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25 Years of Impact

November 29th, 2017

This year marks the 25th anniversary of Environmental Initiative. For the past quarter-century, we’ve been as successful as we have because of you.

We’ve managed to do incredible things in 25 years, which were enabled by your support, input and encouragement:

  • In 1992, we hosted one of the first Policy Forums on landfills. Conversations from this event continued and led to the 1994 Closed Landfill Act. To date, we’ve hosted nearly 100 Policy Forums on a wide range of topics, including the annual legislative preview.
  • Our first stakeholder convening with the intent of finding policy solutions, the Impaired Waters Stakeholder Process, led to the Clean Water Legacy Act of 2006.
  • Through our 15-year strong partnership, Clean Air Minnesota, we’ve retrofitted over 4,200 diesel engines, changed out hundreds of woodburning stoves and helped dozens of small businesses reduce emissions in Minnesota. As a result, particulate matter pollution has been reduced by the equivalent of removing 1.3 million cars from the road each year.

Support the next 25 years of Powerful Partnerships

However, we realize the pressing issues facing our environment aren’t getting any easier as we move into the next 25 years. We need your continued support so we can address the next set of environmental challenges we face and to ensure a healthy environment, a prosperous economy and an equitable society.

Thanks to the generosity of our current and past Board of Directors, we have a $20,000 match to double your gift between now and December 31st.

Will you support the next 25 years? www.en-in.org/membership-giving

 

Mike Harley

POSTED BY:

Executive Director

Year Two of Farmer-Company Partnerships

November 16th, 2017

As someone who is working on Field Stewards, calling farmers, and running the numbers—I’m excited to tell you about impacts and outcomes in our second year!

First, you might be asking yourself, what is Field Stewards? Environmental Initiative, Conservation Marketplace Midwest, the Stearns County Soil and Water Conservation District, and Kieser and Associates developed Field Stewards as a way to reward farmers who go above and beyond in their care of our natural resources. By providing a way for food companies to provide financial incentives to farmers who protect water quality on their farmland, we are investing in conservation leadership and a higher quality of life for communities across Minnesota.

FIELD STEWARDS BY THE NUMBERS

Before we get to this year’s accomplishments, I’m going to tell you about our first year.

In 2016, we…

  • Paid 15 Stearns County farmers who maintain a high level of environmental protection on their 2015 fields
  • Enrolled 1,000 acres of corn and soybeans that meet a high threshold for water quality – using practices like precision nutrient management, conservation tillage, and cover crops

So, what’s happened during Field Stewards’ second year? We’ve been busy, and in 2017, we…

  • Distributed payments to 25 farmers who met the threshold for water quality protection across their entire farm in 2016
  • Enrolled 2,000 acres of corn and soybean fields– double from the previous year

Quite the increase, right? We’re thankful for our partners, farmers, and food companies for making this year more impactful than the last. Payments to farmers were made possible by funding from Pilgrim’s Pride poultry company– an investment in the Stearns County community where their employees live, work and play.

NEXT STEPS

However, we know we still have a long way to go. As of 2012, there were 757,637 acres in crop production in Stearns County, so this is just a start for rewarding conservation leadership. And that’s only Stearns County! As Field Stewards continues to grow, we’ll have a whole state and region to work with.

Currently, we are talking to other companies who are interested in investing in sustainable agricultural supply chains and the natural resources of their communities. If you are interested in giving your company a sustainability boost, improving quality of life where your food production happens, or getting more information, talk to Greg Bohrer, who leads the Field Stewards program.

I’m looking forward to seeing how Field Stewards continues to create farmer-company partnerships that support those who go above and beyond for water quality. If you want to learn more about Field Stewards, visit our website at www.FieldStewards.org.

Erin Niehoff

POSTED BY:

Project Associate

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

Greg Bohrer Selected to Participate in the Minnesota Agricultural & Rural Leadership Program

November 14th, 2016

We are proud to share that Greg Bohrer, Senior Manager of Agriculture & Environment at Environmental Initiative was one of thirty individuals selected to participate in the Minnesota Agriculture and Rural Leadership Program. Two thirds of participants are agricultural producers and the other third are people involved in agribusiness or rural leadership positions.

GregAs a member of Class IX, Greg will participate in a dynamic two-year educational experience featuring several in-state seminars, a six-day national study seminar, and a 10- to 14-day international study seminar. The current cohort meets starting next week through April 2018.

