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PepsiCo announces 2030 goal to scale regenerative farming practices across 7 million acres

PepsiCo, Inc. is launching a new, impact-driven Positive Agriculture ambition with a goal to spread regenerative farming practices across 7 million acres, approximately equal to its entire agricultural footprint.  The company estimates the effort will eliminate at least 3 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) by the end of the decade. Additional 2030 goals within the agenda include improving the livelihoods of more than 250,000 people in its agricultural supply chain and sustainably sourcing 100% of its key ingredients. “Any plan to tackle the urgent challenges facing the global food system must address agriculture, the source of nourishment for billions of people and a key lever to address climate change and inequality,” PepsiCo Chairman and CEO Ramon Laguarta says. “As one of the world’s leading food and beverage companies, a resilient food system is essential to our business, and with our scale we have an opportunity and responsibility to drive meaningful change. PepsiCo’s Positive Agriculture agenda prioritizes investment, innovation, and robust collaboration with our farming partners to deliver impact around the world. Working together, we can reduce our collective carbon footprint, feed a rapidly growing population, and provide meaningful economic opportunities for more people.” PepsiCo’s Positive Agriculture agenda aims to source crops and ingredients in a way that accelerates regenerative agriculture and strengthens farming communities, with a focus on: Spreading the adoption of regenerative farming practices across 7 million acres – approximately equal to 100% of the land used around the world to grow crops and ingredients for the company’s products. In the U.S., for example, PepsiCo has worked with farmers to plant cover crops on over 85,000 acres and has seen up to a 38% net reduction in on-farm greenhouse gas emissions, including soil carbon sequestration. Through efforts with industry-leading partners, the company will expand regenerative agriculture programs to more than 500,000 acres of U.S. farmland by the end of 2021. PepsiCo will also continue to grow its global network of Demonstration Farms, which enable peer-to-peer learning and in 2020 grew to more than 350 farms with more than 80% adopting regenerative farming practices.    Improving the livelihoods of more than 250,000 people in its agricultural supply chain and communities, including economically empowering women. PepsiCo will focus its work on the most vulnerable farming communities linked to its global value chain, including smallholder farmers and farmworkers, women, and minority farmers. The company will continue to advance this goal through diverse partnerships, including the U.S. Agency for International Development, Inter-American Development Bank, CARE, National FFA Organization, and the National Black Growers Council.   Sustainably sourcing 100% of key ingredients, expanding to include not only its direct-sourced crops (potatoes, whole corn, oats, and oranges), but also key crops from third parties, such as vegetable oils and grains. PepsiCo sources crops across 60 countries and supports over 100,000 jobs in the agricultural supply chain. “Through our Sustainable Farming Program and ongoing work with tens of thousands of farmers, we’ve seen firsthand the ability to drive solutions within our agricultural communities, resulting in nature-based outcomes," Jim Andrew, chief sustainability officer, PepsiCo says. “Today, we’re accelerating our Positive Agriculture agenda because we know we have to do even more to create truly systemic change. By focusing on regenerative agriculture practices at the local level to improve soil health, we can build a stronger foundation for our products and help make the entire food system more sustainable.” PepsiCo advocates for the establishment of industry-wide regenerative agriculture standards and measurement. In the absence of such standards, the company will measure progress towards its Positive Agriculture goals by tracking acres and people engaged in the initiative and, over time, the impact toward five key outcomes, including: building soil health and fertility; sequestering carbon and reducing emissions; enhancing watershed health; increasing biodiversity; and improving farmer livelihoods. PepsiCo is engaged with leading organizations like the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) to develop a method for setting science-based targets for water that consider the benefits of regenerative and resilient farming systems and practices on water quality and water quantity. “Working across the supply chain is necessary if we are to transform the food system, reduce carbon emissions, support healthy watersheds, restore biodiversity, and improve livelihoods,” Sheila Bonini, senior vice president of Private Sector Engagement at World Wildlife Fund says. “It’s encouraging that PepsiCo is announcing an approach to its agricultural supply chains that can be positive for both nature and people, and WWF looks forward to partnering with PepsiCo on an ambitious and scaled regenerative agriculture agenda.” Leveraging innovation, including digital technology, and collaboration is central to PepsiCo’s approach to catalyzing systemic change. Together with the World Economic Forum and others, PepsiCo recently launched the concept of Food Innovation Hubs to develop local food systems that are inclusive, efficient, sustainable, and nutritious. The Positive Agriculture agenda is another step in the company’s PepsiCo Positive journey and follows PepsiCo’s recent announcement to double its science-based climate goal, targeting a reduction of absolute greenhouse gas emissions across its value chain by more than 40% by 2030, as well as pledging to achieve net-zero emissions by 2040.

