2020 Impact Report
Explore MRCC's 2020 activities and impact
By any measure, 2020 was an extraordinary year. Building on an already accelerating interest in confronting the challenges facing our food and agricultural system in the U.S., the realities of COVID-19 laid bare how fragile—and yet robust—our food system is. With supply chain disruptions and empty grocery shelves, consumers became acutely aware of the presence of a supply chain that starts with farmers.
In 2020, MRCC members unlocked new opportunities for problem-solving for a more resilient and regenerative agricultural system—co-developing new projects, building partnerships, learning from our work together, and sharing lessons—and engaged more than 900 farmers on 300,000 acres across the region.
Read more about the progress made possible by our members’ collaboration in our 2020 Impact Report and project highlights below.
Project previews: view the full version in our report
Since 2018, Unilever and PepsiCo have partnered with Practical Farmers of Iowa (PFI) to implement a regenerative agriculture cover crop cost share program. PFI is a leading farmer support organization that equips farmers with tools and resources to build resilient farms and communities. The Iowa program is offered to farmers producing soybeans within Unilever’s Hellman’s mayonnaise supply chain and farmers producing corn for PepsiCo’s supply chain.
The program aims to improve soil health and environmental outcomes of soybean and corn supply chains by increasing the adoption of practices such as reduced tillage, diverse rotation, cover crops, and advanced nutrient management among Iowa farmers within each company’s supply sheds.
Cover crop acres have lower GHG emissions than non-cover crop acres when emissions from farm operations are weighed against GHG sequestered in the soil. Cover crops planted through PepsiCo’s program reduced GHG emissions by 38%.
Cover crops reduce nitrate loads to water bodies. In 2020, PFI worked with the Iowa Soybean Association to sample tiles and streams within the project area with varying levels of cover crop coverage. They found tile outlets from fields with higher cover crop coverage had 32% less nitrate pollution than tile outlets from fields with low or no cover crop coverage. This is congruent with a literature review summarized in the “Iowa Science Assessment of Nonpoint Source Practices to Reduce Nitrogen and Phosphorus Transport in the Mississippi River Basin” which shows that cover crops have the potential to reduce nitrate-N loads between 28 and 31% (July 2012).
Biodiversity—measured as the field’s potential capacity to support diverse ecosystems—is much higher on acres with cover crops. The biodiversity score in Field to Market’s Fieldprint Calculator was 16% higher for cover crop acres compared with non-cover crop acres.
PepsiCo, Cargill, and Bayer have partnered to implement a program to incentivize planting summer and fall cover crops and reduce fertilizer use in sourcing regions in Eastern Nebraska. The project is unique in its approach, engaging corporate partners that operate at different points in the supply chain, each bringing its own strengths to driving sustainable practice adoption. PFI and Sustainable Environmental Consultants (SEC) provide implementation capacity through farmer engagement, data collection, and analysis of project impact. The initial phase kicked off with recruitment of farmers into the program, with the first cover crop planting in the fall of 2020.
The project aims to increase conservation practice adoption—specifically cover crops and reduced fertilizer use—leading to GHG emission reductions, increased water quality, and improved farm economics. By providing farmers with economic analyses and cost share to incentivize their initial use of cover crops and nutrient management, the program intends to help farmers with the up-front costs so they can continue to employ these practices and improve their environmental impact without cost share in future years.
- Cargill identifies farmers selling corn to its facility in Blair who might be interested in the cost share program and connects them with PFI.
- PFI provides farmers with a cost share of $10 per acre of fall cover crops planted for up to 200 acres or $15 per acre of summer cover crops planted for up to 100 acres with an option to receive an additional $10 per acre if farmers reduce their nitrogen use by 40 pounds per acre. PFI also provides technical assistance to farmers on cover crop selection and planting, fertilizer management, termination management, and other practice implementation concerns.
- SEC aggregates field-level data to analyze environmental impacts including water quality benefits, soil erosion reduction, and GHG emissions and sequestration. Additionally, SEC prepares total project impact reports and individual reports for the farmers.
PepsiCo supports Precision Conservation Management (PCM) in East-Central Illinois to provide farmers with resources to adopt a range of conservation practices—nutrient management, reduced tillage, cover crops, and diverse rotations. PCM, the conservation program operated by Illinois Corn Growers Association, uses technology, data management, and cost share to help farmers adopt conservation practices.
