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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

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

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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