Collaborating on conservation

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The Midwest Row Crop Collaborative works to protect some of the world’s richest farmland
 

The Midwest United States has some of the richest farmland in the world, but to maintain it requires persistent stewardship. Throughout history, farmers have led the way on conserving soil and water. Now, Cargill has joined a partnership of leading agricultural and food companies and conservation organizations to support and accelerate this work in the Midwestern states of Illinois, Iowa and Nebraska.

Formally launched today at a farm show in Iowa, the Midwest Row Crop Collaborative includes as founding members Cargill, the Environmental Defense Fund, General Mills, Kellogg Company, Monsanto, PepsiCo, The Nature Conservancy and World Wildlife Fund.

It all started in 2014, when Walmart convened a meeting with senior leadership of the companies and groups to find ways to support and accelerate environmentally-friendly agricultural practices in the Midwest.  

“It makes perfect sense for Cargill to be part of this partnership given our role in agriculture and food,” said Cargill Chief Executive Officer Dave MacLennan, who several months ago participated in a Collaborative summit at Walmart headquarters. “Our participation builds upon our strong relationships with farmers, food manufacturers and non-governmental organizations.” 

Scott Vinson, who works in Cargill’s protein group, said the goals of the Collaborative fit well with several of Cargill’s over-arching sustainability focus areas, notably water, greenhouse gas reduction, and farmer livelihoods. “Added to that, our participation is a direct tie with several of our largest customers and NGO partners,” he said.

Collaborative Focus Areas 

The Midwest Row Crop Collaborative will focus on efforts already underway in Illinois, Iowa, and Nebraska. It will initially focus on efforts to:

  • Optimize soil health practices and outcomes;

  • Reduce nutrient runoff into the rivers and streams of the Mississippi River Basin;

  • Maximize water conservation to reduce pressure on the Ogallala Aquifer;

  • Reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“This collaboration between environmental organizations and some of the world’s largest agriculture-based companies should lead to significantly ramped-up water conservation in the Midwest,” said Mark Tercek, president and CEO of The Nature Conservancy.

Cargill’s Jill Kolling, senior director of sustainability, is serving as co-chair of the Collaborative. “There’s a lot that’s already been done by farmers, who are the original stewards of the land,” she said. “The Collaborative will support, enhance, and accelerate the use of environmentally preferable agricultural practices already underway. We will work to ensure our efforts complement other ongoing conservation efforts.”  

To that end, the Collaborative has committed to raise $4 million to accelerate the efforts of the farmer-led Soil Health Partnership. The Soil Health Partnership has a network of 65 farmers across the Midwest demonstrating practices that can reduce nutrient runoff and improve soil health. Its research is quantifying the economic benefits of soil health practices. 

According to Kolling, Cargill sees the Collaborative as an essential way to support and accelerate the adoption of existing conservation programs set up by farmers - and to recognize the good work that’s already been done. 

“This effort is about providing solutions that make sense for farmers, the environment and consumers,” she said.  

Published August 31, 2016
 

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