Public-Private Partnership Drives Conservation Adoption Statewide

The Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship (IDALS) has partnered with groups from across the agricultural community to enhance the water quality and soil health benefits achieved by ADM and Unilever’s Sustainable Soy Continuous Improvement program. Built on a foundation of consumer demand for sustainably grown food, this public-private partnership came together in 2015 to help Iowa’s farmers improve their operations and protect water quality.

Unilever has committed to purchasing 100% of the soybeans it uses in products including Hellmann’s mayonnaise from sustainably managed farms. When consulting farmers on how to achieve that goal, ADM and Unilever learned that many were interested in getting starting with cover crops but were reluctant to make the transition without financial and technical support. Unilever worked with the Conservation Technology Information Center (CTIC) to recruit the right partners to run an Iowa Water Quality Initiative project that addresses those needs.

IDALS, CTIC, Archer Daniels Midland, Unilever, Practical Farmers of Iowa, La Crosse Seed, and DuPont Pioneer have worked together to offer farmers a cost-share for using cover crops and—critically—the agronomic advice they need to successfully integrate cover crops into their existing cropping systems.

By the end of the fall of 2017, this project will have helped farmers across Iowa plant 39,000 acres of cover crops in six key Iowa watersheds. The support of project partners has been critical to ensuring enrollees put their cost-share to good use. Agronomic guidance from Practical Farmers of Iowa and a discount from La Crosse Seed both ensure that farmers set their own goals for cover cropping and then choose the right species and management to get there.

Farmers assisted through this project have joined hundreds of others in Iowa in enrolling in the ADM/Unilever Sustainable Soy Continuous Improvement program.  Participating farmers meet annually with a consultant at ADM to document their farm management using Field to Market’s FieldPrint Calculator. The Calculator provides individual reports estimating the environmental benefits of improving management on those farms. Participating farmers are invited annual meetings where they can compare their individual efficiency reports to results from other farms in their area.

To inform the future use of the FieldPrint Calculator CTIC enlisted Purdue University’s Natural Resources Social Sciences lab to interview participating farmers about how they used the Calculator’s results. The resulting report includes specific recommendations for providing the technical support necessary to use the tool as a basis for improving farm management.

The project demonstrates the potential of uniting partners—public and private, ag and retail—in their work toward a common goal. Though the cover crops established in the fall of 2017 will represent the last under the current agreement with IDALS, the partnerships and farmer engagement developed over the last three years leave the groups poised to do even more for water quality in the future.

Will Myers