A frank discussion about racism in agriculture

As a young sales representative for Elanco Animal Health, Bryana Clover called on poultry customers in Texas, Louisiana, and Arkansas. Almost always, she was the only person of color in a room filled with white employees and managers.   Most of the laborers working on the farms or the poultry processing floors, however, were not white.  Her customers saw Clover as different than the laborers.   “They told me I was different. I was more professional than them. Or when they would be talking about the ‘lazy plant workers,’ or referred to many of the plant workers as ‘crackheads,’ they would say, ‘no offense, but you’re different,’” Clover recalls.  Read More: Always looking ahead: What it's like to be a Black farmer in America Clover’s job eventually took her into Elanco’s home office. “Not once in my 12-year agribusiness career did I have a person of color on my team,” she adds. “Not once.”   The reality is, there are few Black managers or administrative officers in agribusiness. Data to support that statistic is difficult to come by, but look around: Do you see Black men or women employed where you conduct business? Are they managers? Are they in Executive Leadership roles? Clover was one of the few. She left her full-time job in 2020 to establish 1619 Consulting, where she works to raise awareness about racial diversity in agriculture. Her goal: Many agribusiness companies claim to want to improve diversity, but are they willing to putting in the work to make it happen?  [factoid]“What we need more of is empathy." – Bryana Clover[/factoid]“I really want to educate the agribusiness industry and the agricultural industry about these problems to create a commitment to authentic change, rather than performative allyship,” Clover says. “I want to get the industry to understand that their future depends on it.” Clover’s efforts come during a pivotal time in race relations in the U.S. Events transpiring throughout the nation in 2020 raised awareness that America has a long way to go when it comes to treating Black and white people equally. Despite awareness that came in the wake of the tragic deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, and many more, ensuring Black Americans have equal opportunities is a heavy lift, she says. “I think part of this white supremacy culture that we are socialized to strive for quick results. If we can’t get quick results, we put a Band-Aid on it, call it something pretty, and move on,” she says. “That’s not unique to agribusiness necessarily. But agribusiness has the power, the reach, and the influence to really help make strides in this area.” The argument that there aren’t enough Black people trained to work in management positions in agribusiness? Clover doesn’t buy it.  “I hear it all the time, ‘Well, we would hire more Black people, but where are they?’ I think the questions to ask are, are we doing all we can to diversify our hiring pool?” Other questions agribusinesses must ask of themselves are:  Do we have an inclusive culture for people of color?  Are the diversity and equity promises being made at the executive level reaching middle management appropriately?  Are we equipping middle management to be good stewards of race equity policies and culture?  Awareness and education are important first steps, Clover adds. The hard truth is, white Americans will never understand what it’s like to be anything other than white.  “If you're white in America, you don't ever have to go through life thinking about you or yourself as a Black person, Brown person, or any person of color. That’s no one’s fault. It is the culture we are socialized in,” she explains. “But it does take some intentionality to learn. Because I am convinced that if more of us took ownership of our learning, we’d understand the pervasiveness of systemic racism and how it shows up in the workplace. We can’t solve problems we don’t understand.”  The answer to race, whether in agriculture or society, is in fact rather simple.  “What we need more of is empathy,” Clover adds. “If we can humanize the Black person who we see on being negatively portrayed on the news like we would humanize our own mothers and fathers, children and grandchildren, that is the key to opening up the willingness to educate ourselves about what's going on.”

USDA: The last plantation

Black farmers’ struggle with the federal government dates back to Special Field Order 15 issued on January 16, 1865. It promised each newly freed Black family 40 acres in a strip of land covering 400,000 acres, ranging from South Carolina to Florida. Nearly 40,000 freed slaves took up residence on this land.   The effort was for naught, though, as President Andrew Johnson rescinded the Special Field Order in the fall of 1865. This returned the land to its previous property owners, many of whom had been slave owners.  Thus, many Black farmers took up sharecropping, where white landowners would rent their land to Black farmers and collect half the crop, according to a 1982 publication titled “The Decline of Black Farming in America,” issued by the Commission on Civil Rights. Landowners also could finance the cost of seeds, fertilizers, and other crop inputs, but often at exorbitant interest rates. This left the farmers with little money for food, clothing, and other living expenses. Black farmers often were forbidden to seek better opportunities.   Years later, Black farmers wrestled with obtaining loans from USDA’s Farmers Home Administration and Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service, agencies that were run locally by farmer-led boards of directors.   USDA has been called “the last plantation,” according to Lloyd Wright, USDA’s director of civil rights in 1997-98 and a 38-year employee for USDA. That’s because these agencies: Denied operating loans Delayed loan payments Provided limited access to programs Didn’t inform Black farmers of programs that could improve their farmland. Meanwhile, white farmers had few of these problems, Wright says.  “That’s because of the local control, at the county level. You almost need to eliminate the county committees and local controls. Agriculture’s unique for that kind of county control, which sounds good for some folks. But not Black folk,” says Wright, who has since retired. “Local control is good, providing that you have a system of oversight to avoid having those local folk take care of themselves, their family, and their friends. In which case, Blacks have happened not to be any of the above, and they normally didn’t get services.”  Read More: Always Looking Ahead: What it's like to be a Black Farmer in America In 1980, gripping drought suffocated much of the South. “A lot of white farmers responded by putting in irrigation,” recalls Dewayne Goldmon, an Arkansas farmer and head of the National Black Growers Council. “Black farmers were denied access to that money, or no one told them there was a way to structure their business to separate the farm from the home.”  Without irrigation, yields suffered and forced many Black farmers to lose their homes.  Black farmers were slaves just a few generations prior and sharecroppers after that, so there is little equity to fall back on, and local USDA offices often didn’t help Black farmers get the assistance they needed.  “I dream of the day when farmers can go in and actually get benefits based on the merits of their application only,” Goldmon says.  When farmers borrow money from USDA, the local USDA offices, with input from county committees, decide which farmers obtain loans. In many cases, loans for Black farmers would take two or three times longer to receive compared to loans for white farmers, according to USDA documents. As such, Black farmers had to wait to plant crops and so their yield suffered.  “The county committee was the guillotine,” says P.J. Haynie, a fifth-generation farmer from Reedville, Virginia. “The domino effect created a genocide of Black farmers, not because it rained on the white farmers’ side of the road and not the Black farmer side of the road. It was due to 25% interest rates and not getting a crop loan in time.”  Even if Black farmers grew high-yielding crops, the USDA might not update program yields correctly, says Ken Cook, cofounder and president of the Environmental Working Group.  In the early days of EWG’s Farm Subsidy Database launch, the agency received a phone call from a white whistleblower, who told staff members to stand by their fax machine. “He sent all this internal documentation about Black farmers unfairly getting lower established yields assigned to them and not getting their yields updated the way white farmers were,” Cook recalls.  In a 2010 memo to USDA’s deputy chief of staff, Wright offered similar proof. A Black farmer in Clarendon County, South Carolina, earned honors for corn yields of more than 200 bushels per acre. However, FSA discriminated against the farmer by recording lower corn yields than comparable white farmers in the county, Wright says. The memo stated the average established yield for Black farmers in Clarendon County was 58 bushels of corn per acre, while white farmers had an average established yield of 101 bushels per acre.  “If you’re getting 50 bushels of corn per acre, hell no, you can’t cash flow. You can’t pay the loan back,” Wright explains. “But if you’re getting 200, you can probably pay it back, depending on what the loan is.”

