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More than 100 milling industry leaders and their guests gathered for three days of education and networking during the recent 2021 North American Millers’ Association Annual Meeting in Boca Raton, Florida.

“NAMA was proud to once again host milling executives from across North America at the NAMA Annual Meeting. NAMA Milling and Associate Members learned from expert speakers and set the course for NAMA’s work looking ahead into 2022 and beyond,” said NAMA President Jane DeMarchi. “As the pandemic recovery process moves forward and Capitol Hill and the Administration continue to act on industry priorities, NAMA’s role has never been more important.”

The general session presentations focused on critical topics facing the milling sector in 2021, including cybersecurity, sustainability, and workforce development. With a focus on U.S. wheat sustainable production, National Association of Wheat Growers CEO Chandler Goule told NAMA members that growers are producing more wheat on fewer acres.

Chandler Goule

Chandler Goule, CEO, National Association of Wheat Growers

“We know we have a great story,” Goule said. “We know we are sustainable. We know that when we are looking at what is coming ahead — whether through sustainability programs coming from the private sector or whether it is something coming in from the government.”

In an article about his presentation in World-Grain.com, Goule did note that more research is required quantifying the environmental impact of wheat production and the industry is responding.

“What we don’t have is a life cycle assessment of the wheat production,” he said. “NAWG and NAWG Foundation are working with U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) to work with a land grant university to determine how much water we use, what is our carbon footprint.”

To avoid pitting of one wheat class against another, data will be aggregated between classes, Goule said. The work is expected to begin in November and will generate important information for the upcoming farm bill. Food companies also are asking for the data, which will provide a baseline against which improvement may be measured, Goule said.

The North American Millers’ Association is the only national trade association that exclusively represents the interests of the North American wheat, corn, oat, and rye milling industry before Congress, federal agencies, and international regulatory bodies. Member companies operate mills in 31 states, Puerto Rico, and Canada, representing more than 90 percent of total industry production capacity.

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By Shelbi Knisley, Director of Trade Policy

The United Nations (UN) is set for a major discussion on the world’s food system when it hosts the Food System Summit (FSS) in New York City on September 23. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), World Food Program and International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) will jointly host the summit.

On the agenda are discussion and attempts at resolutions on all 17 global health, sustainability, and food systems “Sustainable Development Goals” (SDGs). A pre-summit was held in Italy this summer where much dialog took place on these topics.

The summit features five action tracks in which a variety of groups (such as governments and NGOs) can hold dialog events to express their many different views on how to work towards the UN’s SDGs. The five action tracks are:

  • Ensure access to safe and nutritious food for all;
  • Shift to sustainable consumption patterns;
  • Boost nature-positive production;
  • Advance equitable livelihoods;
  • Build resilience to vulnerabilities, shocks and stress.

Agriculture to Engage

U.S. wheat producers and their flour milling customers should not be overly concerned about the UN discussing sustainability and the food system, but they should remain cautious. These discussions will not likely lead to immediate actions. Yet the event may be cited later to develop FAO guideline documents, which other countries and activist NGOs may then use to develop their own domestic policies and agendas.

Such a result may or may not correlate to sustainable agricultural production. A good example of this is the EU’s recent “Farm to Fork” plan to drastically reduce fertilizer use by 20% and pesticide use by 50% by 2030 without any regard to curbing actual waste or with a specific environmental goal in place. If this idea were to be promoted by the UN or adopted by other countries, the impact on the global food supply and the environment could be devastating.

Therefore, it is important for the U.S. agriculture industry to be actively involved in these discussions at the UN FSS to help guide and influence science-based discussions for the future of agriculture and trade. USDA hosted three dialog events during 2021 in a lead up to the full summit this month.

Science-Based Approaches

The United Nations Food System Summit is highly focused on the food system, which goes from production to consumption. To continuously improve the world’s food system, a science-based approach must be used that allows the use of new technologies such as plant breeding innovations (PBIs) and environmentally safe use of fertilizers and pesticides. By using new technologies in agricultural production, it leads to a more sustainable world that uses less inputs while also producing more food on less land to meet the growing food demands of the world.

