Sustainability takes profitability
If you read many agricultural headlines, you will have seen that carbon sequestration, regenerative agriculture and federally driven conservation programs have been a big part of the news cycle this year. These ideas have been evolving for years—some more quietly than others. But with the current administration’s environmental philosophy and its willingness to spend political and real capital to advance that philosophy, what might have seemed like slow evolution now seems more of a sudden arrival.
For example, I have heard the exploration into markets for carbon sequestration referred to as a “Wild West” scenario. Activity indicates something substantial is on the way, but how it will function isn’t yet developed. Similarly, we will have to see how federal spending geared toward agriculture and rural areas is directed, toward what goals—and most importantly— what that means on the farm.
MFA’s perspective on how agriculture navigates any change begins with how the cooperative can help its members succeed. That’s our approach to stewardship and sustainability. MFA recognizes the importance of stewardship on the farm and leaving the soil and the farm business to the next generation in better shape than we found it. We also know stewardship and sustainability require profitability.
Given its membership base and our investment in employee expertise, MFA is often approached to participate in projects and programs that lead change in stewardship or conservation.
This year, MFA partnered with the Missouri Soybean Merchandising Council, the Missouri Corn Merchandising Council and the Ecosystem Services Market Consortium to offer a two-year pilot program focused on exploring carbon and water quality markets.
From my perspective, participation in the pilot project is a way to understand what such markets might mean to our membership. We need to know that the markets work. We need to know how MFA products and services fit into the equation should these markets become a reality that our members want to explore.
The pilot is underway this season. The target acreage was quickly filled.
In May, USDA announced it would release some $330 million for public-private partnerships in sustainability-related projects. They’re funded and coordinated by the NRCS Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP), which seeks private partnerships to help build successful outcomes.
MFA is among multiple Missouri organizations participating in an RCPP project that will use precision farm data to identify strategic buffer placement. One way to think of the project is precision conservation. With $930,000 in funding, the program will use farm yield data to find low-production or non-profitable cropland acres and convert them to warm-season grasses and forbs. Growers in Saline, Lafayette, Pettis, Macon, Randolph, Chariton and Linn counties are eligible to participate.
I will watch that project with interest. MFA’s long tenure with precision techniques in row-crop agriculture has delivered a strong playbook for improving return on input investments. It also brings up questions for growers to consider, such as how to better use persistently low-producing or non-profitable acres.
MFA is also participating in an RCPP cost-share project in southwest Missouri’s James River watershed. That program focuses on water quality through practices such as rotational grazing and riparian fencing. MFA staff with expertise in grazing, precision pasture fertility and forage management will be part of that project.
Those of us who have been in agriculture long know that sometimes there isn’t an option for a cost-share solution or even to opt out. Sometimes what we get dealt is regulation. That’s an additional factor to consider in today’s environment. Can we help ensure solutions that keep the agricultural perspective as a participating member of the process?
It’s a worthy goal. While sustainability might mean navigating cost-share programs or signing up for newly formed carbon exchanges for one grower, it might mean focusing on efficiency and self-determined land or soil improvements for another.
MFA will approach whatever changes come to agriculture with a simple mission of providing farmers with what you need to successfully and profitably run your operation. Of course, that includes sustainability—no matter how you define it on your farm.
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