Category Archives: Industry News

Addressing change and challenge in manure applications

2020 certainly brought a lot of change and challenge for agriculture producers. While the pandemic forced Discovery Farms Programs in Wisconsin and Minnesota to cancel the annual conference, farmers, soil conservationists and crop consultants were still able to take advantage of educational opportunities online.

The theme for this year’s Discovery Farms’ weekly virtual conference series is “Keeping up with your conservation goals through change and challenge.”

A recent conference featured Dr. Christine Morgan of the Soil Health Institute in North Carolina who described soil health as the capacity of soil to function as a vital living ecosystem sustaining plants and animals. She notes that there are very different soils in different parts of the country or even within a state. However, that doesn’t mean they can’t all be healthy and productive.

As part of her work at the institute, she and colleagues have examined 124 samples across the country demonstrating different soil and practices.

“To measure this we look at how each part of soil health was affected by various management systems: rotation diversity, crop count, organic amendments (manure), cover crops, decreased tillage; and residue retention,” she said.

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Farmers first is the key to regenerative agriculture

It’s not every day you hear eight Ph.D.s, entrepreneurs or bigwigs at billion-dollar international companies talking intensely about farmers. But during two regenerative agriculture breakout sessions at VERGE 2020 this week, that’s what happened.

“For us, it was critical to actually put the farmer at the center of this conversation,” said Robyn O’Brien, co-founder of rePlant Capital, during one conversation.

These experts knew that to make real change in the agriculture system that would help draw down carbon and make farming more sustainable, the industry must get the farmers on board. According to Jay Watson, sourcing, sustainability and engagement manager at General Mills, you can have the resources, the buy-in from local governments and the cultural support but to unlock a new way of producing, it needs to be a farmer-led movement.

How to accurately measure the organic carbon content of soil

How to measure organic carbon in soils and, even more importantly, accurately measure how it changes over time, are major challenges in the potential development of new income streams for farmers in the next few years.

Globally, there has been a lot of talk about how soils, usually in connection with being farmed regeneratively, could reverse climate change by acting as a vast carbon sink.

The concept is that farmers could be paid for following carbon-storing practices by companies wanting to offset their emissions, creating another income stream.

But the quest to develop these carbon markets relies very much on an unanswered question – how to sample and measure carbon in soils accurately and repeatably?

When, where, how deep and how often you should sample are all a matter of debate among scientists, let alone what method to use and whether there is a finite or infinite amount of carbon that can be stored in soils.

When there is money on the line, answers to these questions will become vital, and much research is ongoing in this area.

There are more immediate reasons to be assessing soil carbon levels though.

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Ducks Unlimited Receives Grant for Prairie Pothole Region

BROOKINGS, S.D. (Ducks Unlimited) – The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) announced today Ducks Unlimited (DU) and partners have been awarded a $8.73 million NRCS Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) grant to develop a producer-focused program, named Scaling Soil Health in the Prairie Pothole Region (PPR).

The program will offer farmers and ranchers technical and financial assistance, advanced training and mentorship to increase the adoption of soil health practices in the PPR of North Dakota, South Dakota and Montana.

“This is a significant growth opportunity for DU’s conservation program to help more producers in the prairies access the education and financial support they need to adopt soil health practices,” DU Chief Conservation Officer Karen Waldrop said. “Along with our partners, we look forward to working with interested farmers and ranchers to help them improve soil quality and wildlife habitat on their lands and produce positive economic results as well.”

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Can Loans Tied To Soil Health Save Agriculture?

America’s soil health is in dire straits and a new investment fund, rePlant Capital, has been formed to help clove the crisis with capitalism by tying interest rates for farm loans to improvements in soil’s carbon and water storage as a way to save farmers from the disastrous impacts of climate change.

A third of the country’s topsoil has eroded in the past 50 years, part of a warning from the United Nations in 2015 that predicts soil degradation will be one of the central threats to human health in the coming decades. Farmers are seeking to regenerate soil after decades of misuse from chemical fertilizers and herbicides, but transitioning to less harsh farming practices is costly, and nature cannot solve the problem according to human timeline, requiring 500 years or more to create an inch of fresh topsoil under natural conditions.

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Five Projects Split $860,000 to Further Grow Natural Climate Solutions in U.S.