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Every farmer marks the passage of the year by the work that must be done. U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) recently described the planning and decision-making that go into seeding a wheat crop in the fall or spring.

As the crop grows, the work continues. Even with a good stand, crucial midseason factors must be monitored, and making responsible decisions on the farm ensure efforts are not wasted and the ultimate consumer of that wheat is satisfied that it is a wholesome ingredient in hundreds of wheat food products.

“Now there are decisions and risks and potential problems that must be checked every day,” Montana wheat farmer Angie Hucke told USW in a story about her family’s farm.

Each farmer is constantly making responsible decisions on the farm about soil fertility as well as weed, disease and insect control that may be needed to protect the crop’s yield and quality potential.

But like Kansas farmer Justin Knopf, they keep in mind the fact that members of their communities and families, as well as families around the United States and the world will be consuming the crop as a food ingredient.

“I always weigh those trade-offs with the end in mind and in a responsible way that consumers can be confident that we’ve done our due diligence at making responsible decisions in utilizing products on our farm, Knopf said.

 

As a part of its film, “Wholesome: The Journey of U.S. Wheat,”  USW is sharing individual chapters of the video throughout the year. “Midseason: Caring for the Crop” provides more information about how U.S. wheat growers are making responsible decisions on the farm.

 

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By Jay Sjerven, Food Business News, June 8, 2021, Courtesy of Sosland Publishing Co.

U.S. wheat farmers know that promoting sustainability is increasingly important to the world’s buyers and wheat food processors. In this article, reprinted courtesy of Sosland Publishing Co., the CEO of Cargill, emphasizes how farmers and agricultural companies are moving forward.


Farmers and ranchers are heroes of the food system, playing a critical role in addressing the COVID-19 pandemic and embracing practices and technologies to produce food more sustainably, David MacLennan, chairman and chief executive officer, Cargill, told members of the National Grain and Feed Association on June 4 at that association’s 125th annual convention, which was held in person in Colorado Springs as well as virtually.

“When the world shut down, farmers, ranchers and workers across the food system stepped up to meet the challenge to produce the food and feed that billions of people and animals around the world depend on,” he said.

Photo of Mr. MacLennan, Cargill, speaking on promoting sustainability

David W. MacLennan, Chairman, CEO, Cargill

Mr. MacLennan acknowledged that while disruptions of COVID-19 are still very much at play, the pandemic is not the only urgent challenge the food and agricultural industry faces.

“The greatest challenge we face is feeding a rapidly growing population, sustainably and responsibly – reducing our emissions, protecting our water resources, and improving the health of the soil our crops and harvests depend on,” he said. “Agriculture is part of the solution the world needs right now. Agriculture is how we’ll solve climate change and sustainably feed a growing population.”

Promoting Sustainability

Mr. MacLennan emphasized the need for broad and lasting efforts at every point in the supply chain to sustainably and responsibly feed a rapidly growing population estimated to reach close to 10 billion people by 2050.

“Inaction is not an option,” he said. “Too often, our industry gets blamed for climate change. I see a different story. Farmers and ranchers are the heroes of our food system. And they play a critical role in creating a more sustainable future for our industry, and the world. The changes we make at the roots of our supply chain will deliver the greatest impact – by reducing emissions, improving water quality, sequestering carbon, and building up the resilience of our soils for the next generation. Companies can set as many climate goals as we want. But without the support and leadership of farmers, none of it will happen. They’ve got to lead the way, and we’re here to partner with them in this important, ongoing effort.”


“When the world shut down, farmers, ranchers and workers across the food system stepped up to meet the challenge to produce the food billions of people depend on.”


Significant Strides

Mr. MacLennan said Cargill has made significant strides promoting sustainability, including its own science-based climate commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in its global supply chains by 30% per ton of product by 2030. He noted the company also is working to support voluntary, farmer-led adoption of regenerative agriculture across 10 million acres of North American farmland over the same period.

