Ag giants, non-profits join to improve environment

by Laura Lloyd
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Midwest Row Crop Collaborative
New group commits to raise $4 million over next five years.
 

 

BOONE, IOWA — Leading U.S. corporations in the agriculture sector are teaming up with major food companies and conservation non-profits in an initiative to improve environmental outcomes for farmers in Illinois, Iowa and Nebraska  while enhancing production to feed  growing populations.

Called the Midwest Row Crop Collaborative (M.R.C.C.), participants have committed to raising $4 million over five years to help accelerate progress of the Soil Health Partnership, a producer-led effort of the National Corn Growers Association. Founding members include Cargill, the Environmental Defense Fund, General Mills, Kellogg Co., Monsanto, PepsiCo, Inc., The Nature Conservancy, Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. and the World Wildlife Fund.

The organization’s mission is to identify agricultural solutions to protect air and water quality, increase soil health and support greater food production to meet the needs of an expected world population of 9 billion people by 2050. The M.R.C.C. has partnered with the Keystone Policy Center, Keystone, Colo., to help facilitate work on the project.

The Soil Health Partnership’s goal is to increase enrollment to 100 farms from the 65 sites currently in the program. Plans are to engage in field-scale testing and the measurement of management practices used to improve soil health. Such practices include growing cover crops, using conservation tillage techniques such as no-till or strip-till, and using science-based nutrient management. Research results will be used to quantify   economic and environmental benefits of healthier soil.

Enthusiasm for the work planned by the Midwest Row Crop Collaborative has come from both agribusiness and environmental organizations.

David MacLennan, Cargill
David MacLennan, chairman and c.e.o. of Cargill

“As an agricultural and food company, Cargill sees the M.R.C.C. as a way to support and accelerated the adoption of existing conservation programs set up by farmers and work with customers and organizations that share sustainability goals with the ag community,” said David MacLennan, chairman and chief executive officer of Cargill.

Mark R. Tercek, president and c.e.o. of The Nature Conservancy (T.N.C.), said, “This collaboration between environmental organizations and some of the world’s largest agriculture-based companies should lead to significantly ramped-up water conservation in the Midwest. T.N.C. is eager to use our science and expertise to accelerate solutions that match the scale of the challenges we face in that region, such as improving water quality across the Midwest and addressing the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico.”

Mark Tercek, Nature Conservancy
Mark R. Tercek, president and c.e.o. of The Nature Conservancy

The M.R.C.C. plans to focus first on improving soil health outcomes, reducing nutrient losses, chiefly nitrogen and phosphorus, into rivers and streams of the Mississippi River Basin, maximizing water conservation to reduce pressure on the Ogallala Aquifer, and cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

Efforts will focus on working with farmer organizations, environmental groups and state and local watershed partnerships to meet goals outlined in the Gulf Hypoxia Task Force action plan, which include these benchmarks for Illinois, Iowa and Nebraska by 2025:

  •  75% of row crop acres are engaged in sustainability measures that optimize soil health.
  •  A 20% reduction in nitrogen loading as a milestone toward the goal of 45% reduction in nitrogen and phosphorous loading.
  •   50% of all irrigation units used in Nebraska will maximize water conservation to reduce pressure on the Ogallala Aquifer.
45% nutrient loss reduction goal, with partnerships and goals established to expand M.R.C.C. across Upper Mississippi River Basin. 
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