CARGILL PARTNERS WITH FARMERS TO ADVANCE SOIL HEALTH SOLUTIONS
Aug. 28, 2020
Source: Cargill news release
For three generations, the Pederson family has grown corn and soybeans on the hilly, rocky terrain of their farm in Lake Mills, Iowa - a community situated so far north in Iowa that a quick bike ride would get you to the Minnesota border. Ben Pederson runs the farm now. With his wife and four young children, they've worked to build on the legacy of their family farm - and it's exactly that legacy that motivates him to think about running a sustainable, profitable operation into the future.
One of the areas that Ben has explored with great success is soil health. His investment in testing new practices has paid off financially, while also boosting plant health.
"The soybeans we planted with cover crops are the healthiest of any of our fields right now," Pederson said. "We didn't need to use a pre-emerge herbicide on it; the cover crops did the weeding for us. That saved us a trip through the field and close to $25 per acre on herbicide costs."
Pederson also credited cover cropping with boosting the productivity of marginal soils.
"Our steep-sloped ground that typically had a lower organic matter jumped in productivity, and consistency of productivity," Pederson said. "Soil health practices give us confidence - we know we can make more marginal soils as profitable, and sometimes more profitable, than the top-of-the line soils."
As farmers like Pederson 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.
"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," said Sirolli.
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.
Will Cannon of Prairie City, Iowa, has worked with his Cargill representative to take advantage of some of these programs. 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." While his corn and soybean operation is about 2-1/2 hours almost straight south from Ben Pederson's farm, the landscape and soils couldn't be more different. Like Pederson, Cannon has used cover crops to protect soil from erosion and increase water quality.
"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."
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."
Pederson sees potential in the broad perspective that Cargill could bring to a farm like his. "Cargill has the potential to see the bigger picture - the food system, the environment, everything," Pederson said. "That insight could be extremely valuable for our farm as they could make broad industry connections on what regenerative farming practices offer and bring some of that value back to the farm gate."
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.
"I'm passionate about leaving the land better than I found it," Cannon said. "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."
Pederson echoed, and wants to provide fertile ground for his family to continue farming in the future.
"I have four kids," Pederson said. "As hard as farming can be at times, I would love to see a fourth generation come back to the farm. I want to give them a strong foundation and watch them take the next steps of innovation to make farming better than it is today."
So, farmers press on, with Cargill by their side.
"Keep moving forward," Pederson said. "I don't know what that 'next thing' is for sure yet, but I've got my eyes and ears open."