Through financial contributions and partnerships across the supply chain, Cargill is supporting and training farmers, and helping remove financial barriers they may face, in rebuilding the health of their soils, planting cover crops, using more sustainable grazing practices, and making better use of their water, Mr. MacLennan explained. He pointed to the example of the Iowa Soil & Water Outcomes Fund, through which farmers may receive $30 to $50 per acre for practices such as cover crops, reduced tillage, and optimized nutrient management.

Mr. MacLennan added Cargill also is advancing research to evaluate the economic benefits of regenerative agriculture. He noted in a study of 100 farmers across nine states conducted by The Soil Health Institute, researchers found that soil health management systems increased incomes for 85% of farmers growing corn and 88% of farmers growing soybeans. Average incomes increased by $52 per acre for corn growers and $45 per acre for soybean growers. Mr. MacLennan added participating farmers reported reduced average costs, increased yields, better crop resilience against extreme weather events, and improved water quality.

“Farmers are leading the way,” he said. “They’re on the front lines of climate change every day. And we need to lift up the good work they’re doing already. The benefits of regenerative agriculture are clear. But so are the barriers. To see change, we have to work together. Agriculture is how we’ll get it done.”


Read other stories in this series:

Special Climate and Sustainability Committee Launched on Earth Day
Precision Agriculture Improves Environmental Stewardship While Increasing Yields
U.S. Farmers Always Think About Economic and Environmental Sustainability
Technology, Innovative Farming Practices Advance Wheat Farm Sustainability
Minnesota Farmer Spread the News with His Conservation Practices
U.S. Farmers Embrace Conversation Practices
Farmers Look to New Technologies to Foster Precision Agriculture

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U.S. wheat farmers know that precision agriculture practices that foster economic and environmental stewardship are increasingly important to the world’s buyers and wheat food processors. In this article, originally published Nov. 30, 2020, by Agri-Pulse and reprinted with permission, the author Steve Davies discusses how new technologies are changing U.S. farms.


New forms of farming equipment could make it easier for growers to more precisely apply nitrogen fertilizer and other inputs — in other words, make precision agriculture more precise.

Much of the increase in productivity is likely to come from technology — the satellites, soil sensors, computer modeling and data-crunching that will provide usable information for growers.

“There is a ton of technology embedded into accelerating the process of improving soil health,” says Dorn Cox of the Wolfe’s Neck Center, which is working with corporate, government and nonprofit partners to develop an Open Technology Ecosystem for Agricultural Management (OpenTEAM) that promises to provide farmers access to site-specific data by 2024.

“We’re moving into essentially managing much more complex systems, especially in light of climate change,” says Cox. Much of what OpenTEAM is doing, he says, is trying to tie together all the different tools that are available, including artificial intelligence, remote sensing, lower-cost edge computing devices, and analytics.

“A lot of those pieces are there, but they have not been connected into a coherent ecosystem that is useful for a researcher or producer,” he says.

More Farmers Adopting Precision Agriculture

Rates of adoption for precision agriculture vary widely by region, says Curt Blades, senior vice president for agriculture and forestry at the Association of Equipment Manufacturers, which is releasing a study early next year on the environmental benefits of precision agriculture.

Citing USDA data, he says yield monitors are being used by 69% of growers, and auto-steer, which enables farmers to precisely navigate their fields, is being used about by two-thirds, though rates are higher when looking only at row crops.

Use of variable rate technology, allowing precision application of inputs, stands at about 41%, he said. “Where you really unlock the power of a yield monitor is when you tie it to a map” showing the conditions in a field, allowing growers to pinpoint which area might need more fertilizer or which might need more water, he says.

“All of those things would not be available if you didn’t have GPS technology,” he said. He emphasized the importance of rural broadband, which he calls “critical to the future of our country. It’s got to be wireless to the field to really take full advantage of some of this great technology.”

Just using auto-steer and ensuring the machine’s computer systems are all working together properly — or telematics — saves 6% on fuel, Blades says. In addition, the new generation of farm equipment is about 20% more fuel-efficient than the previous one, causing some farmers to tell Blades they upgraded their combines based on fuel efficiency alone.

Precision agriculture is possible though new GPS-equipped technology.

