Ag Industry Weighs In On Sustainability, Conservation

12:42PM Dec 06, 2019
Water and soil conservation are increasingly mainstays for organizations and individuals focused on agriculture.
( File Photo )

The following eight agricultural organizations have made sustainability and conservation practices, that steward both soil and water, a cornerstone of their respective industries. Here’s a look at some of their successes and endeavors they currently have underway.

Dairy Management Inc.  By Krysta Harden, Executive Vice President for Global Environmental Strategy

Dairy farmers convened industry leaders and a diverse stakeholder group in 2008 to collectively advance environmental stewardship through the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy. Since then, the dairy community has led research, industry action and data collection to develop and share best practices and tools for producers, processors and others in the supply chain to make meaningful change.

Last year, Innovation Center companies launched the U.S. Dairy Stewardship Commitment   to voluntarily document and demonstrate progress in environmental stewardship and other important areas like animal care, food safety and community contributions. Collecting sustainability metrics at the field, farm and processor levels enables the value chain to consistently measure and report improvements in greenhouse gas emissions (GHG), water recycling, nutrient management and more.

For example, the FARM Environmental Stewardship module provides a streamlined, single source for assessment and reporting of GHG and energy use on dairy farms. The module works in conjunction with the Innovation Center’s Processor GHG Accounting & Reporting Guidance, the first agriculture guidance endorsed by the World Resources Institute. With each assessment, users can assess change over time, identify improvement opportunities and report progress. Dairy’s positive impact is celebrated via the U.S. Dairy Sustainability Awards  and Undeniably Dairy campaign.

National Association of Wheat Growers  By Chandler Goule, Chief Executive Officer

NAWG’s active engagement in Field to Market is a clear illustration of wheat’s commitment to driving sustainable production. By enabling our growers to use the Fieldprint Platform, we are helping assess the real-world impact of growing wheat on soil, water and greenhouse gas emissions.

Wheat growers were some of the first to pay close attention to minimizing tillage to reduce soil moisture loss, as much of our crop is produced in regions with lower rainfall. No-till seeding drills for our crop have also been widely adopted for decades. Today, our members work closely with innovative technology suppliers and all stakeholders to explore how we will keep continuous conservation improvements and economic viability as inseparable pillars.

Wheat ranks third among U.S. field crops in planted acreage, production, and gross farm receipts, behind corn and soybeans. In 2019, U.S. farmers are estimated to have produced a total of 1.961 billion bushels of winter, spring, and durum wheat on 45.2 million acres of cropland, increasing production on acres planted. As a major crop of our country that supplies domestic as well as international customers, our farmers hear directly about the desire of consumers to know us and how we produce our crop.

Wheat growers are fully committed to continuous improvement in their operations—ensuring their soil remains healthy and productive for years to come by investing in new technology and conservation practices that benefit their farms and the environment. NAWG supports improving the quantification of the environmental outcomes of the work that our members undertake every day.

National Chicken Council  By Tom Super, Senior Vice President

With the help of technology, improved animal husbandry practices and more efficient feed conversion, chicken farmers have significantly reduced the use of water, farmland, electricity, greenhouse gas emissions, and other valuable resources.

In the U.S., the consumption of chicken has grown more than 300% since 1960, while cutting its environmental footprint in half—producing the same amount of chicken today as then has 50% less impact on the environment. Many factors have contributed to the reduced environmental impact, including:

  •     75% fewer resources required in poultry production;
  •     36% reduced impact of poultry production on greenhouse gas emissions;
  •     72% decrease in farm land used in poultry production; and
  •     58% decrease in water used in poultry production.

As sustainability in agriculture continues to be a hot topic among U.S. shoppers, we as an industry need to do a better job of telling our sustainability story, because it’s a great one. The National Chicken Council has new resources at www.ChickenCheck.In related to broiler chicken production and its impact on the environment that farmers can use to better communicate with consumers, customers and the media. The chicken industry is committed to environmentally responsible and sustainable chicken production practices to ensure a healthier planet.

National Corn Growers Association  By Jon Doggett, Chief Executive Officer

Farming is full of uncontrollable things. The weather and the markets, just to name a couple. They’re both critical factors that can make farming frustrating, as we’ve all witnessed in 2019.  

Business consultants tell their clients to focus their efforts on the opportunities that fall in the intersection of 1) things you can control; and 2) things that are important. Sustainability is one of the things that falls within that intersection of controllable and important in corn farming.  

Sustainable farming practices that build up soil health create a variety of benefits that are worth considering, as farmers plan the future of their operation. Chief among them is the ability of our land to grow better crops. That’s one of the reasons why we launched the Soil Health Partnership (SHP)  five years ago.

