Ongoing stewardship of land, water and wildlife earned Newport, Ark., rice producer Jennifer James the 2017 Farmer of the Year Award on Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2017, at Field to Market’s fall meeting in Kansas City. The agricultural sustainability organization also awarded its 2017 Collaboration of the Year Award to Kellogg Company, Syngenta and The Nature Conservancy for ongoing work to support water quality in Michigan’s Saginaw Bay and the Great Lakes watershed.
“I’m just incredibly honored,” says James, who farms 6,000 acres with her family. Her great-grandfather started the operation in the late 1800s.
This is the inaugural year for the Field to Market Sustainability Leadership awards , which recognize the work of businesses, nonprofits and producers to improve the sustainability of U.S. agriculture.
Long-Term Benefits. Although conservation practices have always been an important part of her family’s farm, James says she first encountered the term “sustainability” when USA Rice Federation asked her to chair its sustainability committee nearly a decade ago. It was her first opportunity to serve as a chair, so she quickly and graciously accepted—then opened up Google on her computer to assess what sustainability meant.
“It’s a work in progress,” she says of agricultural sustainability. Researchers study row crops daily, she points out, reflecting the fact that continuous improvement is hard-wired into the industry.
James uses Field to Market’s Fieldprint Platform to document on-farm sustainability practices. She captures rainwater on her fields during winter to decompose straw, limit erosion and cut back on weeds. The practice also supports birds and other wildlife that feed on waste grain and weed seeds.
“Her leadership and commitment to sustainable agriculture is marked by her steadfast dedication to conserving natural resources and instituting practices that provide wildlife habitat while benefiting soil, water and air quality,” says Rod Snyder, president of Field to Market.
The operation also uses a variety of technologies to ensure sustainable food production, including:
tailwater recovery systems, which recycle irrigation water
laser land-leveling, which limits soil runoff
moisture sensors, which make irrigation more efficient
James says the work of Field to Market reflects the capacity of agriculture’s many stakeholders to work together to create positive change.
“If we can do it here, it can be done across the entire supply chain,” she says.
Wheat Successes. Farther north around Michigan’s Saginaw Bay, the winners of this year’s Field to Market award for collaboration are working with wheat producers as part of Kellogg’s Origins Great Lakes Wheat Fieldprint Project.
“Field to Market member organizations are continuously seeking better ways to engage and equip farmers and suppliers with resources to make lasting change for agriculture, society and our planet,” Snyder says. “Together, Kellogg Company, Syngenta and The Nature Conservancy are working to create a more sustainable supply chain by helping farmers document and demonstrate how conservation practices enhance natural resource management and support water quality both in Saginaw Bay and the larger Great Lakes watershed.”
For more than five years, The Nature Conservancy has been working on the ground with scientists and farmers to improve water quality by limiting runoff of sediment, nitrogen and phosphorus in three key basins, including Saginaw Bay, says Larry Clemens, North American agriculture program director.
He notes the program has touched thousands of acres and needs to touch hundreds of thousands of acres to ensure maximum environmental outcomes.
“We’re just starting to scratch the surface,” says Clemens, noting the Field to Market partnership will identify increasingly more opportunities as collaboration continues.
Consumer Outreach. Kellogg Company started out exploring corn sustainability and moved into wheat, sustainability director Amy Braun says. Wheat is one of the company’s top commodities for products such as Mini-Wheats, Keebler cookies and Town House crackers.
In partnership with the Conservancy, Syngenta and Star of the West Milling Co., Kellogg worked to develop a program for engaging with farmers in the Saginaw Bay area. Kellogg doesn’t source its commodities through contract growers, so it was important for suppliers and other stakeholders to be involved. The company seeks to purchase increasingly greater quantities of commodities from regions where farmers use practices benefiting the soil, water and air.
“As a Michigan-based company, we have a voice in helping to support that,” Braun says.
Syngenta helped by integrating sustainability metrics from Field to Market’s Fieldprint Platform into its Land.db software platform, says Liz Hunt, sustainable solutions account manager. Its team also works with farmers to explore the economic returns of sustainable agricultural practices.
Through partnerships such as the one Field to Market honored this week, Hunt says, farmers benefit and so do the consumers who purchase products from businesses such as Kellogg Company, which tells the story of its farmers on its OpenForBreakfast.com website and beyond.
“Every farmer wants to tell their story and have their story be heard,” Hunt says.