“This machine is almost as late and great as you can get on technology,” says Oregon farmer Logan Padget about their input application equipment. “It is GPS-controlled. Once I make the first pass on a field, the GPS can perfectly mimic that line all the way across the field. It will do it with just a very little, one-third of a meter of overlap, which is better than anybody could drive by hand.”

Optimizing Inputs and Yields

Nathan Fields, vice president of production and sustainability at National Corn Growers Association, thinks over the next decade, growers will be looking more at optimizing input use as opposed to simply increasing yields.

“Optimization does not necessarily mean yield,” he said. “It could mean yield and profitability.” But that can mean taking a “multi-year, almost a decade-long approach. And that is really hard to do with cash rent. That is really hard to do with the capital cycles that growers have to operate under.”

New tools are coming all the time. Anticipating commercialization, AMVAC Chemical Corp. and Corteva Agriscience just announced completion of testing on AMVAC’s proprietary SIMPAS prescriptive application equipment, which “allows farmers to prescriptively apply multiple at-plant solutions,” the companies said.

SIMPAS equipment can apply multiple products in fields similar to the way a printer dispenses ink from ink cartridges, the companies say. The system uses software to control the application rate of each product on every row at every location in the field.

Fields thinks adoption of precision ag equipment will increase as the ag economy improves. “I think growers are looking for more of a stable ag economy in the coming years,” which will spur adoption, he said. “That’s what we saw in that commodity super-cycle from 2007 to 2012. You know, technology adoption just ran rampant those years.”


Read other stories in this series:

Special Climate and Sustainability Committee Launched on Earth Day
Precision Agriculture Improves Environmental Stewardship While Increasing Yields
U.S. Farmers Always Think About Economic and Environmental Sustainability
Technology, Innovative Farming Practices Advance Wheat Farm Sustainability
Minnesota Farmer Spread the News with His Conservation Practices
U.S. Farmers Embrace Conversation Practices
Cargill CEO Highlights Farmers Role in Pandemic and Promoting Sustainability

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U.S. wheat farmers know that conservation practices that foster economic and environmental stewardship are increasingly important to the world’s buyers and wheat food processors. Continuing our discussion on conservation practices that help make U.S. wheat production more sustainable, the following is an article from the Minnesota Department of Agriculture that appeared in the April 2021 issue of Prairie Grains magazine.


After enrolling in the Minnesota Agricultural Water Quality Certification Program (MAWQCP), dozens of Bill Zurn’s distant relatives [contacted him] to congratulate the longtime Minnesota farmer after his conservation practices were profiled in the local paper.

“We’ve seen very positive feedback from our landlords and family members,” Zurn says. “Some of my long-lost cousins have come back and congratulated us. They were [very happy], and we really didn’t expect that.”

Zurn was an original board member during the MAWQCP’s inception, and he officially enrolled in summer 2020. He said he’s glad the program recognizes the diverse farming practices of Minnesota and factors in how weather and growing patterns differ throughout the state.

Conservation Practices from Minnesota Department of Agriculture

The Minnesota Agricultural Water Quality Certification Program is a voluntary opportunity for farmers and landowners to take the lead in implementing conservation practices that protect water resources in the state., earning certification for water quality. 

“From Rochester to Roseau, there’s a big difference here, and it’s important we understand that,” he says. “It varies so much across our state, and it’s important to stress that.”

Zurn farms in Becker and Mahnomen counties with his wife, Karolyn, and their sons, Eric and Nick. Together, the Zurns grow corn, soybeans, alfalfa and wheat. Though they had already been practicing cover crops, pest management and conservation tillage, Zurn credits his local National Resource Conservation Service with helping improve his family’s production practices to become certified.

“They were excellent to us and showed us what we needed to do what we could change,” says Zurn, who’s also a director with the Minnesota Soybean Research & Promotion Council. “They are great to work with. We as farmers have gotten a lot more out of this than we put in.”


“Farming has changed. We’re not perfect, but we’ve always tried to do the best we can – with technology and precision ag – and meet the standards.”


