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Field Stewards in the Fast Lane

October 3rd, 2017

Last week, the Field Stewards program launched what we are calling the “Field Stewards Roadshow”– a series of meetings around the state with small and medium-sized food companies and conservation leaders.

We believe that the Field Stewards model can have a greater impact than what we previously thought, so we want to widen our net to include not only large companies like Pilgrim’s Pride, but also smaller and mid-size food companies who are maybe just starting their sustainability journey. In short, Field Stewards can help a lot of businesses with a variety of crops beyond just corn and soybeans.

Learning from these companies is also a big part of the Roadshow. We want to know about the successes and challenges each organization has faced in their sustainability efforts, and how Field Stewards can help businesses reach new consumer and market segments concerned about sustainability.

FIRST DAY ON THE ROAD

Our first stop was an informative one– a meeting with Mike Lorentz of Lorentz Meats, a meat processor based in Cannon Falls, Minnesota and a leader in sustainably raised, humanely slaughtered beef. It is probably the only processor in the country to have a Wendell Berry quote up on the wall greeting visitors, and was one of the first to begin to think holistically about their product.

From there, we went to Northfield and met with the Cannon River Watershed Partnership, discussing some of the interesting work they are doing to engage food companies in the watershed in helping to disseminate information about cover crops to farmers growing peas and other specialty crops– improving water quality while building a more resilient supply chain.

Finally, we ended our day in Winona with the Whitewater River Watershed Project. As the first in Minnesota to form a farmer-led council to address water quality issues, this area was also one of the pilot areas in the state for the Minnesota Agricultural Water Quality Certification Program— the basis for Field Stewards certification in Minnesota.

This was a successful first trip, and I look forward to getting out to Greater Minnesota again to learn how companies and conservation groups are incentivizing sustainability on agricultural lands.

If you have any questions, want more information on Field Stewards, or want us to come speak to your business, feel free to send me an email at gbohrer@en-in.org or call me at 612-334-3388 ext. 8112.

Greg Bohrer

POSTED BY:

Senior Manager, Agriculture and Environment Program

Environmental Initiative joins Field to Market

August 8th, 2017

In the spirit of community-building and shared learning, Environmental Initiative and the Field Stewards program have joined Field to Market®: The Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture as part of the Field Stewards program. We’re excited to share this partnership with you!

If you’re not familiar, Field to Market is a leading, collaborative effort across the entire agricultural supply chain to define, measure and advance the sustainability of food, fiber and fuel production across the United States. In other words, their impact is far-reaching and hits on multiple issue areas.

As a full and active member in Field to Market, Environmental Initiative will work together with grower organizations, academia, conservation groups, public sector partners and industry to help to catalyze opportunities for improvement in productivity, environmental quality and human well-being across the agricultural value chain. This membership allows Field Stewards to explore new opportunities, relationships and ways to share knowledge. It’s just the kind of cross-sector work we like to be part of.

“I’m pleased to welcome Environmental Initiative, and the Field Stewards program, to join Field to Market as members of the Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture. We are excited to bring on board a new partner who is already engaged in rewarding farmers who maintain a high level of environmental protection on their farms,” said Rod Snyder, President of Field to Market.

Complementary Approaches

Environmental Initiative’s Field Stewards Program is the perfect complementary approach to Field to Market’s efforts. Field to Market members work toward sustainable agriculture by setting goals for continuous improvement in sustainability and productivity at the farm level.

Field Stewards, on the other hand, sets a standard for water quality protection on farms. Field Steward’s approach of supporting farmer leaders who reach and maintain a high level of water quality protection on their farms demonstrates that conservation and environmental protection can be valuable— both in the marketplace, but also in terms of soil health, productivity and profitability.

Both approaches, continuous improvement and a threshold standard, work toward getting more farmers engaged in conservation, in precision nutrient management and crop diversity.

“Environmental Initiative, and the entire Field Stewards partnership, is excited to join Field to Market and collaborate in helping American farmers become more productive, more sustainable and able to feed an increasingly populous planet,” said Mike Harley, Executive Director of Environmental Initiative.

For more information about Field to Market: The Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture, please visit www.fieldtomarket.org

Greg Bohrer

POSTED BY:

Senior Manager, Agriculture and Environment Program

Growing Clean Water at the ACES Conference

December 14th, 2016

There’s been a lot happening in Environmental Initiative’s Agriculture and Environment program lately—I mean a lot. Field Stewards continues to build momentum and we’ve been hard at work bringing together agricultural interests to talk about and collaborate on creating new opportunities to improve water quality.