Always looking ahead: What it’s like to be a Black farmer in America

From behind the wheel of his Ford pickup, Bill Bridgeforth surveys silt-clay-loam fields in northern Alabama. On either side of Bridgeforth Road – named after his father, Darden – corn, soybeans, wheat, and cotton grow in rotation.  Bill, who farms with his two sons, Kyle and Carlton; his brother Greg; and Greg’s son Lamont, joins other farmers who worry about weather, the markets, weeds, and pests.  Like his ancestors, though, Bill Bridgeforth faces an additional challenge. He’s Black.  Greg and Bill’s great-grandfather George was a freed slave following the Civil War. A white family, the Bridgeforths, gave him farmland in Tennessee on which he began raising his family and took the Bridgeforth name. George’s son Isaac – Greg and Bill’s grandfather – took the train from Tennessee to college in Tuskegee. During a whistle-stop in Tanner, Alabama, Isaac became enamored with the area’s rich farmland. Discovering there was land for sale, George acted quickly. “He had a better chance of supporting his family farming in those river bottoms then the rocky hills of Tennessee,” Bill says. “The white Bridgeforths helped him sell the land in Tennessee and buy 600 acres in Alabama.” The Bridgeforths have farmed there ever since. From the legacy of George Bridgeforth, each successive generation has deployed sound judgment, the latest technology, and a solid reputation as good farmers to expand the farm to nearly 10,000 owned and rented acres. That increase in size and scope has not been easy. The Bridgeforths say the injustices and prejudices they face as Black farmers are numerous, including spending months straightening out incorrect invoices from input providers and waiting more than a year to obtain a critical disaster payment from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farmers Home Administration. Prejudice still exists  In the Black farming community, the list of discriminatory behavior is lengthy: cornfields paid to be fertilized, but left undone; excessive charges for input supplies; getting approved by local banks or USDA for crop loans too late for the growing season, if at all.  Are these just honest mistakes? Dewayne Goldmon doesn’t think so.  “When it first happens to you, the inclination is yes, it’s a mistake and that’s OK. Maybe it won’t happen again. But down the line, another ‘honest’ mistake occurs,” says Goldmon, who in 2020 became executive director of the National Black Growers Council. “And when our farmers sit around the table and talk about these coincidences, it really comes to a head. You start to figure out the incidence of those coincidences goes up a lot when we’re dealing with Black farmers. That makes it all of a sudden, not a coincidence.”  After the Civil War, freed slaves who wanted to farm were promised 40 acres of farmland, only to have the U.S. government return that land to its pre-war owners. Many of those farmers became sharecroppers, under terms that benefitted the landowners. Later, USDA programs designed to help all farmers largely hindered Black farmers’ ability to increase their acreage. White farmers often prevented Black farmers from buying land. If Black farmers were successful in acquiring land, they often were unable to participate in USDA programs intended to help farmers improve their property. Every obstacle forced more Black farmers out of farming, Goldmon says.  The National Black Growers Council (NBGC) membership is multigenerational and tends to be full-time farmers focused on growing commodities on larger farms. It is a coalition of more than 250 Black farmers from Virginia to Texas, says Goldmon, a retired agronomist and government affairs specialist at Monsanto and Bayer Crop Science and farmer of 1,200 acres of row crops near Pine Bluff, Arkansas.  Steep Decline The number of U.S. Black farmers plummeted from 926,000 in 1920 to less than 46,000 by 2017. Roughly 2% of the U.S. population is engaged in production agriculture, and less than 1% of those are Black, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service. Of those, only an estimated 8% are full-time, row-crop farmers.   “All of these farmers are in very isolated situations in terms of having another Black farmer in the community,” Goldmon says.   In P. J. Haynie’s case, no Black farmers who farm more than 500 acres live near his family farm in Reedville, Virginia.  “I thought for the longest time I was out here all alone,” says Haynie, who belongs to NBGC, which serves as a peer network where Black farmers can provide information and advice to each other.  Goldmon challenges members of the NBGC to keep moving forward.  “If you take a look at the rearview mirror, you can see the bad things,” Goldmon says. “We want to look through the windshield and see what we can accomplish.”  Among those accomplishments? Congressional momentum for the Justice for Black Farmers Act, a November 2020 bill introduced by Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) that address past discrimination in the USDA. One of the bill’s provisions is the Equitable Land Access Service, which would allow USDA to acquire farmland and provide 160-acre land grants to Black farmers. New farmers would be provided access to USDA operating loans and mortgages under farmer-friendly terms and conditions.  Read More: USDA: The Last Plantation The bill will likely be reintroduced this year. It provides some hope to reverse the trend of fewer Black farmers, Bill Bridgeforth says.  “Whatever it takes to get Black farmers on good land is what we need to do,” he says. “To help strengthen the few Black farmers we still have, and enable us to get more started, make land that’s federally controlled available to Black farmers first.”  Black farmers today are just a few generations removed from slavery and the oppression of being sharecroppers for years after slaves were freed. Many don’t have the same financial wherewithal that often comes from multiple generations of farmers, many of whom were granted 160 acres for free from the government through the Homestead Act of 1862.   Issues in common The Justice for Black Farmers Act passed in the Senate may be a big ask, but it’s a good way to get a conversation started between Black and white farmers, Haynie says. “We have the same challenges they do: markets, weather, and pests, on top of the preexisting challenges that were brought on prior to our generations,” he explains. “That’s why the deck is truly stacked against us, and why we need their help in making it a level playing field because we want our children to farm right beside their children. But they have to understand why we have to work so hard and do what we do.” “We have more in common than not in common,” Goldmon adds. “We’re farmers just like white farmers. They love farming and we love farming.”  Christi Bland agrees. The fourth-generation farmers from Tunica County, Mississippi is convinced of the rightness of her decision to join her family farm after years of off-farm employment.  “I just love that I’m doing something that my ancestors have fought for the right to do,” she says. “I want to continue the legacy for my cousins, for my children, and for their children’s children.  “When you’re on the land, you get that feeling you’ve never had on any other job. You get the joy and you get to work alongside people who know where you’re coming from,” she adds. “Having a Black farmer come before me has solidified that this is what I’m supposed to be doing.” As Bill Bridgeforth’s sons and nephew gain more farm responsibility and have children of their own, the Alabama farmer believes the best is yet to come for Black farmers.  “We have the best government in the entire world. Eventually, we will correct the discrimination and racism,” he says. “I don’t have any doubt, the next generation, if they choose to farm and the Lord will bless them, will have the opportunity.”  

