More and more customers of U.S. ag products want to source food and ingredients that are environmentally sustainable, requiring manufacturers to reevaluate supply chains. Sustainability and continuous improvement on today’s farms is the foundation for meeting those needs.
To strengthen conservation at the farm level, farmer-leaders from the United Soybean Board, National Corn Growers Association and National Pork Board signed a document in support of their partnership with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service leading to a $1 million grant to the new Farmers for Soil Health (FSH) initiative. The signing ceremony took place during the 2022 Commodity Classic.
The FSH initiative is a farmer-led, farmer-funded effort to advance the use of soil health practices — especially cover crops — for corn and soybeans to improve soil health, reduce erosion, sequester carbon and improve water quality. FSH will work to provide farmers the tools and resources they need to implement cover crops on 30 million acres of soybeans and corn by 2030.
“As front-line environmental stewards, this effort will only further sustainability advancements that farmers have implemented for generations, while increasing carbon storage in soils sequestered by cover crops,” said Ralph Lott, United Soybean Board Chair and farmer from Seneca Falls, New York. “The benefits and value that cover crops bring to production agriculture continue to be recognized by farmers across this country, and the FSH initiative will encourage adoption and help improve our industrywide greenhouse gas emission reduction goals.”
Cover crops planted in the U.S. totaled nearly 15.4 million acres, as reported in the 2017 Census of Agriculture. Calculated estimates by the Soil Health Institute indicate that if cover crop acres are increased by 1.7 million acres per year by 2030, the impact could:
- Increase carbon sequestered in soils by approximately 7 million metric tons.1
- Reduce erosion by 105 million metric tons.2
- Reduce nitrogen leaching by 272 million pounds.3
FSH will support farmers as they scale up the use of cover crops and other conservation practices to create a sustainable energy and protein system that meets the needs of customers. The sustainability of soybeans, corn and pork production are all linked because pigs consume about 7.5 million tons of soybean meal each year.4 And in 2020, nearly 39% of corn bushels harvested were used as a component in animal feed — the No. 1 customer of U.S. soybean and corn farmers.5
“Nearly one-half of pork’s environmental footprint comes from the corn and soybeans that are fed to pigs6,” said Steve Rommereim, past president of the National Pork Board. “Sustainable pork production begins with sustainably grown feed. The FSH initiative will support the environmental stewardship on row crop acres, ultimately helping pork producers meet their sustainability goals.”
Maintaining vegetative cover whenever possible supports soil health and prevents soil movement, allowing cover crops to provide many benefits to farmers and the environment. A 2019/2020 National Cover Crop Survey showed more than one-third of responding farmers reported reduced fertilizer costs substituted by nutrients provided by cover crops.
“U.S. corn farmers understand the important role innovation plays in environmental sustainability. This is why they personally invest in farming technologies like nitrogen-fixating corn hybrids and seed treatments. Economic sustainability is also important, and farmers must understand the value of any new technology or production practice before applying it to their operation,” said John Linder, National Corn Growers Association chairman. “Going forward may require looking back at the original innovations of nature — the biological life activities in the soil itself. We are eager to partner in farmer-directed outreach through this initiative, and we hope to encourage adoption by alleviating concerns some farmers may have about cover crops.”
- Chambers, A., Lal, R., & Paustian, K. 2016. Journal of Soil and Water Conservation May 2016, 71 (3) 68A-74A; DOI: 10.2489/jswc.71.3.68A
- USDA-NRCS National Soil Erosion Results Tables, 2007, and USDA-SARE Cover Crop Research Series, Cover Crops at Work, Covering the Soil to Prevent Erosion, July, 2017. Data comes from a bibliography compiled by SARE and the University of Missouri.
- USDA-NRCS, 1995. Fate and Transport of Nutrients: Nitrogen and USDA-ERS Fertilizer Use and Price, 2019, and Iowa State Extension, 2014 Reducing Nutrient Loss: Science Shows What Works.
- 2019 Soybean Meal Demand Assessment.
- From feed to fuel: This is how corn is used around the world, World Economic Forum, June 2021.
- A Retrospective Assessment of US Pork Production: 1960 to 2015 University of Arkansas, 2018.
Source: United Soybean Board news release