Cover crops. Photo by Randall Reeder.

Building a future from the soil

By Matt Reese

Whether it is the start of a new growing season or the advent of a new career for a young farmer, the culture, industry and art of food production begins with the soil.

“Every producer’s most valuable asset is the land they farm. It is the key to their livelihood and long-term productivity, which is why Cargill is committed to partnering with farmers to increase their productivity by promoting sustainable, innovative agricultural practices. Adoption of regenerative practices helps farmers create a system that is more resilient and economically viable, ensuring their success for future generations,” said Nathan Fries, Sustainability Lead with Cargill. “We realize, however, that every farmer is unique and in a different place when it comes to the adoption of regenerative agriculture. Three years ago, we launched Cargill RegenConnect, providing farmers choice as to which practices are best suited to their operation’s unique growing conditions.” 

Ohio Ag Net’s Dale Minyo interviewed Janelle Leach, Conservation Agronomist about the Cargill RegenConnect program in Sidney.

Through RegenConnect, farmers are getting paid for positive environmental outcomes resulting from reducing tillage and adding cover crops while helping to improve soil health and decarbonize their farm’s footprint. Based on the strong initial feedback and engagement from farmers, Cargill has expanded the 2023 program so farmers across 24 states and additional commodities are now able to enroll. Eligible acres in 2023 must have a primary crop of corn, soy, wheat, or cotton through harvest of 2024. There is no minimum/maximum acre requirement for practice changes.

Participating farmers receive:

  • Payment per ton for soil carbon sequestered (or payment for positive environmental outcomes) at $35 per metric ton for the 2023 enrollment year.
  • A choice of regenerative practices to adopt, including zero tillage, reduced tillage, and cover crops (any species eligible).
  • An intuitive self-service online platform.
  • One-on-one support from a Cargill Conservation Agronomist.

Implementation of these practices generates additional payments for participating farmers but also sets the stage for improved soil health and related benefits such as improved water quality.

“Reducing tillage can be a great way to help your crops through drought stress. By minimizing soil disturbance, you can allow for soil structure to be built back. When you reduce tillage, you create a zone of roots for microbials to feed. When the microbial population is healthy, they produce glues. Those structures can then create a more stabilized soil which determines water movement and infiltration throughout the soil. With a more stable soil structure and ecosystem, water can infiltrate and fill pore space long-term within the soil profile,” said Anna Teeter, a conservation agronomist with the RegenConnect program. “In other words, higher organic matter, or soil carbon, allows more water to be stored in soils.”

Keeping soils covered with vegetation also helps better manage soil moisture.

Cover crops were a key discussion topic at a Cargill RegenCennect Ohio field day in 2022.

A soil cover acts like a mulch in that it prevents evaporation from the soil and keeps moisture in the ground for plants to use. Maximizing soil cover includes leaving previous cash crop residue but it can also include using cover crops. Using cover crops can be influential in a drought situation as the cover crop can act as a mulch for the current crop, adding more roots that improve the number of channels for water infiltration. The cover crop mulch acts as a layer of protection for the soil, reducing evaporation and capturing more moisture for the crop. This year, our cover crop fields have shown to be more stable in drought conditions,” Teeter said. “Drought will continue to impact agricultural areas so we should prepare ourselves as best as possible by using soil health practices to ensure a healthy crop even in extreme conditions.”

The size and scope of RegenConnect helps leverage many acres with input and cooperation including multiple partners and end users, Fries said.

“Cargill’s unique position in the supply chain also allows us to connect farmers with some of the world’s largest companies, which are counting on agricultural supply chains to help achieve their carbon reduction goals. Cargill RegenConnect is one way Cargill is helping farmers connect to the growing opportunities in environmental markets and sustainable supply chains while opening supply chains while opening doors to Cargill’s downstream customers,” Fries said. 

As an example, Cargill and John Deere are collaborating to streamline the digital and in-field experience for farmers using John Deere technology and electing to participate in Cargill RegenConnect. John Deere’s precision ag technology and digital platform, Operations Center, helps farmers implement and document the practices they adopt as part of the program.

The partnership helps synchronize the flow of information when farmers opt in to share data between systems. Farmers will be able to use existing planting, harvest and tillage documentation data stored in the Operations Center, easily fill in missing information, and enroll in the Cargill RegenConnect program. This will help farmers save time, assure greater accuracy of data and offer the most up-to-date, consistent, and comprehensive view of their operation.

“John Deere and Cargill have a shared vision for advancing sustainability through digital capabilities that support farmers. Farmers will have another tool in their toolbox to make the best decisions about sustainability and profitability for their farm,” said Alexey Rostapshov, Head of Sustainability Solutions for John Deere. “The connection to Operations Center provides Cargill RegenConnect participants the opportunity to learn about the program, manage and implement practice changes, and sync data across systems. This will save farmers time and empower them to make the best agronomic and economic decisions for their farm.”

The streamlined Operations Center functionality will be rolled out and enhanced over several program years. Farmers can work directly with their John Deere dealer to learn about equipment and technology available to implement practices eligible under the Cargill RegenConnect program and to ensure the as-applied documentation data is complete.

“Organizing and providing data to seamlessly participate in environmental markets through programs like Cargill RegenConnect not only helps farmers get organized on the front end to better manage their on-farm data but also prepares them to participate in future market opportunities,” Fries said.

And, ultimately, this helps create a brighter future for new generations on individual farms, starting with the soil and building from there. 

For more information on the program visit CargillRegenConnect.com. To find contact information email regenconnect@cargill.com

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