The forgotten farmers

In the 1980s, Philip Haynie II was one of the most progressive farmers in Northumberland County, Virginia. He had built a row-crop farm operation nearing 5,000 acres before feuds with USDA wrecked the farm, and his marriage.  Haynie, the fourth generation to farm near Reedville, was a victim of the 1999 class action lawsuit by Black farmers against USDA, called Pigford v Glickman. The suit was intended to make reparations to Black farmers by USDA. The lawsuit included Black farmers who: Farmed between 1981 and 1997  Applied to USDA for farm credit or other program benefits  Made a complaint against USDA before July 1, 1997  The lawsuit’s settlement stated that Black farmers could either collect a $50,000 lump sum or appeal for a larger settlement, says Lloyd Wright, the USDA’s director of Civil Rights in 1997. More than 16,000 plaintiffs chose the lump sum, many of whom operated small farms. Most active farmers appealed, unsuccessfully, for a larger settlement.  Other settlement provisions included forgiveness of Black farmers’ debts and giving Black farmers priority for future services. USDA, however, did neither, Wright says.  “Many of them stopped making payments on their debt,” he explains. “With interest and penalties, it accumulated to the extent that they were further in debt than they were when they started.”  Read More: Always Looking Ahead: What it's like to be a Black farmer in America Instead of helping Black farmers, USDA ended up hurting the people the lawsuit was supposed to help, Wright adds. In civil rights settlements, affected parties “should get priority for services,” he says.  “Plaintiffs were supposed to get priority for future services, including future loans, access to inventory land, priority for technical assistance. Almost none got that,” Wright continues. “Basically, Pigford turned out to be a $50,000 payment for Black farmers, and that doesn’t start to make farmers whole.”  Haynie’s agreement, however, included a provision that he would not get a future USDA loan. Moreover, USDA gave him a fraction of the money he was owed.  “How can you continue to punish the victim? I wasn’t the guilty party. I was the victim of discriminatory acts, but their intent was to make sure I never farmed again,” he says. 

Why Black farmers don’t trust Tom Vilsack

Lloyd Wright was hopeful Tom Vilsack would advance the plight of Black farmers during his eight-year run as USDA secretary from 2009 to 2017.  Wright, though, says he was wrong, and he fears Vilsack, President Joe Biden’s nominee for secretary of Agriculture, is likely to continue that agency’s legacy of discrimination against Black farmers. “He might turn out to be an excellent secretary of agriculture for white folk, but he was not for Blacks,” says Wright, a 38-year employee of the USDA, including two years as director of Civil Rights when Bill Clinton was president.  Read More: Always looking ahead: What' it's like to be a Black farmer in America Now retired, Wright is devoted to addressing issues for Black farmers, whose beef with Vilsack stems from a backlog of unresolved complaints by Black farmers about discrimination within the administration of President George W. Bush. Vilsack claimed in an exit memo, dated January 2017, that the complaints were resolved and the Obama administration advanced the cause of Black farmers.  [embed:render:node:310131:left:picture|image_embed_1_4_width]Wright contends that Black farmers received disproportionately less money in USDA loans and microloans than white farmers.  Farmers who missed out on USDA funding – whether due to oversight, discrimination, or racism – had their departure hastened from farming.   “I had a lot of hope, because I listened to what Biden was saying,” Wright says. “If he knew and took time to find out what Vilsack didn’t do, I can’t believe he’d appoint Vilsack. But if you read all the things that Vilsack claimed he did, then I would appoint him as well. Because he looked like he was jumping all the large buildings in one leap. It just so happened not to be true. He didn’t do those things. “And so, we might be in for another four years of the same. And Black farmers can’t stand that, because they’re weak and losing.” A Politico story from Dec. 9, 2020, further explains the disappointment Black farmers have with Vilsack’s first stint as USDA secretary. “Vilsack is not good for the agriculture industry, period. When it comes to civil rights, the rights of people, he’s not for that,” the article quotes Michael Stovall, founder of the Independent Black Farmers. “It’s very disappointing that they even want to consider him coming back after what he has done to limited-resource farmers and what he continues to do to destroy lives.”  In his first stint as secretary of agriculture, Vilsack fired Shirley Sherrod, the former head of USDA rural development in Georgia, after video clips in which she had allegedly made racist remarks were shown on the conservative website Breitbart. However, the video was carefully edited to insinuate she had made the comments. When the full videos were made public, it was clear that Sherrod’s comments were taken out of context. Vilsack and the Obama administration apologized for her dismissal.  Moreover, the Obama administration is alleged to have distorted government data that suggests Black farmer population is increasing, Wright says, citing an article on a food journalism website, The Counter. That data inflates the amount of money Black farmers received for reparations from the Pigford lawsuit, costing them land and money, Wright says.  “I would say Vilsack may have been one of the worst. He had a very low tolerance for Blacks, and he didn’t see the big picture,” Wright says. “He didn’t surround himself with the people who did. And Blacks suffered under his administration,” Wright says. Successful Farming reached out to Secretary Vilsack for comment. 