Farmers can contact their local Soil & Water Conservation District to apply for MAWQCP certification and then complete a series of steps with local certifiers using a 100 percent site-specific risk-assessment process. By law, all data is kept private and only by signing a formal release can a farmer’s name be released publicly.

After becoming certified, farmers like the Zurns receive a 10- year contract ensuring they will be deemed in compliance with any new water quality laws, an official MAWQCP sign to display on their farm and other benefits developed by local MAWQCP providers.

“We applaud Bill for his dedication to conservation and for continuing to promote best management practices in Minnesota,” says Brad Redlin, MAWQCP project manager. “Bill has been a champion of this program since the beginning, and we are thankful for his full-throated endorsement.”

More than 1,000 producers are currently certified in the MAWQCP, covering more than 725,000 certified acres, and implementing more than 2,075 new conservation practices. Gov. Tim Walz has set a goal of enrolling 1 million acres in the MAWQCP by 2022.

“We appreciate what they’re doing with this program,” Zurn says. “Farming has changed. We’re not perfect, but we’ve always tried to do the best we can – with technology and precision ag – and meet the standards.”

Zurn says he’s eager to spread the word about the benefits of the MAWQCP to not just family and friends, but the agriculture community – and beyond.

“For the time and effort, it’s very worthwhile,” he says. “We’re proving to the United States that we’re doing good sustainable and renewable practices here in Minnesota.”

Read more stories about what Minnesota farmers are doing to conserve water and soil.


Read other stories in this series:

Special Climate and Sustainability Committee Launched on Earth Day
Precision Agriculture Improves Environmental Stewardship While Increasing Yields
U.S. Farmers Always Think About Economic and Environmental Sustainability
Technology, Innovative Farming Practices Advance Wheat Farm Sustainability
U.S. Farmers Embrace Conversation Practices
Farmers Look to New Technologies to Foster Precision Agriculture
Cargill CEO Highlights Farmers Role in Pandemic and Promoting Sustainability

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U.S. wheat farmers know that improving economic and environmental stewardship is increasingly important to the world’s buyers and wheat food processors. In addition to precision agricultural technology, soil and water conservation practices are expanding. Following are excerpts from an article on sustainability and conservation by the American Farm Bureau Federation.


Conservation practices encouraged by the National Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) are used to improve soil health, reduce soil erosion, improve water quality and provide other natural resource benefits.

To maintain basic soil health, NRCS calls on farmers to keep the soil covered, disturb the soil minimally, keep a living cover that feeds the soil throughout the year, diversify crop systems on the soil through crop rotations and cover crops and incorporate livestock into the cropping system. Many of these practices contribute to carbon sequestration, as well as nutrient reduction and water quality/water quantity improvements.

Cover Crops

Cover crops like grasses, legumes and other plants can provide conservation cover if planted before grain crops are harvested or immediately after harvest. Depending on the cover crop mix planted, cover crops can reduce soil erosion and trap and sequester nutrients, like carbon, in the soil. Cover crops have also been used to improve soil biology, reduce weed competition, improve water infiltration and increase organic matter in soil. Cover crops are especially helpful when incorporating livestock grazing into a cropping system, providing an added nutrition source.

Photo shows roots from a cover crop conservation practices

Roots and organic matter from cover crops planted and growing before a new commercial crop like wheat is planted help improve soil health and reduce erosion. Cover crops are a growing conservation practice in the United States. Photo credit: Edwin Remsberg and USDA-SARE.

Crop Rotation

Beyond the market incentives, reasons for planting different crops each year include improved soil health and enhanced biological diversity. In addition, crop rotation can reduce soil erosion and reduce pesticide costs, while also improving water quality. If a farmer incorporates a rotation of alfalfa and other legumes, there are fertilizer reduction benefits, as well.

No-till/ Strip-till/Conservation Tillage

Soil compaction is a constant challenge for farmers but limiting disturbances to the soil improves carbon retention and minimizes carbon emissions from soils. Avoiding full-width tillage, regardless of the depth or timing, if done long-term, can add organic matter to the soil as it decomposes and help to reduce soil compaction. Avoiding full-width tillage reduces soil erosion and protects water quality and can help keep water available for plants into the growing season after planting.

