management program and other partners to gather and analyze cover crop financial data from 121 Minnesota farms across four crops and five cover crop types. The detailed farm financial data and insights from this project over the next few years will help answer questions about the profitability of cover crops and inform loan officers who engage with farmer clients implementing cover crops.

Develop an internal strategy that supports conservation investments.

When asked about practices that reduce the agriculture sector’s contribution to climate change, only 17% of the respondents feel increased pressure from their institution’s leadership to support these mitigation practices. This aligns with research from EDF and Deloitte indicating that only 8% of agricultural finance institutions in the United States are significantly factoring climate change into their decision-making.

These gaps reflect a lack of a comprehensive internal strategy to support conservation investments. To address them, leadership at agricultural finance institutions should proactively develop conservation strategies and integrate them into a broader climate or sustainability strategy to help their farmer borrowers take advantage of conservation opportunities. Leaders can learn from the climate strategies guide for agricultural finance institutions, published by EDF and Deloitte in 2023. It presents five strategies agricultural finance institutions can implement to address climate-related risks and opportunities for their business and borrowers. 

Help loan officers help farmers achieve conservation success.

It is evident that loan officers believe in the importance of conservation practices and are motivated to support their farmer borrowers, but they lack the necessary tools to do so effectively. It is critical for leadership to support them with well-defined strategies, comprehensive education and access to relevant data. By empowering loan officers, agricultural finance institutions can unlock substantial opportunities for farmer borrowers to invest in conservation practices.

Want more information?

On March 19 at 2 p.m. ET and March 20 at 11 a.m. ET, EDF will host a 30-minute webinar to inform partners about agricultural lenders’ perceptions and actions in supporting conservation practices.

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Revisiting a centuries-old approach to farming that embraces water scarcity.

As discussions at COP28 wrestle with climate impacts on global food and water security, we hear from a Hopi farmer on his thriving practice of dry farming and his hopes for shared learning in Dubai.


The arid climate of the Hopi reservation in northeastern Arizona receives a mere 8.5 inches of annual rainfall. For perspective, the yearly United States average is 30 inches. Despite this severe aridity, for over 3,000 years, the Hopi people have stewarded an extraordinary agricultural tradition centered on dry farming.

Dr. Michael Kotutwa Johnson is an Indigenous Resiliency Specialist at the University of Arizona and a leading practitioner of Hopi dry farming — a form of agriculture that eschews irrigation in regions with limited water moisture. As a 250th-generation Hopi dry farmer, his ongoing traditional practices are a  testament to the power of cultural values and the potential of climate-adaptive farming. These ongoing Hopi farming practices defy modern notions of crop needs and vulnerability in areas with limited irrigation and water supply.

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Water is a high-level priority at COP 28, we need to look to ground-level users for solutions

Water has finally reached the highest levels of global climate negotiations. The path to a sustainable freshwater future, however, lies with ground-level users. At COP 28, EDF is elevating their voices, their needs and the approaches they find most useful.


While greenhouse gases drive climate change, many of its impacts are inherently liquid. Whether through drought, flood, sea-level rise, or contamination, water increasingly forms the turbulent core of the climate crisis.

Over the past year, this basic reality was finally acknowledged at the global planning table.  Thanks to a strong push from its Egyptian hosts, last year’s edition of the main UN climate conference, COP 27, made water a central theme. The cover decision — the summation of the conference’s key agreements — featured water and food for the first time. The decision acknowledged the central role of water in countering climate impacts and called for water-related targets in national climate planning.

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New report: Investing in Arizona’s water future

This blog is co-authored by Rachel O’Connor, Manager, Climate Resilient Water Systems.

As Arizona’s water crisis worsens due to extreme drought and overuse, more attention than ever is being directed toward addressing this critical issue. At the federal level, an influx of funding has become available through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and Inflation Reduction Act. And at the state level, the Water Infrastructure Finance Authority (WIFA) has just begun accepting proposals for its first allocation of $200M for water conservation projects

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Replicable revenue streams can help natural infrastructure projects receive State Revolving Fund financing

Natural infrastructure can provide protective barriers to reduce flood risk while also offering community green space and supporting green jobs. Louisiana GOHSEP, CC BY SA 2.0.

Authors: Vincent Gauthier (EDF), Tee Thomas (Quantified Ventures)

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law will invest more than $44 billion in the Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Funds, or SRFs, presenting a tremendous opportunity to finance natural infrastructure solutions that can improve water quality and protect communities against flooding. While natural infrastructure can be a cost-effective way to improve water quality and reduce flood risk, these projects have historically been difficult to finance through SRFs due to a lack of consistent repayment streams.

EDF and Quantified Ventures recently published a report that identified five replicable repayment streams that communities and conservation groups can use to access SRF financing for natural infrastructure such as wetlands, floodplain restoration, and riparian buffers. These repayment streams include stormwater utility fees, source water protection fees, and environmental markets.

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New EDF video helps Texans visualize and protect the groundwater they cannot see

Protecting Texas’ vulnerable groundwater supplies raises a challenging dilemma: How can you motivate people to stand up for an underground resource they cannot see?

So we made a video to bring this vital resource to life.

This year, EDF released “Beneath the Surface and Above: The Journey of Groundwater.” The video combines beautiful natural footage from filmmaker Ben Masters and others with computer-generated animation to illuminate the connection between Texas’ groundwater supplies and iconic rivers and springs — and to show how they all need to be protected to safeguard the state’s people, economy and environment.

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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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Farm Credit CEOs discuss emerging opportunities to finance resilient agriculture

Climate change is already impacting farmers, both through extreme weather events and more variability in temperature, rainfall and pests. At the same time, farmers and the broader agricultural system can provide climate solutions and build resilience to reduce climate-related risk.

This dual opportunity has implications for the entire agricultural system, including the agricultural lenders who finance farms. Read More »

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3 ingredients for success in soil health

This blog was originally posted on Soil Health Partnership’s blog.

Profitable conservation systems don’t look the same on every farm. Growers must implement different strategies to address their specific needs, thanks to a wide range of variables including soil type, moisture availability, equipment and labor. However, just because every farmer takes a slightly different approach to soil health doesn’t mean there aren’t some consistent success factors.

In our recent report, Conservation’s Impact on the Farm Bottom Line (developed in partnership with Environmental Defense Fund and the agricultural accounting firm K·Coe Isom), we discovered that farmers who felt their soil health practices were making a difference — both in the data and anecdotally — took some similar approaches. These three “ingredients for success” increased their chances for achieving profitable conservation systems. Read More »

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Experience plays a role in cover crop profitability

This blog was originally posted on Soil Health Partnership’s blog.

When it comes to cover crops, patience combined with realistic expectations is often the name of the game. Unlike the immediate cost savings that often come with conservation tillage, cover crops have annual costs as well as efficiencies and soil health benefits that can take time to achieve.

These are some of the reasons why in our report, Conservation’s Impact on the Farm Bottom Line, we found experienced cover crop users were more profitable when compared to new adopters. Read More »

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