15 minutes with Michigan farmer, Carla Schultz

Carla Schultz farms just two hours north of Detroit – in the thumb of Michigan – with her husband, Paul; their four children; and Carla’s parents.  Together, they make up Eight Plates Farm, so named to indicate everyone has a place at the table. “We want to encourage connections and to start a conversation,” Schultz says. “The name brings to mind thoughts of family, good times together at the dinner table, and the reality that it all started with a farmer growing the food.” Schultz believes that table extends even beyond the home. With a strong social media presence and as a regular at markets in the suburbs of Detroit, she is able to connect with diverse audiences. “I love to listen to customers’ cultures, what they eat, and make the connection between food, home, and memories. It’s how I learn, too.” Eight Plates Farm is also diverse. The Schultzes raise corn, soybeans, wheat, edible beans, cattle, hogs, and chickens. SF: How do you raise your livestock and crops sustainably? CS: One of my favorite words is synergy. And that goes hand in hand with sustainability because sustainability to us means taking all of the individual pieces and ensuring they work well individually but, more importantly, together.  We realize there is a strong micro-organism community below the ground so most of our fields are no-till. We also implement cover crops. My husband always says, “Mother Nature never wants to be naked.” With our cattle, we practice rotational grazing. For us, that works really well. It’s a whole system where the manure that goes back into the soil feeds the microbes and the cattle then get high-quality forage all summer. SF: What has been a success for you on the farm? CS: This question hearkens back to family and our kids having a turn on the farm. Each of them has different strengths, and it’s so cool to see them involved on the farm. It teaches them accountability, especially with the animals. They have more responsibility because there is something living and breathing that needs to be tended. The second success is the launching of Eight Plates Farm, which has been a fun adventure and has provided such meaningful connections. Sometimes you don’t realize, as a farmer, that people are looking for information and products. We’ve seen that with our online presence. SF: What do you think is one of the biggest challenges in agriculture today? CS: I think the reality that we can’t do everything, but we need to be more open and engage in conversation with each other. We can’t be against each other as farmers – we need to be on the same team. For example, I will have some customers who want 100% grass-fed beef but for our operation, we are 95% grass and 5% grain because we want the marbling in the beef. I’m happy to send those customers to another farmer who can provide 100% grass-fed because that works for his farm. It doesn’t mean either of us is raising our cattle wrong. One size does not fit all. SF: What is the best advice you’ve received? CS: As you get older, you realize the importance of listening before you speak, and I mean really listening – not having your mind made up already with how you’re going to reply. Another one of my favorite sayings is, “When you fall, pick something up.” We’re all going to fall. But take a little piece of what went wrong and keep it with you. It will help you be better for the next time you fall. Years go by, and those little pieces add up to wisdom.

Grass fire burns 20,000 acres in northwest South Dakota

Smoke could be smelled for miles and the sky blazed red through the night in northwest South Dakota on Thursday, January 14. A grass fire broke out just after 4:30 p.m. in Adams County, North Dakota, just across the border from Lemmon, South Dakota. Wind speeds in Lemmon at the time were 30 to 40 mph with gusts as high as 56 mph, with low humidity around 68%. Those high wind speeds and dry conditions combined with an unusual lack of January snow cover caused the fire to quickly spread to the southeast.  “We had a high of 58°F. to 60°F. on Wednesday. It has been great all winter – like Kansas weather,” says Lemmon Fire Marshal Shane Penfield. “Ultimately it was dry and windy, and that was the perfect storm.”  Penfield says in addition to sending 40 of its own firefighters to the blaze, the Lemmon Fire Department immediately requested and received aid from nearly 20 area fire departments from as far as 100 miles away.  “When I first responded and made it out to the main anchor point, there were 20- to 25-foot flames,” he says. “It was unbelievable.” Several farms and ranches were evacuated and the fire departments set to work with structure protection measures. Other agencies and individuals offered assistance hauling water and plowing fire brakes. Around 11:00 p.m. Thursday, the south-spreading fire was stopped about 12 miles south of Lemmon when it reached the Grand River. A few hours later, a section of fire to the west reignited. As of midmorning Friday, January 15, Penfield says the fire is 50% contained and is no longer spreading. The fire, which traveled more than 20 miles and was at some points 4 miles wide, burned an estimated 20,000 acres on 19 occupied farms and ranches. Fortunately, no homes were lost, although one ranch headquarters received extensive damage. Two firefighters received non-life-threatening injuries and were taken to a nearby hospital, but no other injuries were reported. Most of the people who were evacuated have returned home. Penfield says he has not heard reports of loss of livestock at this point. Fences were cut and other measures were taken to allow livestock to escape if needed. The cause of the fire is not yet known. Penfield says the community response has been overwhelming. “People are calling and wanting to give hay to ranchers who have lost hay,” he says. “We’ve gotten so much food and so many offers, it’s unbelievable.” Photo: Josh Olson captured the photo above from his home. “To give you an idea of how large the fire is, we live 10 to 20 miles northwest of it and it spans as far as my camera could see right to left, and this was in the middle of the night,” he says. “Such a sad situation.”

USDA data shows smaller corn crops, tighter ending stocks

The U.S. is leaking corn and soybeans, as ending stocks tighten, according to the USDA. On Tuesday, the USDA released its November Supply/Demand Report. At the close, the Dec. corn futures finished 15 1/4¢ higher at $4.23. March corn futures ended 15 1/2¢ higher at $4.31.  January soybean futures closed 35 3/4¢ higher at $11.46 1/4. March soybean futures closed 35 1/2¢ higher at $11.44. Dec. wheat futures closed 11¢ higher at $6.08 1/2.  Dec. soymeal futures settled $10.70 per short ton higher at $394.80. Dec. soy oil futures closed 0.58 cent higher at 36.06¢ per pound. In the outside markets, the NYMEX crude oil market is $1.10 per barrel higher (2.73%) at $41.39. The U.S. dollar is higher, and the Dow Jones Industrials are 241 points higher (+ 0.83%) at 29,399 points. 2020/21 U.S. Ending Stocks For corn, the USDA pegged the U.S. 2020/21 ending stocks at 1.702 billion bushels vs. the trade’s estimate of 2.03 billion and the USDA’s October estimate of 2.167 billion. For soybeans, the USDA sees the U.S. 2020/21 ending stocks at 190 million bushels vs. the trade’s expectation of 235 million bushels and the USDA’s October estimate of 290 million. For wheat, the USDA pegged ending stocks at 877 million bushels vs. the trade’s estimate of 881 million and the USDA’s estimate last month of 883 million bushels. 2020/21 Crop Production In its report Tuesday, the USDA pegged the U.S. crop size at 14.50 million bushels vs. the trade’s expectation of 14.65 million bushels and the USDA’s October estimate of 14.72 million. On yield, the USDA sees the U.S. raising a corn crop at an average yield of 175.8 bushels per acre vs. the trade’s expectation of 177.7 bu./acre and the USDA’s October estimate of 178.4 bu./acre. For soybeans, the USDA sees this year’s crop totaling 4.17 billion bushels vs. the avg. trade estimate of 4.25 billion and the USDA’s October estimate of 4.26 billion. Regarding yield, the USDA sees the U.S. farmers averaging 50.7 bu./acre vs. the trade’s estimate of 51.6 bu./acre and the USDA’s October estimate of 51.9. Trade Reaction Sal Gilbertie, Teucrium Trading, says that today’s report, overall, is another market-friendly report. “Today’s WASDE makes for two reports in a row that are supportive for the grain complex, particularly for corn and soybeans. Corn and bean domestic usage is at record levels and ending inventories are headed toward lows not seen in several years. This sets the stage for an acreage fight between beans and corn, which will be determined by futures price movements,” Gilbertie says. Britt O’Connell, cash Adviser, ever.ag, says that today’s report could push soybeans to even higher price levels. “Corn and soybean bulls have found renewed reasons to push markets higher. The USDA came in today and shocked the market by lowering corn and soybean yield to 175.8 bpa and 50.7 bpa respectively,” O’Connell says.   She added, “As a natural result, ending stocks were also lowered with corn projected at 1.702 billion bushels – this is the lowest ending stocks we’ve seen in the corn market since 2014 and 2015.  That year the USDA’s average corn price for the year was published at $3.60-3.70. Soybean ending stocks projections likewise mirror those we experienced back in 2014 and 2015.” With Brazil now slightly ahead of its traditional five-year planting pace, the funds and others will be closely monitoring yield expectations, she says.   “With the cupboards bare in SA, the U.S. is the only game in town until harvest come Jan/Feb on soybeans. Traditionally, China is winding down on U.S. purchases, but it is 2020, so all things are possible,” O’Connell says.   O’Connell added, “It’s interesting that carry is starting to build back into the corn market. The soybean contracts are building some carry month to month as well and will likely play it that way for the foreseeable future.”  Jason Roose, U.S. Commodities, says that the report was no eye opener. “No surprises in today’s November WASDE crop report if you are in production agriculture. Yields and ending stocks were sharply reduced in corn and soybeans, sending soybeans to contract highs. Lowering production in soybeans and the increased exports in corn were the key elements in the drop in ending stocks. The investors’ focus will shift to South America weather in next few weeks,” Roose says. 