Nutrient Management

Precisely managing the source, rate, timing and placement of nutrients like nitrogen or animal manure as fertilizer can reduce the potential for waste or runoff of plant nutrients, which can improve soil conditions and overall crop production, prevent excess nitrogen runoff and reduce input costs.

Buffer Strips

These strips of grass, mixed grasses and legumes run along the contour of a farmed field to create a “buffer.” Buffer strips made up of native plants and grasses remove sediment, nutrients and crop protection products as they pass through, all while helping reduce soil erosion. Buffer strips can also provide habitats for pollinators and other beneficial insects.

Adoption of Conservation Practices

Taken only once every five years, the 2017 USDA Census of Agriculture is a survey-based count of U.S. farms and ranches and the people who operate them. The survey provides the most recent data regarding land use practices by the number of farms and the number of acres. In 2017, 41% of U.S. farmland involved conservation practices, an increase of 3% from 2012.

Figure 1 displays the percent of cropland acres utilizing each of the surveyed land-use conservation practices.

A chart of data showing % of land using conservation practices

When compared to 2012 when the Census of Agriculture was previously published, the land-use practices aligned with the NRCS conservation practices increased in adoption. Figure 2 shows the percent change of U.S. cropland acres utilizing certain land-use practices from 2012 to 2017.

This is a chart to show the % change in conservation practices on U.S. farm land.

The most recent data shows the pace in which farms have adopted conservation practices has increased, indicating many farms have been able to implement some version of conservation on their acres.


Read other stories in this series:

Special Climate and Sustainability Committee Launched on Earth Day
Precision Agriculture Improves Environmental Stewardship While Increasing Yields
U.S. Farmers Always Think About Economic and Environmental Sustainability
Technology, Innovative Farming Practices Advance Wheat Farm Sustainability
Minnesota Farmer Spread the News with His Conservation Practices
Farmers Look to New Technologies to Foster Precision Agriculture
Cargill CEO Highlights Farmers Role in Pandemic and Promoting Sustainability

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As the world celebrated Earth Day, the National Association of Wheat Growers (NAWG) launched a new Special Climate and Sustainability Committee. The committee’s purpose is to review wheat sustainability issues and guide the development of climate policies on behalf of U.S. wheat farmers.

U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) salutes our colleagues at NAWG for making climate and sustainability a formal priority. This will be a great chance to recognize the already strong commitment by U.S. farm families to economic and environmental sustainability – and help ensure farmers have a voice in climate initiatives.

For a Positive Impact

Portrait of Dave Milligan quoted in the Earth Day story

Dave Milligan, NAWG President

“Wheat growers are having a positive impact on the environment and have increased resource-efficient practices in land, water and energy use,” said NAWG President and Cass City, Mich., wheat farmer Dave Milligan.

U.S. wheat farmers work every day to contribute to a sustainable future in agriculture. It is reflected in agronomic practices, research and development, and transportation methods, making the United States a sustainable source of wheat for export. Sustainability is also about innovation — reducing inputs while producing better wheat varieties to increase yield potential and provide consistently high-quality wheat to customers around the world.

USW joined the U.S. Sustainability Alliance in 2015 to better communicate the importance of sustainability to U.S. wheat farmers, including developing a fact sheet on wheat sustainability.

Engagement on Climate

To show a responsible farmer

Justin Knopf, Gypsum, Kan.

Milligan said Congress and USDA are currently considering ways to include a wide range of interests in the climate discussion. The Special Climate and Sustainability Committee will provide recommendations on policy options and NAWG’s engagement in climate discussions. Committee members are current and past NAWG board members, including Kansas farmer Justin Knopf and Wyoming farmer Derek Jackson as co-chairs of the committee.

“As we celebrate Earth Day, NAWG is excited to take initiative by engaging in climate policy discussions and focusing on practices that benefit the environment, wheat producers and the general public,” Milligan said.