Through its partnership with PCM, PepsiCo aims to reduce GHG emissions, improve soil carbon, increase biodiversity, decrease water and nutrient runoff, and improve farm profitability in its corn and vegetable oil supply chains in the region.
- PepsiCo partners with its regional suppliers to recruit farmers to the program. Illinois Corn Growers Association’s PCM Program Specialists work with PepsiCo originators or suppliers in different geographies to bring farmers into the program.
- PCM Specialists enroll farmers in the program and analyze the economics of a range of potential regenerative agricultural practices. PCM Specialists then produce a report on field-by-field performance with environmental metrics. Specialists are trained to include cover crop and cost share advice through the program in addition to the measurement and reporting services they have traditionally provided this guidance helps farmers to adopt a range of conservation practices.
- In addition to advisory support, Illinois Corn Growers Association administers a cost share program and provides overall tracking and GHG emissions reporting.
Supporting U.S. Farmers provides farmers in five of Kellogg’s sourcing states with funding and technical assistance to adopt conservation practices. Each state’s program is tailored to the unique needs of the crops in that state – rice in Arkansas, corn and soybeans in Illinois, corn in Indiana and Nebraska, and wheat in Michigan. One unique aspect of the work is the inclusion of “edge-of-field” practices like vegetative buffers and wetland restoration, in addition to the more common in-field sustainability practices. The project also stands out for its focus across multiple geographies and the learning that results from this diversity of project experiences.
The project aims to reduce costs, risks, and knowledge barriers to scale the adoption of sustainable agricultural practices. Through this work, the project hopes to demonstrate that agriculture can contribute to improved environmental outcomes including increased soil health, improved water quality, and expanded aquatic habitat in streams and wetlands.
Across all states, the project includes three elements that build upon each other year after year: farmer outreach and education, practice adoption, and measurement and documentation of continuous improvement.
- The specific conservation practices included in the program vary by state:
- In Arkansas, the project provides farmers irrigation pump timers to manage irrigation efficiently and conserve water from the Alluvial Aquifer.
- In Illinois and Indiana, the project provides small grants and technical advice to farmers using practices that support the state’s Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy through the Saving Tomorrow’s Agriculture Resources (STAR) initiative.
- In Michigan’s Saginaw Bay watershed, the project incentivizes soil health practices and improved water quality through a pay-for-performance program.
- In Nebraska, a public-private partnership supports farmers to improve soil health through interseeding cover crops.
- Local staff from TNC manage project implementation at a state level and Kellogg staff provide advice and support. Each state project also has local partners that contribute to farmer engagement, project implementation, and data collection.
- Kellogg is planning consumer engagement campaigns at the point of sale in retailer grocer locations in project states with the intent to connect consumers with an awareness of the regional farmers growing their food using conservation practices.
Adoption of climate smart agriculture has the potential for significant mitigation of agricultural GHG emissions, but quantifying the impact of land management practices on soil GHG emissions is challenging due to variability of local conditions. Easily scalable emissions quantification is crucial for long-term success of reducing GHG emissions in agriculture, but it is simply not feasible to sample enough soil every year to quantify carbon. Digital platforms that rely on modeling are one of the only ways to make agricultural GHG reduction quantifiable and cost-effective.
With funding support from the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Conservation Innovation Grants program, Bayer, National Corn Growers Association, and other partners developed a comprehensive value chain intervention that verifies the impact of climate smart agricultural practices, offering a replicable approach for measuring emission reductions from on-farm practices in corporate supply chains. The project developed a framework to estimate regionally specific soil GHG reductions associated with the adoption of climate smart agricultural practices in corn and soybean production.
The project aimed to develop a framework that draws on existing offset standards, emerging low-cost verification technologies, and proven precision business planning methods to drive conservation adoption and achieve GHG reductions. The framework was designed to provide technical guidelines to support offsets and “insetting” projects related to agriculture within a company’s own supply chain or circle of influence. Ultimately, the goal was to develop a publicly available, scalable, Gold Standard-certified GHG insetting framework for agriculture.
Model simulations were performed on sites in sensitive Mississippi River Basin watersheds in U.S. Corn-Belt states, including Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio, and Wisconsin. The model examined changes in soil organic carbon stocks, N2O emissions, and CH4 fluxes corresponding with alternative land management scenarios, including tillage practices, adoption of cover crops, and improved N-fertilizer timing. The framework was validated with field-scale trials on over 100 farms with 200,000 acres in commercial row crops, using the OpTIS platform for data collection.