ACESBecause of Environmental Initiative’s work to promote market solutions for clean water through Field Stewards, I was asked to speak at the ACES: A Community on Ecosystem Services conference in Jacksonville, Florida, which was held last week. Besides having the opportunity to share our work with an exciting, growing community of practitioners, I got to learn from others around the country on how to link science, practice, and sustainable decision making in ecosystem services. (The term “ecosystem services” is meant to describe the ways humans benefit from functioning ecosystems. Pollination is an example of an ecosystem service).

ACES 2016 brought together leaders in government, NGOs, academia, Native American tribes, and the private sector to advance the use of ecosystem services science and practice in environmental decision making and practice.

MY THREE TAKEAWAYS

1. The science is there (mostly). Ecosystem services is a way of looking at how natural processes and landscapes contribute human health, economy, and quality of life. In recent years, the science and tools available for estimating ecosystem services have gotten much better and there is more confidence in how we are using them.

2. Agriculture has a huge role to play. If you want to have an impact, go work with farmers. But be ready to listen.download film Mother’s Day

3. Ecosystem services is a new way to make money. I heard from a speaker about how a custom made municipal bond that funded the creation of green landscapes in DC was bought by Goldman Sachs. Goldman didn’t invest because it looked good on their corporate sustainability report, they bought it because it made them money (sort of a big part of their business model).

Along with Paul Helgeson from GNP Company, I shared information about our Field Stewards program, particularly how the idea of a whole-farm, holistic approach to water quality protection is good for farmers, good for food companies, and good for the environment. We are doing things a little different with Field Stewards, and there is a lot of interest in how our approach can crack the nut of untraceable commodity crop supply chains. You can learn more about the ACES conference here »

Greg Bohrer

POSTED BY:

Senior Manager, Agriculture and Environment Program

Partnership to Watch: Ceres, WWF, and the AgWater Challenge

October 28th, 2016

Food companies face a range of social and environmental challenges. Global freshwater supplies are increasingly at risk for scarcity and pollution. Consumers are also demanding more information, transparency, and sustainability from companies who produce our food.

Environmental Initiative is working to address these challenges and trends through Field Stewards – an innovative program that provides financial incentives to farmers who implement best practices to protect water quality. But, we aren’t the only ones who are using the power of partnership to achieve better environmental and business results.

The AgWater Challenge

Ceres and WWF launched the AgWater Challenge, a collaborative initiative to advance water stewardship and sustainable food sourcing solutions in the food and beverage sector. This sector alone uses more than 70 percent of the world’s freshwater supply, largely for growing the food we eat. The AgWater Challenge aims to inspire the world’s most influential food and beverage companies to:

  • Reduce the water impacts associated with key agricultural commodities (like corn and soy)
  • Implement locally-relevant strategies to mitigate water quality concerns and water scarcity risks in agricultural sourcing areas
  • Support and incentivize farmers and other agricultural producers to strengthen water stewardship

Minnesota Companies Recognized

Minnesota-based General Mills and Hormel, along with five other companies representing $123 billion in net annual revenue, are currently being recognized for their participation in the challenge.

AgWater Challenge

Hormel is a multi-national manufacturer and marketer of consumer-branded food and meat products, specializing in processing and marketing pork and turkey. The Austin, MN-based company has committed to develop a sustainable agriculture policy, assess water quality and water quantity challenges in priority sourcing areas, and establish time-bound goals aimed at improving water quality in high water risk regions. Learn more about Hormel’s commitment here.

General Mills was recognized for their ongoing efforts across all five stewardship activities.

Congratulations to Ceres, WWF, Hormel, General Mills and all of the AgWater Challenge partners. It’s inspiring to see collaboration in action for our shared water resources.

Greg Bohrer

POSTED BY:

Senior Manager, Agriculture and Environment Program

Major Pollinator Action puts Minnesota ahead of Other States

September 7th, 2016

In addition to all the fried food on a stick, the 2016 Minnesota State Fair also featured an announcement from Governor Mark Dayton on pollinator protection.

Beginning in 2007, the U.S. honeybee population began declining by 30 percent each year, an unprecedented rate. Minnesota lost over half of its bee colonies in 2013.

Minnesota is home to 18 bumble bee species, and several of those populations are in decline. There are many reasons for bee death, including habitat loss and pesticide use. One native species of bee has not been documented in the state for over a decade, the Ashton bumble bee, due to severe habitat decline. The decline of monarch populations has also been linked to the slow disappearance of milkweed in the Midwest.