SHP was founded by a diverse group of organizations with a shared vision of developing a farmer-led research network to measure the impacts of implementing soil health practices on working farms. The Nature Conservancy (TNC), Bayer, the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), through the National Corn Growers Association (NCGA), came together to see this vision through. This program was based upon work supported by theNational Resources Conservation Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The SHP network now spans across 16 states and includes over 100 partner organizations at the federal, state and county levels. SHP has grown from 17 active farms in 2014 to 220 active farms in 2019. And we’re just getting started.

For farmers interested in taking control of more of the things they can control, you really ought to give us a look.

National Cotton CounciBy Gary Adams, President/CEO

U.S. cotton producers own a 40-year track record of environmental improvement, including the widespread adoption of conservation and precision agriculture practices. Nevertheless, the U.S. cotton industry has set specific sustainability goals it wants to meet by 2025. Central to achieving those goals is the industry's newly-launched U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol.

Data collected through the U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol ( can track gains towards these national sustainability goals:

  • 13% increase in productivity, i.e. reduced land use per pound of fiber;
  • 18% increase in irrigation efficiency;
  • 39% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions;
  • 15% reduction in energy expenditures;
  • 50% reduction in soil loss; and
  • 30% increase in soil carbon.

A board-governed initiative, the Trust Protocol has a mission of providing transparency on U.S. cotton industry efforts to promote farmer economic livelihood, environmental stewardship, caring of people and community, and personal/corporate integrity. It also is intended to provide the global textile supply chain additional assurances that U.S. cotton is produced responsibly.

Specifically, the Trust Protocol is an integrated data collection, measurement and verification procedure that will document U.S. cotton production practices and their environmental impact. Producers are required to complete a self-assessment checklist of best management practices and use an approved data tool with some producers being subjected to independent verification.

National Farmers Union  By Hannah Packman, Digital Media Director

Jim Teigen, has introduced cover crops, reduced tillage, windbreaks, and a slew of other conservation practices on his field-crop operation in Rugby, N.D., over the past several decades.

“I’ve been trying to improve the condition of the soil for many years now,” he says. “It’s good for our crops, but it also means these soils are storing carbon, which is helping reduce the carbon level in the atmosphere.”

Farmers across the country, including many National Farmers Union members like Teigen, are implementing conservation practices on their land, recognizing the environmental and climate change benefits from those activities, and the boost they can give to their bottom line. While USDA conservation programs, the government’s main effort on private land conservation efforts, are popular among farmers, there is much more that should be done. National Farmers Union members have called for federal policy to increase funding for USDA conservation programs that address a host of environmental concerns, incentivize regenerative farming to rebuild U.S. soils, and for a funding mechanism like cap and trade to curb carbon emissions and increase climate-friendly practices on private land.

National Pork Board  By Chris Hoffman, America’s 2019 Pig Farmer of the Year

In 2008, pig farmers adopted our We Care ethical principles. It is our promise to our customers on how we responsibly raise pork. These principles are defined simply through a commitment to People, Pigs and Planet:

  •     People: Food safety, public health and a commitment to our people and our communities
  •     Pigs: Animal care and well-being
  •     Planet: Environmental stewardship and sustainability efforts

We Care is the foundation of our sustainability platform. As an industry, we cannot be sustainable without a long-term focus on doing the right thing every day through our principles and practices.

We must meet consumer demand for information, being sustainable and sharing how we raise food today. It is a mandate we build on the culture of continuous improvement, and we consistently offer proof points to demonstrate our commitment to providing the safest, highest-quality pork products in the world.

United Soybean Board  By Tim Venverloh, Vice President, Sustainability Strategy

U.S. soybean farmers are committed to sustainable agricultural practices that benefit society, the environment and our economy. This is evident through the daily decisions that farmers make and their investments through the soy checkoff. The soy checkoff builds new markets—both domestically and internationally—through the innovative and sustainable initiatives it funds.

U.S. soybean farmers harvest more bushels while using fewer natural resources—the definition of sustainability. The soy checkoff is building momentum in precision equipment application, seed research, technology and information sharing to help farmers reach their sustainability goals through programs such as Take Action, Tech Toolshed and others.

With support from the soy checkoff, there are more than 1,000 soy-based products currently on the market, from flooring and roofing products to candles and carpets.

Partnerships with U.S. Farmer and Ranchers Alliance (USFRA), Solutions from the Land, the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR) and The Seam, among many others, support research in soil health, gene editing, pesticide resistance, traceability through blockchain, agriculture technology and more.

The soy checkoff’s sustainability strategy helps farmers meet their ultimate goal—passing the legacy of their farms from one generation to the next.