From the Ground Up: Partnering with Farmers to Advance Soil Health Solutions
October 30, 2020
Head in any direction out of Des Moines, Iowa and it won’t take long until you’re in the middle of one of the most productive agricultural regions in the country. This is where you’ll find Will Cannon’s corn and soybean operations – about 30 miles due east of Des Moines in a town called Prairie City. As the name of his town suggests, he’s in the middle of tallgrass prairie, with gently sloping hills and the kind of fertile topsoil that has famously been referred to as “the black gold of Iowa.” And while the soil is rich, the terrain can be a challenge. Cannon has explored many options to manage erosion and support water quality – and has come to rely on cover cropping to achieve improvements in both.
“Our rolling landscape erodes easily, so we started using cover crops to cut down on erosion,” Cannon said. “Since we started planting cover crops, I can tell the water is cleaner, because the soil doesn’t move like it used to. The tougher spots on hillsides perform stronger than they did before, and we’re seeing yields improve in those areas.”
As farmers like Cannon are seeing the positive effects of soil health practices on their farms, Cargill is supporting their efforts to seek sustainable solutions unique to their own farms.
“Farming has always been challenging, but today’s growers are faced with an overwhelming number of issues and considerations,” said Ryan Sirolli, Cargill’s Global Row Crop Sustainability Director. “They’re working to feed a growing population while implementing practices, like cover cropping and strip tilling, that keep our soils healthy – practices and methods that take time, and money, to master – all while trying to care for their families and communities. When you think about all of it, the resilience, effort and innovation they’ve applied to navigate these challenges is nothing short of amazing.”
Farmers have long understood the value of healthy soils, but the last few years have seen a greater focus and commitment to advancing practices. There is tremendous opportunity to scale sustainable agriculture practices that keep soils healthy and build drought resilience, increase yield stability, improve water efficiency and quality and increase carbon sequestration. As a partner, Cargill is helping farmers adopt and scale sustainable soil health practices that build the long-term viability of their farming businesses.
Aligned with this aim, Cargill recently announced its commitment to support farmer-led efforts to adopt practices and systems foundational to regenerative agriculture across 10 million acres in North America by 2030. The initiative will focus primarily on row crop rotations that include corn, wheat, canola and soybeans and other staple crops. Cargill expects these regenerative agriculture practices to benefit the long-term profitability and resiliency of farmers while simultaneously advancing the company’s progress against its science-based climate commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in its global supply chains by 30% per ton of product by 2030. The initiative will also contribute to the company’s efforts to protect and enhance water resources.
“The land is a farmer’s most valuable asset—key to their livelihood and productivity. By supporting adoption of soil health principles with our farm partners, we can build healthy soils, increase resiliency and profitability and ensure their success, and the viability of their land, for future generations, said Sirolli. “We’ve formed valuable partnerships with a number of different organizations to provide incentives and cost sharing opportunities that make these practices more accessible for growers. We’re providing support today and helping farmers make these changes now, while playing ‘the long game’ – thinking about the future.”.
In addition to partnerships, Cargill’s Soil Health Programs provide access to resources, expertise, insights and technology that support farmers as they implement soil health practices to become more resilient, productive and profitable. Each program works to address region-specific challenges. For example, Cargill’s River Soil Health Program along the Illinois and Mississippi rivers works to improve farmer profitability while reducing greenhouse gas emissions and water pollution in an economically valuable water region.
Cannon said Cargill’s program has helped him to continue improving his farm, even when conditions aren’t favorable.
“I try to improve my operation year after year, and it’s hard to do that when the costs of machinery and the risks of changing practices are so high,” Cannon said. “These programs dramatically lower out of pocket expenses and give me the flexibility to experiment with different practices, speeding up how my farm evolves and improves. Cargill has been instrumental in helping us continue experimenting and improving when grain prices aren’t favorable.”
He went on to say, “I’m passionate about leaving the land better than I found it. Cutting down on erosion and maintaining soil fertility is important to make this land last. Longevity has come forefront when decisions we’re making on the farm.”
Cargill stands by farmers as they work to improve their land, so future generations can prosper. Agriculture is how we’ll ensure a safe, responsible and sustainable food system – a food system that cultivates a better future for all.