Monarch on flower.jpgAt an August 26 press conference, Governor Dayton laid out a plan to protect Minnesota’s bees, butterflies, and other pollinating insects. Currently, pollinators contribute an estimated $17 billion to the United States agriculture industry through both bee products and by pollinating a wide variety of crops.

Dayton’s plan includes heightened restrictions on certain types of pesticides, specifically neonicotinoids. Several studies and analyses, including the by the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA), have tied the use of neonicotinoids, in combination with other factors such as parasites and declining forage, to the decline of pollinator populations. The Governor’s Executive Order includes banning neonicotinoids on state-owned land and restricts their use on farmland. Additionally, state agencies must develop pollinator-friendly habitats on the land they manage.

These are major actions by the Governor and place Minnesota at the fore-front of pollinator protection efforts in the United States.

The process to get to this executive order was in part informed by participants at a full day stakeholder summit on February 12, 2016. Environmental Initiative and MDA convened a diverse group of Minnesota’s insect pollinator experts and interested stakeholders—from beekeepers to environmental advocates to farmers—to discuss actions the state could take to help support declining pollinator populations.

Through a combination of large and small group discussions, stakeholders were able to share their perspectives with MDA and other decision-makers. At Environmental Initiative, we create a safe space where people with different perspectives can come together to solve problems that create stronger, lasting solutions for our environment. We captured what we heard from stakeholders at the February summit in this report.

Nearly 90 percent of pollination requires support from insect pollinators. Insect pollinators help us eat healthy diets by allowing fruits, vegetables, and other crops to flower and grow. Learn what you can do to protect Minnesota’s foreign and native pollinators »

Greg Bohrer

POSTED BY:

Senior Manager, Agriculture and Environment Program

An Interview With Paul Helgeson: Sustainability Manager, GNP Company

April 19th, 2016

Environmental Initiative has a network of environmental leaders across all sectors of the economy – from businesses, all levels of government, nonprofits, academia, and more. In a new series, we’ll be interviewing environmental and sustainability leaders from our diverse community to share their passions and how they lead.

I’m kicking off the series with sustainability leader and Environmental Initiative board member, Paul Helgeson. Paul is currently the Sustainability Manager with GNP Company and is the founder and visionary behind the Field Stewards program.Greg interviewing Paul

To start us off, can you tell us a little bit about how you became sustainability manager at GNP Company?

I grew up in central Minnesota surrounded by the agricultural industry. My great-grandfather started what became Gold n’ Plump as one of hundreds of small hatcheries in Minnesota in the 1920’s.  For most of my life my dad was CEO and he, along with our team members, worked very hard to grow the company into the largest chicken company in the Upper Midwest.

This inspired me to pursue a business education and during my undergrad days I studied abroad in Copenhagen, Denmark. There I visited Carlsberg, the big beer company. This was my first exposure to a large company advocating for sustainability. Beverage companies had worked with the Danish government to put a high deposit on bottles. So those bottles were getting turned back in and Carlsberg was reusing them to bottle beer. This reduced litter, saving the government money, and saved Carlsberg from having to buy expensive new bottles. Seeing this win-win for business, government, and the people of Denmark sparked my interest in harnessing the profit motive of business to achieve social and environmental goals.

I remained interested in sustainability while earning my MBA from the Carlson School of Business at the University of Minnesota and working outside the company. When I joined GNP Company in 2010 I helped my family’s business to consider sustainability and together we developed the 4 P Framework: people, poultry, progress, and planet. We set aggressive planet goals for improving the resource efficiency of our operations and made a commitment to working with our supply chain.  During this time, I also helped develop the Field Stewards idea and I’m the liaison from GNP Company on the project.

For folks who haven’t heard about it before, how would you describe the Field Stewards project?

At the core, it’s a way to connect consumers and farmers who care about water quality.fieldstewards

Functionally, it is a certification and market system that recognizes and rewards farmers for their environmental protection efforts.  Food companies can buy certificates to offset some of the environmental impacts of their commodity crop inputs. The market system allows us to support farmers in our local area who have gone above and beyond the norm to protect water quality on their farms.

Consumers increasingly care about their food and how it was produced. The underlying sentiment is “Do the people creating my food share my values?” However, the commodity crop system isn’t set up for food companies to track sustainability at the farm level. Like a lot of food companies, we buy the grain used in our feed off of what is essentially an international commodity market.  The grain markets and the commodity crop systems are not designed for food companies or consumers to track on-farm sustainability practices.  So, we have no way to know what practices were used in the fields that our grain came from.