“I am really looking forward to the program, said Greg Bohrer – Senior Manager, Agriculture and Environment, “This is a tremendous opportunity to get to know other emerging leaders in agriculture and rural Minnesota and to develop my own leadership skills and understanding of agricultural issues. I am excited to start diving into it and am grateful to have been selected.”

Program curriculum covers a range of topics including leadership development, rural industry and trade, natural resources, and diversity. The goal of the program is to help rural and agricultural leaders develop the necessary skills to maximize their impact across local, state, and international arenas.

Congratulations to Greg and to his fellow Minnesota Agricultural & Rural Leadership Program participants. Meet Class IX »

Ellen Gibson

POSTED BY:

Senior Program Director

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

MAWQCP: Protecting Agricultural Water Quality Through Certification and Collaboration

July 6th, 2016

All Minnesotans want access to clean water and all Minnesota farmers want clean water to be part of their legacy.

The Minnesota Agricultural Water Quality Certification Program (MAWQCP) is a new, voluntary, state-federal program that offers Minnesota’s farmers the chance to certify their legacy of stewardship and protect the Land of 10,000 Lakes’ greatest natural resource. After a brief pilot phase, MAWQCP went statewide in July 2015. Since then, the program has certified 198 farms and we just recently celebrated a 100,000-acre milestone for the program.

The program’s unique structure is crucial to its success. MAWQCP is delivered in partnership with Minnesota’s 89 Soil and Water Conservation Districts (SWCDs) and it’s easy for farmers and landowners to navigate. Minnesota’s SWCDs are trusted partners and frequent collaborators among the state’s farmers. The process for getting certified is straightforward and personalized – all a farmer needs to do to get started is contact their local SWCD.family next to farmstead sign

There are four steps to the water quality certification process:

  • Assessment – a certification specialist conducts an assessment of a farm’s current risk to water quality on a field-by-field basis using an online tool;
  • Collaboration – the certification specialist meets with the farmer to go over the results of the baseline assessment and collaborates on a plan for mitigating any risks to water identified in the assessment;
  • Verification – the certification specialist conducts a field verification to ensure all risks to water quality have been treated, or that a plan is in place to address the risk;
  • Ongoing Support – the certification specialist and farmer stay in touch as the farmer continues to make improvements and changes.

The process is not one-size fits all. When risks to water quality are identified, farmers are eligible to receive priority technical and financial assistance to make the improvements that make the most sense, economically and environmentally, for their operation. Once they are certified, farmers and landowners receive regulatory certainty and are deemed to be in compliance with any new water quality laws or rules for 10 years.

Traditionally, conservation has been delivered in a piecemeal fashion with a farmer implementing one conservation practice at a time. While individual practices can provide real environmental benefits, they often don’t treat all the risks to water quality on a farm all at once. MAWQCP’s model of conservation delivery overcomes this shortfall. The program works in collaboration with farmers and addresses risks to water quality for every field and every crop on their operations. This field-by-field, crop-by-crop methodology allows small acts of conservation to aggregate quickly, creating meaningful water quality benefits for all Minnesotans.

To date, the program has generated more than 300 new conservation practices, from cover crops to improved nutrient management that are annually:

  • Stopping 7.7 million pounds of sediment from entering our waters,
  • Preventing more than 4,700 pounds of phosphorus from entering our lakes and streams, and
  • Keeping more than 10 million pounds of soil where it belongs, in Minnesota fields.

As more farmers learn about the program and become certified, its positive impact on Minnesota will continue to grow. MAWQCP will help ensure Minnesota’s farms and waters can prosper together, which is a legacy all Minnesotans can be proud of.

—————–
A note from Environmental Initiative:

We’ve partnered with MAWQCP through our Field Stewards program. Farmers who are certified through MAWQCP (currently only in Stearns County) are eligible to receive a per acre payment for their conservation practices by enrolling in Field Stewards. This partnership with MAWQCP avoids duplicate certification standards and ensures farmers are recognized and rewarded for their conservation efforts. Learn more about Field Stewards »

MAWQCP is a partnership between the United States Department of Agriculture, the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. Learn more about MAWQCP »

POSTED BY:

Minnesota Agricultural Water Quality Certification Program Manager, Minnesota Department of Agriculture

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

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