Barry Flinchbaugh, Ag Policy Expert, dies at 79

Barry Flinchbaugh, ag policy specialist at Kansas State University, died November 2. He was 79 years old.  A renowned agriculture policy expert, Flinchbaugh worked behind the scenes to cultivate federal farm policy from 1971 to his retirement from Extension in 2004. He was a legendary speaker, packing meeting halls to discuss agriculture policy, his trademark cigar often nestled between his thumb and forefinger when he needed emphasis. He touted fairness in public policy, imploring democrats and republlicans alike to set aside differences and work together. Finchbaugh met every president from Harry Truman to George W. Bush, he was most proud of the students he met during 49 years of teaching Agricutural Policy to KSU students. He taught more 5,000 students in all, many of whom are now leaders in agriculture policy development, trade negotiations and business. He was a tough teacher, but fair. His essay tests challenged studentst to "think," one Twitter user noted Monday. At every speaking engagement, Flinchbaugh proclaimed "this group of students is the best I ever had," assuring his audience that the future was in good hands with the students who eagerly took his class.  Kansas State University's department of agricultural economics posted this statement on Twitter: "Well-known for his contributions to U.S. ag policy, Dr. Flinchbaugh always had a great passion for teaching and his students. He will be deeply missed and leaves a hole in the AgEcon Dept that can’t be filled." On Twitter, scores of people responded to the news of Flinchbaugh's death. His former colleague at KSU, Joe Janzen (now at the University of Illinois), noted: "When I started  I had an office next to Barry Flinchbaugh. After teaching his ag policy class, he would hold court with the students who worked as his TAs. He'd give what was basically a second lecture on the political economy of US agriculture. I got to listen in." Flinchbaugh served on numerous boards of directors and advisory groups. At his urging, the Kansas Agricultural and Rural Leadership group was formed in 1989 and he served as one of its board members since the begininng.  In a statement posted to Twitter, KARL wrote: "With a heavy heart, we pass along the news that Dr. Barry Flinchbaugh passed away this morning. A fervent supporter of this program serving on the board of directors since our beginning. Our thoughts are with the Flinchbaugh family." Kansas Farm Bureau President Rich Felts issued a statement also. "We are deeply saddened by the recent loss of Dr. Barry Flinchbaugh. For more than 50 years Dr. Flinchbaugh was a voice of reason and a counselor to agriculture and the leaders of our nation. His wisdom and insight on farm policy and international trade will not be easily replaced. His quick wit and abundance of humor made even the most mundane topics interesting. Dr. Flinchbaugh’s legacy also includes teaching thousands of students about agricultural policy in his 49-year tenure at Kansas State University. Kansas Farm Bureau sends its heartfelt condolences, thoughts and prayers to Cathy and the Flinchbaugh family." Read More: Q & A With Barry L. Flinchbaugh Flinchbaugh often worked with U.S. Senator Pat Roberts (R-KS) on ag policy issues. He released a statement on Flinchbaugh's passing:  "Franki and I are deeply saddened by the news of Dr. Barry Flinchbaugh’s passing earlier today. Dr. Flinchbaugh was nothing short of a legend in his field. His expertise made him one of the most coveted and trusted advisors for agricultural policy for decades. "Dr. Flinchbaugh’s legacy as an educator and advocate will live on through his work at K-State and his lifetime of dedication to agriculture. I will not only miss his guidance, but I will also miss his friendship, wit and humor. "I have many special memories of Barry, in particular our times together on the “Pat and Dan Show,” where he moderated lively discussions between former Congressman Dan Glickman, our state agriculture groups and myself." Ironically, Roberts retires from the U.S. Senate in 2020, his successor to be determined in the November 3 election. Successful Farming caught up with Flinchbaugh four years ago, prior to the presidential election that ended with a Donald J Trump victory. In our interview, he lamented the discourse that has become politics as usual: "This Make America Great Again line is not based on fact; it is a political slogan. I believe this country is still the greatest country in the world." A native of Pennsylvania Dutch country, Flinchbaugh earned his PhD in agricultural economics at Purdue University, studying under future ag secretary Earl Butz. He was hired as an Extension agricultural economist at KSU in 1974, where he was charged with developing a state tax plan that was more equitable to landholders. His plan for a mix of sales, property and income tax remains in place today.   