This is the opportunity for Field Stewards. It is a program that gives food-marketing companies like GNP Company the ability to create a more sustainable supply chain for their most critical inputs. (more…)

Greg Bohrer

POSTED BY:

Senior Manager, Agriculture and Environment Program

Better Together for Bees

March 7th, 2016

On February 12, 2016, Environmental Initiative hosted a Pollinator Summit at the Wellstone Neighborhood House on behalf of the Minnesota Department of Agriculture. While we are still in the midst of digesting the massive amounts of input and information that came out of the summit, I want to reflect a bit on the experience and what it meant to live out Environmental Initiative’s values of “Open Exchange” and “Better Together” in the context of designing and organizing this event.pollinator summit participants

Research (and the headlines) reveal our pollinators are threatened. We know if we don’t do something soon, we risk losing many of our domesticated bees and entire species of wild pollinators. Participants at the summit heard from experts about the many different stresses pollinators face – from pesticide use, to habitat loss, to parasites, and a changing climate.

Lieutenant Governor Tina Smith set the stage for us at the beginning of the summit by channeling John Lennon and singing for us (!) a rallying cry “All we are saying, is give bees a chance!” And that was the goal of the summit — to gather real, meaningful ideas from the community that could be implemented by state government to support our wild and domesticated pollinators. The community grabbed this opportunity with both hands. Instead of the 100 or so attendees we initially planned for, we ended up with more than 200 registered participants!

DESIGNING FOR ENGAGEMENT

We had one of the most diverse communities gathered that I have seen in my time at Environmental Initiative. Farmers, lobbyists, hobby beekeepers, landscape architects, activists, academics, legislators, and local government all had a seat at the table. Environmental Initiative’s job was to make sure we designed and executed an event that gave every participant a voice.

So, that’s what we did. We designed a summit that forced participants to engage with others. We placed an emphasis on small group discussions and deliberately organized discussion groups to have a set of diverse stakeholders at each table. We also asked each group to report out up to three broadly supported ideas for action, which we then posted on the wall for all other groups to react to.

That’s not to say that there wasn’t disagreement. Of course there was. Not all of the ideas we generated at the summit will be able to be implemented, but some might. The point is we created a space where folks could talk with, rather than past, each other about all of the ways we could improve the outlook for our pollinators.

We’re in the process of reviewing all of the input generated at the summit and preparing a summary for the Minnesota Department of Agriculture. Thank you to everyone who took the time to participate in this important conversation. Watch the blog and your email in the coming weeks for the summary of what we heard. The Minnesota Department of Agriculture will be reviewing all of the input from the summit to help inform their strategies for pollinator protection.

While it remains to be seen what ideas get adopted and put into practice, I walked out of the summit knowing that by living up to our values of “Better Together” and “Open Exchange”, my colleagues and I at Environmental Initiative did the best we could to give our insect pollinators a chance.

Greg Bohrer

POSTED BY:

Senior Manager, Agriculture and Environment Program

In it for the Money or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Self-Interest

December 10th, 2015

I’ve been working at Environmental Initiative for about a year and a half now, and I’m still as much a believer in the values and philosophy of this organization as I was on my first day.

I continue to believe, reinforced by experience, that lasting solutions are collaborative, not divisive. At the same time, I also believe people and organizations are fundamentally driven by self-interest. Self-interest is often conflated with selfishness, and is frequently cited as a barrier to progress. That’s a dark view of things, and it ignores the strong Minnesota tradition of collaboration, respect for the opinions and needs of others, and a willingness to forgo short-term selfishness for long term common gain.

The savviest politicians and the most effective leaders understand that leadership is largely about gathering people around a shared vision and motivating them to support it. However, you don’t get very far by asking folks to act directly against their own self-interest, instead, you have to find a way to harness that self-interest in the pursuit of the greater good.GregThankYouBlog

Environmental Initiative, its members, board, sponsors, and staff embody this kind of leadership. In our Clean Air program, a wide variety of organizations from both the public and private sectors collaborate to create and fund projects that reduce criteria air pollutants in order to keep us in compliance with federal standards. The self- interest that drives this work is that many of these organizations would face complicated, expensive regulatory efforts if we exceed those standards. In exchange, Minnesotans enjoy cleaner, healthier air.

In the Field Stewards project, we’ve partnered with GNP Company, the largest poultry producer in the Upper Midwest, to create a market system that will connect farmers engaged in a high level of water quality protection with food companies that will financially reward their efforts.

Here again we are capturing the self-interest of actors and using it to benefit the common good. Farmers benefit by receiving a financial support that is not dependent on the vagaries of the commodities market, land rental rates, or weather. GNP and other companies benefit by aligning themselves with the changing tastes of the food consumer, who are demanding more sustainable products. The public benefits through the protection of our natural resources, better water quality in our lakes and rivers, and a more sustainable food system for the future.