Read other stories in this series:

Precision Agriculture Improves Environmental Stewardship While Increasing Yields
U.S. Farmers Always Think About Economic and Environmental Sustainability
Technology, Innovative Farming Practices Advance Wheat Farm Sustainability
Minnesota Farmer Spread the News with His Conservation Practices
U.S. Farmers Embrace Conversation Practices
Farmers Look to New Technologies to Foster Precision Agriculture
Cargill CEO Highlights Farmers Role in Pandemic and Promoting Sustainability

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U.S. wheat farmers know that improving economic and environmental stewardship is increasingly important to the world’s buyers and wheat food processors. While the following information focuses on the benefits of precision agriculture for other crops, farmers are using the same, high-precision equipment to produce U.S. wheat.


Reprinted with permission from the Association of Equipment Manufacturers

The Association of Equipment Manufacturers (AEM), in partnership with the American Soybean Association, CropLife America, and National Corn Growers Association, released a study quantifying how widely available precision agriculture technology improves environmental stewardship while providing economic return for farmers.

Precision agriculture leverages technologies to enhance sustainability through more efficient use of critical inputs, such as land, water, fuel, fertilizer, and pesticides. Farmers who use precision agriculture equipment use less to grow more.

The Environmental Benefits of Precision Agriculture study highlights how policies and technological advancements can help farmers increase these outcomes.

“We are living in a new age of agriculture, and today’s precision technology on equipment can have an enormous positive impact on farmers and the environment,” said Curt Blades, Senior Vice President of Agriculture at the Association of Equipment Manufacturers. “One of our goals at AEM is to encourage the adoption of these technologies by more farmers, so they can all reap the benefits as we continue to focus on sustainability.”

Showing adoption rates of precision agriculture to improve environmental stewardship

Precision agriculture technologies have contributed significantly to the increases in yields for the major crops grown in North America. Source: Association of Equipment Manufacturers and USDA NASS, Purdue Precision Ag Dealership Survey, Context Analysis and Expert Input.

Environmental Benefits

The study explores five key environmental stewardship benefits achieved through precision agriculture technology adoption, including:

  • Yield benefit through increased efficiency
  • Fertilizer reduction by more precise placement
  • Pesticide reduction by more accurate application
  • Fuel savings due to less overlap and better monitoring
  • Water savings through more accurate sensing of needs 

Part of Climate Answer

“The reductions in greenhouse gases this study illustrates shows modern agriculture is part of the climate solution,” said Kellie Bray, CropLife America (CLA) Chief of Staff. “Fuel savings alone due to precision ag tools is the yearly equivalent of taking nearly 200,000 cars off the road, all while preventing an area equal to 4.5 Yellowstone National Parks from being added to production because of yield increases.”

Study Highlights

As precision agriculture equipment and technologies are more widely adopted it will lead to significant increases in yields and further input savings: Significant increases in yields and further input savings can be reached as precision agriculture technologies become more widely adopted:

  • Productivity has increased an estimated 4% and has the potential to further increase 6% with broader adoption.
  • Precision agriculture has improved fertilizer placement efficiency by an estimated 7% and has the potential to further improve an additional 14%.
  • Herbicide use has been reduced by an estimated 9% and has the potential to further decrease 15% at full adoption.
  • Fossil fuel use has decreased an estimated 6% with the potential to further decrease 16%.
  • Water use has decreased an estimated 4% because of current precision agriculture adoption with the potential to further decrease 21% at full adoption.

Overcoming Barriers

“Soybean growers know from experience that precision agriculture contributes to both short-term and, importantly, long-term yield, environmental, and economic benefits, and this study helps quantify that progress,” says Kevin Scott, South Dakota soy grower and American Soybean Association (ASA) president. “But if we want to get to full adoption of the technology—and realize the immense industry-wide gains in yield and input savings—we still have a lot of work ahead of us.”

AEM, ASA, CLA, and NCGA are working together to advance technologies and practices that will bring the potential the study highlights to fruition:

  • Promote policies that incentivize innovations in agricultural production
  • Improve the infrastructure that makes precision agriculture possible, including wireless broadband over croplands and rangelands
  • Grow farm income so producers have capital to invest in their operations
  • Increase consumer communication about the environmental benefits of precision agriculture

Header photo copyright: Let’s Grow Together.