Through the generous support of the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, today The Nature Conservancy’s Natural Climate Solutions Accelerator program is announcing the award of $860,000 to be split among five projects designed to help scale climate change mitigation by capturing and storing carbon on natural and working lands in the U.S.  The five recipients are part of the third round of grantees for the Accelerator program, which has awarded over $2.5 million dollars to fifteen climate projects around the country.

The 2018 Fourth National Climate Assessment and Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s 1.5 degrees Celsius Report provided additional urgent wake-up calls on the need for ambitious and innovative climate action to achieve a low carbon economy and accelerate removal of greenhouse gases already emitted into the atmosphere.

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Wrangler Pushes for a More Circular Cotton Supply Chain

As the fashion industry, and fast fashion companies in particular, come increasingly under scrutiny, many retailers and clothing manufacturers are looking at their sourcing and supply chains to ensure sustainability from the first mile to the customer purchase. Wrangler is one such retailer; the brand recently announced a global call to action for cotton farmers who can demonstrate and document soil health and biodiversity improvements to apply in order to partner with it on the launch of a new jean.

This new Wrangler jean is a part of The Jeans Redesign, an initiative spearheaded by The Ellen MacArthur Foundation (EMF). This initiative established guidelines on the minimum requirements for durability, material health, recyclability, and traceability of denim jeans, with over 40 denim experts providing insight. To date, over 50 notable brands, manufacturers, and fabric mills have signed on to this initiative and are using these guidelines to produce new jeans for purchase this fall.

In addition to joining up with The Jeans Redesign, Wrangler has added a new dimension of circularity to its stated commitment to source 100 percent sustainably grown cotton by 2025. The brand will do so by joining the EMF’s Make Fashion Circular Initiative, which exists to drive collaboration between apparel industry leaders to ensure that clothes are made from safe, renewable materials, that new business models increase their use, and that old clothes are turned into new.

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Improved tool can help Midwest farmers with cover crop decisions

Cover crops have been shown to improve water and soil quality, reduce erosion and capture nutrients. Choosing the right cover crop, however, can be difficult.

The Midwest Cover Crops Council (MCCC) —made up of representatives from 12 Midwest states and universities, including Purdue, the province of Ontario and other agricultural stakeholders — is rolling out an improved cover crop selection tool that will help farmers make those decisions. Users select their state/province and county and then select the goals they have for cover crops — erosion control, nitrogen scavenger, fighting weeds and providing forage, etc. They also can provide information about the cash crops they are planting and drainage data for their fields. The tool offers the best cover crop options for the specified conditions. Clicking on the cover crops brings up data sheets that offer more information about each crop, seeding rates and more.

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Cargill, Soil Health Institute team up to find out if there’s a business case for soil health systems

Soil health is fast becoming one of the hottest trends in the food and farming industries. Federal legislators in the US are jumping on the soil health bandwagon; even consumers are gaining awareness of how dirt makes a difference in everything from nutritional content to water quality.

There are a number of agrifoodtech startups that are staking out their territory in the realm of soil health, like biocarbon producer Cool Planet, microbiome tester Trace Genomics [disclosure: a portfolio company of AFN‘s parent, AgFunder], and bioinformatics startup Biome Markers. The founders of software-focused fund Scaleworks also recently launched a new regenerative ag-focused VC fund called Soilworks.

Most people seem to agree that improving soil health is a worthwhile endeavor. But beyond the feel-good aspects of supporting the movement, one muddy question hangs in the balance: is there a business case for farmers to adopt soil health practices?

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The California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) has selected 316 Healthy Soils Program (HSP) Incentives Program projects for grant awards totaling approximately $22.06 million. The program encourages farmers and ranchers to implement on-farm practices that improve soil health, reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and sequester carbon in soils.

The 2020 HSP Incentives Program funding cycle was the first time applications were accepted on a rolling basis, with a final deadline of June 26 or until funds were expended, whichever came first. CDFA closed the application period on May 15, 2020, having reached the award threshold six weeks prior to the final deadline. During the application period, 578 applications requesting $37.87 million had been received. The selected 2020 projects will build soil health on more than an estimated 30,700 acres of California agricultural lands and reduce GHGs by an estimated 73,800 tons per year.

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