Commodity Classic 2021 goes digital

Commodity Classic has announced it will transition its annual conference and trade show, originally scheduled for March 4-6, 2021, in San Antonio, Texas, to an alternative digital format. The change was necessary due to restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic. The new format is expected to be offered the first week in March 2021. “This is about doing the right thing for our farmers, exhibitors, stakeholders, and the broader community in terms of health and safety — which is our top priority,” said Anthony Bush, an Ohio corn farmer and co-chair of the 2021 Commodity Classic representing the National Corn Growers Association.  “After careful deliberation among our farmer-leaders and industry partners, the COVID-19 restrictions would prevent us from delivering the type of high-quality experience Commodity Classic attendees and exhibitors have come to expect and enjoy for the past 25 years.” According to Brad Doyle, an Arkansas soybean farmer and co-chair of the 2021 Commodity Classic representing the American Soybean Association, directed health measures due to the evolving COVID-19 pandemic such as social distancing guidelines would prevent Commodity Classic from conducting the trade show, educational sessions, and farmer networking – each of which is a hallmark of Commodity Classic.   “Farmers and agribusiness companies rate Commodity Classic highly because of its unique energy, excitement, and one-on-one engagement with agribusiness companies and fellow farmers,” he said. “The health and safety restrictions required will simply not allow us to provide a productive in-person event that is in keeping with our 25 years as the nation’s best farmer-led, farmer-focused ag experience.” The transition of the 2021 Commodity Classic offers an attractive opportunity for farmers who have never attended Commodity Classic, Doyle added. “Now farmers from across the nation and even around the world can get a taste of the Commodity Classic experience without ever leaving their farms,” he said. Jerry Johnson, ag sector chair of the Association of Equipment Manufacturers said, “Agribusiness companies put Commodity Classic at the top of the list when it comes to opportunities to engage with farmers from across the nation. However, our concern for the health and safety of our customers and our employees takes precedence, so all of us in agribusiness will work with the farmer-leaders at Commodity Classic to find innovative ways to connect in 2021.” Commodity Classic is now redirecting its efforts to developing alternative methods of connecting farmers and agricultural stakeholders.  “We realize the total Commodity Classic experience cannot be completely replicated online. Yet, a key benefit of Commodity Classic is the educational sessions and presentations from agricultural thought leaders, which are even more important in today’s challenging environment,” said Bush. “We are already exploring ways in which we can deliver high-quality content in unique ways that allow farmers to get the information they seek from the experts they trust.”     The transition to an alternative experience is already underway. More information on the transition will be available in the coming weeks. To keep up to date, sign up for email updates at CommodityClassic.com. More information on the 2021 Commodity Classic will also be available on the website. The 2022 Commodity Classic will be held in New Orleans March 10-12, 2022. “Like everyone else in agriculture, we are really looking forward to reconnecting with everyone face-to-face,” Doyle added. “We urge everyone to get these dates on their calendar and plan to join us in person in New Orleans in 2022.” Established in 1996, Commodity Classic is America’s largest farmer-led, farmer-focused educational and agricultural experience. Commodity Classic is presented annually by the American Soybean Association, National Corn Growers Association, National Association of Wheat Growers, National Sorghum Producers, and the Association of Equipment Manufacturers.

15 minutes with Wisconsin farmer, Doug Rebout

In south-central Wisconsin, Doug Rebout farms 4,000 acres with his brothers, Dan and David. The Rebouts grow corn, soybeans, winter wheat, and alfalfa. They raise Holstein and cross-bred steers and custom-raise heifers for neighbors, yet they sold their dairy cattle this year. It’s not only on the farm where Rebout puts in hard work and expresses his dedication to agriculture. Healso spends hours in boardrooms (now gone virtual) as a member of government task forces. His goal is to ensure farmers’ voices are heard in the development of policy and accessibility of resources. SF: How did you come to the decision to sell your dairy cows? DR: One of the main reasons was we were just tired of milking cows. We had a hired man for the past nine years who took a job somewhere else; we either had to find someone to hire who wouldn’t mind the long hours or sell the cows. Help is hard to find, and no one on our farm really had that love of cows like my father, Roger, did when he was in charge. Instead of trying to hire someone new, we asked ourselves why we should even continue doing something we didn’t love. We love working with animals and still have our barns full, but we love the crop work even more. SF: How are you walking the walk of soil health? DR: We plant soybeans all no-till and at 7.5-inch spacing. We use no-till drills in wheat, and we’ve been strip-tilling our corn for over 20 years. When we first started strip-tilling, no one in the area knew anything about it, but it’s gradually getting more popular. I’ve always said that just because it works on our farm doesn’t mean that’s what everyone should do because every farm is a little different. However, we want to be a good example to others, to share what we’re doing and why. It goes both ways. We learn a lot from other farmers and hopefully they learn from us. SF: What do you think will change about farming in the next  five to 10 years? DR: I think farmers are going to become more efficient because of technology in both equipment and seed. It seems like a lot of new technology in the past was more useful for the bigger farms, but it’s working its way down to even the smallest farms. I see farmers reducing their inputs, especially here in Wisconsin, where we deal with groundwater issues. I also think we’ll see a lot more farmers implementing practices to deal with the impacts of climate change.  SF: What organizations do you advise when you’re not working on the farm? DR: I was recently appointed to the Wisconsin Department of Ag Trade and Consumer Protection and the Governor’s Task Force on Climate Change. We have three subcommittees that look at everything climate-related, from environments like inner cities to farmland. I’m part of the land subcommittee, and we help evaluate different practices like cover crops, no-till, and minimum-till. Then we try to figure out how to promote those on Wisconsin farms. SF: Why do you spend your time on task forces and committees? DR: Specifically in the climate change task force, the legislature is looking into policies that will encourage farmers to do better for the environment. A couple of other farmers and I advise and give feedback on how to educate or create incentives because it isn’t easy for farmers to make big changes, especially if it will cost money and mean changing equipment. I’m always eager to get involved and spend time with elected officials who are getting policies to work for all stakeholders. What legislators are doing at their levels impacts what we’re doing on the farm, so why not have a voice in it? I really enjoy it and just like how, in the way I didn’t have a passion for the dairy cows on our farm, I do have a passion for doing this, and that drives me.