Read other stories in this series:

Special Climate and Sustainability Committee Launched on Earth Day
U.S. Farmers Always Think About Economic and Environmental Sustainability
Technology, Innovative Farming Practices Advance Wheat Farm Sustainability
Minnesota Farmer Spread the News with His Conservation Practices
U.S. Farmers Embrace Conversation Practices
Farmers Look to New Technologies to Foster Precision Agriculture
Cargill CEO Highlights Farmers Role in Pandemic and Promoting Sustainability

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The Cat is still purring after 67 years. Well, more like chugging along.

This Cat is a Caterpillar model D6 9U tractor with crawler treads, purchased new in 1954 by Bernard Martin for his north-central Oregon farm. As the only tractor on the farm at the time, the Cat was powerful yet small and lightweight, making it ideal for working on the farm’s very steep slopes.

Mr. Martin’s future son-in-law, Dale Padget, first drove the Cat in 1956.

“He was 18 years old and worked for Grandpa Martin as the ‘Cat Skinner,’ pulling the combine during harvest and doing field operations,” said Darren Padget, who is Dale’s son and the current Chairman of U.S. Wheat Associates (USW). “He was dating my Mom, Deanna, and eventually they inherited the farm our family now operates … and the Cat.”

Keeping it Running

The family operated crawler tractors like the Cat until the 1970s when manufacturers developed modern, articulated tractors that had, as Padget put it, the umph to handle the hills.

“After that, Dad installed a dozer blade on the Cat and it has been our bulldozer ever since,” he recalled. “I overhauled the engine* and put in a new undercarriage when I was in college. A few years later, we overhauled the transmission. We also use it to run a feed chopping machine when we make hay for our beef cattle.”

Photo of the Cat

The 1954 Cat D6 9U is still in use at Padget Ranches in Grass Valley, Ore., as a bulldozer to reshape the land as needed.

Back in the Field

Dale Padget will be 83 in June this year and has retired from most field work. His “tractor time” is down in part because the family farm now uses reduced tillage practices that help improve and protect their soil, in which they grow seed wheat, grass and other small grain crops.

But recently, Darren and his son Logan decided they should put Grandpa Dale, and the Cat, to work in the field one more time.

“On my Facebook page, we like to show folks how farming has changed over the years,” Darren explained. “And we wanted to record my Dad working with the tractor he has driven for so much of his life.”

Darren and Logan were planting some grass into a field designated for the USDA Conservation Reserve Program or CRP** (another tool they use to help protect soil and environmental health). They hitched the Cat to seed drills purchased in the 1970s and Dale went back to work.

Dale Padget with the Cat tractor

Dale Padget, 82, is ready to run the Cat tractor he first ran in 1956 to plant a grass cover crop on the family farm.

Dramatic Changes

On another day they captured images of the dramatic shift from the functional implements of the past to today’s far more efficient equipment with digital and GPS systems.

Comparing old and new farm equipment

Much has changed since Dale Padget first operated the Cat in 1956. Today, his son Darren and grandson Logan use precision farming tools that make them better stewards by protecting soil while ensuring fertilizer and crop protection products are used only where needed and in precise amounts.

In the photo at the top of this page, the Cat pulls its implement past the original Martin family homestead, built in the early 1900s.

“I think it is important to remember how far one family has come,” Padget said. “and how much has changed since Dad started driving the Cat. He will be back out there tomorrow as our ‘dozer guy,’ and Logan and I will keep building on the work he did, and the Martin family before him, all the way back to 1910.”

*The 1954 Cat D6 9U in fact has two engines: a small, two-cylinder gasoline engine, called the “pony motor,” is fired up to start the big diesel engine.

** CRP is a land conservation program administered by USDA’s Farm Service Administration. In exchange for a yearly rental payment, farmers enrolled in the program agree to remove environmentally sensitive land from agricultural production and plant species that will improve environmental health and quality.