So, “in it for the money” may not be such a bad thing, especially when there are leaders who can recognize and harness such self-interest for efforts that everyone can benefit from. I’m proud to work in an organization that recognizes this and works to bring self-interested actors together in the pursuit of a better Minnesota.

If you share my enthusiasm, join me in supporting the work of Environmental Initiative. Our current and past board of directors have contributed $15,000 to help us raise another $15,000 from individuals like you between now and December 31st. Annual or recurring monthly membership contributions will be matched dollar for dollar. We still have about $8,000 to raise to meet our goals. If you’ve already donated, thank you so much for investing in our approach to solving environmental problems.

Greg Bohrer

POSTED BY:

Senior Manager, Agriculture and Environment Program

Field Stewards project receives major U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) grant

September 25th, 2015

September 15, 2015: United States Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the award of $243,933 over three years from the Conservation Innovation Grants program to Environmental Initiative and Conservation Marketplace Midwest (CMM) to support the Field Stewards project, an offset credit system for environmental protection on farmland in development by Environmental Initiative.

fieldstewards

“This year’s slate of projects is truly outstanding,” Vilsack said. “Our partner awardees are progressive and forward-thinking and looking to solve natural resource problems, and also engaging with underserved farmers and ranchers.”

The Field Stewards project will reward farmers for meeting a high level of environmental protection on their commodity crop (corn and soybean) fields. Food companies can purchase environmental credits generated by certified farmers, and use them to offset the environmental impact of a company’s supply chain. USDA grant funds will be shared among the project partners to develop the policy and administrative framework of the proposed Field Stewards market, recruit and enroll eligible farmers, and deploy and test the market system.

“The Field Stewards project is an unique approach to protecting natural resources in farm country,” said Mike Harley, Executive Director of Environmental Initiative. “With the help of this grant from the USDA and support from private business, Field Stewards will support leading producers who achieve a strong level of environmental protection in their farm operations.”

“As we work with producers to implement voluntary best management practices that protect and restore our natural resources, it is beneficial to have a program like Field Stewards that provides a financial incentive,” said Dennis Fuchs, Stearns County Soil and Water Conservation District Administrator and CMM Board President. “It shows the producer that private industry is willing to support their extra efforts associated with implementing additional conservation practices.”

Other Field Stewards project funders include the McKnight Foundation and GNP Company.

The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service awarded $20.5 million for 45 projects through Conservation Innovation Grants. More information about the grants can be found here.

If you would like more information about the Field Stewards program please contact Greg Bohrer, Senior Manager, Agriculture and Environment Program, at 612-334-3388 ext. 111.

Greg Bohrer

POSTED BY:

Senior Manager, Agriculture and Environment Program

Conservation and Environmental Protection on Minnesota’s Farms

August 27th, 2015

On August 12, I joined farm conservation professionals from across the country for a tour of farms in southeast Minnesota, organized by the (1).dsc_6573Conservation Technology Information Center. Any chance to get out in the field is great, and this tour in particular helped showcase what farmers, of all different types, are doing to help protect water quality, improve soil health, and ensure the continued economic integrity of their operations.

Our first stop was a vegetable farming cooperative in Hastings, MN that is run by the Hmong American Farmers Association (HAFA). Specialty crops depend on pollinators for good yields. If a pollinator doesn’t get to that squash blossom, you aren’t getting any squash. HAFA is partnering with Dr. Marla Spivak of the University of Minnesota’s Bee Lab to establish beehives onsite that can help pollinate the diverse vegetable crops HAFA is growing. The bees get access to food, and the farmers see healthier yields. A win-win. Plus, honey!

Our tour continued on to a VERY different operation. Where the HAFA farm was small and the crops diverse, Bruce Peterson’s farm was what you’d think of when you think of the contemporary corn farmer. From a small farm started in 1930, the Peterson operation has grown to 6,000 acres, 5,000 hogs a year, and 20 steers. This farm is about efficiency on a grand scale, using tools that farmers could only dream of just a decade ago. Working with precision farming experts from DuPont Pioneer, the Petersons are putting down fertilizer in the right place, at the right time, in the right amount to maximize crop yields while minimizing any lost nitrogen. Every pound of nitrogen that doesn’t get taken up by the plant has to go somewhere – into the ditch, the groundwater, or the air. That’s a financial loss too, since fertilizer costs money. So by using precision tools across the farm, the Petersons are saving money while protecting the environment. Another win-win. (more…)

Greg Bohrer

POSTED BY:

Senior Manager, Agriculture and Environment Program
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