15 minutes with Wisconsin farmer, Doug Rebout

In south-central Wisconsin, Doug Rebout farms 4,000 acres with his brothers, Dan and David. The Rebouts grow corn, soybeans, winter wheat, and alfalfa. They raise Holstein and cross-bred steers and custom-raise heifers for neighbors, yet they sold their dairy cattle this year. It’s not only on the farm where Rebout puts in hard work and expresses his dedication to agriculture. Healso spends hours in boardrooms (now gone virtual) as a member of government task forces. His goal is to ensure farmers’ voices are heard in the development of policy and accessibility of resources. SF: How did you come to the decision to sell your dairy cows? DR: One of the main reasons was we were just tired of milking cows. We had a hired man for the past nine years who took a job somewhere else; we either had to find someone to hire who wouldn’t mind the long hours or sell the cows. Help is hard to find, and no one on our farm really had that love of cows like my father, Roger, did when he was in charge. Instead of trying to hire someone new, we asked ourselves why we should even continue doing something we didn’t love. We love working with animals and still have our barns full, but we love the crop work even more. SF: How are you walking the walk of soil health? DR: We plant soybeans all no-till and at 7.5-inch spacing. We use no-till drills in wheat, and we’ve been strip-tilling our corn for over 20 years. When we first started strip-tilling, no one in the area knew anything about it, but it’s gradually getting more popular. I’ve always said that just because it works on our farm doesn’t mean that’s what everyone should do because every farm is a little different. However, we want to be a good example to others, to share what we’re doing and why. It goes both ways. We learn a lot from other farmers and hopefully they learn from us. SF: What do you think will change about farming in the next  five to 10 years? DR: I think farmers are going to become more efficient because of technology in both equipment and seed. It seems like a lot of new technology in the past was more useful for the bigger farms, but it’s working its way down to even the smallest farms. I see farmers reducing their inputs, especially here in Wisconsin, where we deal with groundwater issues. I also think we’ll see a lot more farmers implementing practices to deal with the impacts of climate change.  SF: What organizations do you advise when you’re not working on the farm? DR: I was recently appointed to the Wisconsin Department of Ag Trade and Consumer Protection and the Governor’s Task Force on Climate Change. We have three subcommittees that look at everything climate-related, from environments like inner cities to farmland. I’m part of the land subcommittee, and we help evaluate different practices like cover crops, no-till, and minimum-till. Then we try to figure out how to promote those on Wisconsin farms. SF: Why do you spend your time on task forces and committees? DR: Specifically in the climate change task force, the legislature is looking into policies that will encourage farmers to do better for the environment. A couple of other farmers and I advise and give feedback on how to educate or create incentives because it isn’t easy for farmers to make big changes, especially if it will cost money and mean changing equipment. I’m always eager to get involved and spend time with elected officials who are getting policies to work for all stakeholders. What legislators are doing at their levels impacts what we’re doing on the farm, so why not have a voice in it? I really enjoy it and just like how, in the way I didn’t have a passion for the dairy cows on our farm, I do have a passion for doing this, and that drives me.

USDA distributes $4.1 million for Urban Ag and Innovations

The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced the selection of recipients for about $4.1 million in grants and cooperative agreements through its new Office of Urban Agriculture and Innovative Production. These are the first-ever recipients of these grants and cooperative agreements. “As the People’s Department, USDA supports and strengthens all types of agriculture, including the work being done by urban farmers and community gardeners,” Undersecretary for Farm Production and Conservation Bill Northey, says. “I look forward to seeing the innovations in urban, indoor, and other emerging agricultural practices that result from the agreements, including in community composting and food waste reduction.” Undersecretary for Marketing and Regulatory Programs Greg Ibach says, “The 578 applicants showcase the breadth of creativity in urban agriculture projects from nonprofits, tribal and local governments, and schools across the United States. We are excited to be a part of helping the selected projects improve their communities and support local agriculture and businesses.” Urban Agriculture and Innovative Production Competitive Grants The Urban Agriculture and Innovative Production (UAIP) Competitive Grants Program supports a wide range of activities through two grant types, which are Planning Projects and Implementation Projects. Activities include operating community gardens and nonprofit farms, increasing food production and access in economically distressed communities, providing job training and education, and developing business plans and zoning. Priority was given to projects located in or targeting an Opportunity Zone, which is a census tract designation for low-income communities. USDA is awarding approximately $1.14 million for three Planning Projects and approximately $1.88 million for seven Implementation Projects. Planning Project recipients: Center for Land Based Learning, California City of New Haven, Connecticut Feast Down East, North Carolina Implementation Project recipients: Arkansas Interfaith Power and Light, Arkansas Association of Africans Living in Vermont, Vermont Common Ground Producers and Growers, Kansas Famicos Foundation, Ohio The Greenleaf Foundation, Georgia NY Sun Works, New York Parkside Business & Community in Partnership, New Jersey Community Compost and Food Waste Reduction Projects Through Community Compost and Food Waste Reduction (CCFWR) Projects, USDA is investing approximately $1.09 million in 13 pilot projects that develop and test strategies for planning and implementing municipal compost plans and food waste reduction. Priority was given to projects that anticipate or demonstrate economic benefits, incorporate plans to make compost easily accessible to farmers, including community gardeners, integrate other food waste strategies, including food recovery efforts, and collaborate with multiple partners. Community Compost and Food Waste Reduction Project recipients: Municipality of Anchorage, Alaska City of Fayetteville, Arkansas City of Prescott, Arizona Boulder County, Colorado City of New Haven, Connecticut City of Gainesville, Florida Lake County, Illinois Douglas County, Kansas City of Paterson, New Jersey City of New York, New York Henderson County, North Carolina City of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Prince William County, Virginia More Information The Office of Urban Agriculture and Innovative Production was established through the 2018 Farm Bill. It is led by USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service and works in partnership with numerous USDA agencies that support urban agriculture. Its mission is to encourage and promote urban, indoor, and other emerging agricultural practices, including community composting and food waste reduction.