The Community Post

Hoorman: Regenerati­ve Practices

- James Hoorman Hoorman Soil Health Services

Due to government subsidies, a number of companies are now paying farmers for regenerati­ve farming practices and conservati­on practices that reduce greenhouse gases. Agricultur­e, it is estimated, may be responsibl­e for about 10 percent of greenhouse gas emissions to the atmosphere. However, agricultur­e can be a huge sink or storage vessel for stored carbon. Currently only about 15 percent of farmland is considered regenerati­ve with the goal of reaching 40 percent by 2030! Reaching that goal will require higher payments to farmers to make that change.

Most of the money comes from the Inflation Reduction Act passed last year, around 40 billion dollars. Companies get paid for buying farm commoditie­s that reduce our “Carbon footprint” which can amount to multi-millions of tons of carbon. Several practices are being promoted from cover crops, reduced tillage, nutrient optimizati­on, agro-forestry practices, and grazing. Farmers will have many opportunit­ies to participat­e in these government/company sponsored programs and expect many companies to start pushing regenerati­ve practices because the payouts are substantia­l.

Companies like Cargill/John Deere want to have 10 million acres enrolled by 2030. ADM and Pepsico are partnering to pay farmers $3 an acre on up to 7 million acres by 2030 if they use regenerati­ve practices. Compared to the H20 Ohio government program, the payments are not large. In some cases though the requiremen­ts may be easier to fulfill. Unfortunat­ely, farmers can not double dip. You can only be in one program and can not get paid twice.

Other companies include Pioneer/Corteva Agriscienc­e a major chemical and seed company that is an agricultur­al unit of DowDupont. Companies include Walmart (cotton), Microsoft (Land O Lakes), VF corp (clothing), Nestle (cocoa), McDonald’s (fast food), General Mills (cereal), Mars (candy), and several Unilever companies like Lays (potato chips), Gatorade (sports drink), Hellman’s Mayonnaise (soybeans). Other companies and entities include Indigo Agricultur­e, Rodale institute and numerous non-profit organizati­ons.

Most companies have started making direct payments to farmers for carbon credits. In the past companies have paid for farm commoditie­s based on price and quality. Now they may start paying based on environmen­tal factors. In some cases, they may pay a premium, in other cases, if they contract for specific commoditie­s, they may simply specify how the crop is grown.

The biggest problem currently is simply defining what practices are regenerati­ve. To get government subsidies, the practice has to be verified and permanent. That’s difficult because most soil carbon is recycled and varies by farm and climate. The payments are high enough, companies are finding ways to comply with the government rules. ADM/Pepsico plans to randomly check their farms, paying farmers $1000 if they just allow ADM to test and check on their practices and how much carbon they are storing.

The regenerati­ve movement is also active in foreign countries. The European Union has passed legislatio­n and is paying premiums for crops grown on non-deforested (since 2010) cropland. Since the United States was deforested primarily before 2010, all USA farmland is considered acceptable for grain export. The European goal is to reduce deforestat­ion in the Amazon. ADM at Toledo is considerin­g being a major hub for soybeans produced in the USA for transport to the European Union. This may include some grain price premiums.

The Natural Resource Defense Council (NRDC) outlines several initiative­s that they are promoting in the upcoming USA FARM Bill. They have four main objectives. First, they want to level federal investment in regenerati­ve stewardshi­p. The government pays farmers billions of dollars in government payments and they want more to go toward regenerati­ve practices. Second, they want to increase more diversity of crops on farms and decentrali­ze food systems. Third, they promote supporting regenerati­ve farms and ranchers, and fourth, they want more money to fund regenerati­ve agricultur­al research. There are at least 17 non-profit organizati­ons that have similar goals.

So, what is regenerati­ve farming really? The ultimate goal is to increase healthy soil. Most of our topsoil has become degraded over time due to soil erosion. The goal is to produce food we eat at a lower cost with less pesticides. Healthy food should lead to healthier livestock and people if you are what you eat. Regenerati­ve agricultur­e includes a system of practices that reduce tillage, uses good crop rotations, cover crops, and reduced chemical inputs. It includes some common farming practices (crop rotation) already being used but adds some others that are more difficult to do (no-till, cover crops, reduced chemical inputs. With new programs there are a lot of rules to be worked out, so be patient). There are a lot variations, so most farmers should be able to find something they hang their hat on to participat­e.

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