A new era of collaboration for sustainable agriculture

Companies have the opportunity to use their voice to draw attention to issues that matter to their business and to their customers.  Today, a handful did just that – by announcing their commitment to sustainable agriculture.Cornfield

Over the past several months, I’ve spent countless hours representing Environmental Defense Fund in a room with Cargill, General Mills, Kellogg Company, Monsanto, PepsiCo, The Nature Conservancy, Walmart, and World Wildlife Fund. This group makes up the Midwest Row Crop Collaborative (MRCC) – a diverse coalition working to reduce the environmental impacts of commodity row crop production (i.e., corn, soy, wheat, etc.) throughout the Upper Mississippi River Basin.

This isn’t just good news for the planet. Implementing on-the-ground solutions that reduce fertilizer pollution and improve soil health can also result in higher yields for farmers, reduced risk of supply chain disruptions for food companies and retailers, reduced air and water pollution, and improved transparency for consumers.

Why companies care about fertilizer and soil health

Farmers and food companies need fertilizer to grow their ingredients, but fertilizer in excess of the amount crops need can lead to water and air pollution and wasted money for farmers, who spend approximately half of their input costs on fertilizer.

Each year, fertilizer runoff contributes to an aquatic dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico – an area the size of Connecticut that so devoid of oxygen, marine life cannot survive. And excess nitrogen fertilizer can lead to nitrates contaminating drinking water and water supplies – posing serious health risks to infants in particular.

Three pilot states

That’s why, along with a council of scientific and agronomic advisors, the MRCC will work with growers to help improve and implement conservation activities across three pilot states that are responsible for 44 percent of the corn, soy, and wheat production in the U.S.: Illinois, Iowa, and Nebraska.

By vastly increasing the number of row crop acres enrolled in sustainability measures in these three states, farmers and companies can help protect food security and drinking water supplies, while improving efficiencies in their business operations.

The power of collaboration

Farmer organizations, environmental groups, food companies, state and local watershed organizations, and many others share these common goals – and much work is already underway.

That’s why the MRCC isn’t reinventing any wheels. It’s shining a spotlight on an important environmental issue that is often overlooked, while helping support and scale the various technical and regional sustainability efforts already in place.

When leading companies collaborate around a common goal, both business and the planet will thrive.

Conclusion

This work is hard and will take time, but I’m more hopeful than ever that one day my daughter won’t grow up to read about toxic algae blooms or dead zones in the news and I’ll know I had a small part to play in that.

 

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