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Land O’Lakes boosts support for carbon-curious farmers

Willie Vogt Emerging crop of soybeans in a terminated field of cereal rye
OVERCOMING CHALLENGES: Using covers crops in a rotation — such as soybeans growing after cereal rye — is popular with carbon programs, but it takes management help to overcome challenges. A new effort with Winfield United and Truterra aims to help solve them.
The cooperative is leveraging both sustainability and agronomic expertise with a program that offers a warranty.

The interest in carbon credits from agriculture isn’t going away, but farmers often remain reluctant to take part in these nascent programs. Land O’Lakes is working to encourage more farmers to adopt regenerative farming practices by removing their fear of lost profitability and productivity on their acres.

In a talk with Farm Progress about this effort, Leah Anderson, vice president of Winfield United Sales, explains what’s driving this new program. “If you think about what we’re trying to do, this is Winfield United and Truterra, both businesses that are part of Land O’Lakes, really coming together to say we have an opportunity here to help farmers get paid for how they’re managing their fields, as much as they’re managing their final yields,” she says.

Anderson points to surveys showing farmers’ reluctance to engage in new practices as part of a carbon program, mainly due to worries over losing yield with practices such as cover crops or no-till. “They’re worried about the risk, real or perceived, to their profitability,” she says. “And they’re a little paralyzed to get started.”

The collaboration joins Truterra’s data and tools around sustainable practices with Winfield’s agronomic expertise. Anderson points to the data coming from the organization’s Answer Plot network and the Advanced Acre Rx prescription program.

The key, she explains, is to bring together those tools and work with growers. “Let’s put our money where our mouth is; let’s support them. Let’s share some of that risk. Let’s help them create the baseline in their operation and steward them alongside our locally owned and operated retail network,” she says.

To do this, the local retailer can take farmers through the steps needed to ensure a short-term action isn’t chosen that negatively impacts the operation over time. “It’s a total-acre solution,” she says.

$2 and commitment

Part of this new program is a $2-per-acre incentive designed to support farmers interested in participating in ecosystem markets and learn more about potential carbon market opportunities. Anderson says $2 may not sound like much, but there’s logic behind the move.

“What it’s trying to do is say, ‘How can we remove as many barriers to entry as possible?’ — but some of it just getting started,” she says.

While managing risk is one barrier to getting started, others include:

  • collecting data
  • working on farm planning process
  • finding source for climate-smart practices

That local retailer is a gateway to access to resources farmers can deploy for the operation. The $2 is an incentive to get over the hurdle of getting started, Anderson says.

Beyond that $2 incentive, farmers can participate in the Winfield United Advanced Acre Rx prescription program, which if followed as outlined, provides a warranty to offset part of the risk of implementing new practices. Anderson says a grower can participate in this warranty program at different levels.

“A grower can participate in a warranty program that’s really around a single decision — maybe nitrogen use, for example, that’s a really critical piece tied to regenerative ag today,” she says. Or the decision could entail fungicide use or a more detailed prescription plan.

A starting point

The $2 incentive opens the conversation between the grower and Land O’Lakes, employing the sustainability tools of Truterra and the agronomic tools at Winfield United. If growers use a new practice, they could be eligible for payments of up to $25 per sequestered ton of carbon on their land. What that means for an individual grower can vary.

To reduce the financial risk to an operation, the program brings a warranty approach to engaging in new practices. The goal, according to the cooperative, is to create a path for farmers to improve their soil health and potentially become eligible for future market opportunities through Truterra and Winfield United as a result of continuous cover or tillage changes.

You can learn more at your local Winfield United facility or visit truterraag.com.

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