A collage of the sun rising over a crop field with the text "Boots in the Dirt: RIPE on the Ground in WI June 2024" overlain on top.

Boots in the Dirt: RIPE on the Ground in WI June 2024

Farm Trips & Field to Market June Plenary and General Assembly

Earlier this month, RIPE Executive Director Trey Cooke spent a few days in Wisconsin with Field to Market. This trip included a general assembly session with Field to Market, a farm tour of Frost Farms in Waterford, WI, discussions about sustainability in agriculture, and more. Opportunities like this – to meet with producers and experience firsthand the solutions to sustainability problems in agriculture – are vital in advancing RIPE’s mission.

As a member of Field to Market: The Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture, RIPE had the pleasure of participating in the June Plenary & General Assembly Meeting in Milwaukee, WI recently. According to Field to Market, the organization brings together a diverse group of grower organizations, agribusinesses, food, beverage, apparel, restaurant and retail companies, conservation groups, universities, and public sector partners to define, measure and advance the sustainability of food, feed, fiber and fuel production in the United States. More specifically, and relevant to RIPE’s mission, Field to Market and its members are committed to supporting resilient ecosystems and farmer economic vitality as fundamental components of agricultural sustainability.

Field to Market has grown tremendously in recent years,  becoming a primary center for collaboration in the sustainable ag space and boasting 146 member and affiliate projects. A vast majority of these projects are delivering innovative approaches to scale voluntary conservation adoption through incentives, emerging ecosystem service markets, and innovative financing opportunities for farmers and ranchers across the United States that would not exist otherwise.

RIPE’s work focuses on enabling producers to earn a fair return for implementing voluntary conservation practices in order to scale sustainable and regenerative agricultural production systems. Our work is informed by a coalition of farmers, ranchers, producer groups and commodity groups to ensure that our priorities are timely, relevant and impactful for producers across the country, producing all types of commodities at all levels. In fact, we just welcomed a new member to our Steering Committee… check out our recent Press Release for more details.

Field to Market Members, along with RIPE, represent all links in the agricultural supply chain, including a Grower Sector that is represented by producer and commodity groups from across the country.  As a farmer and rancher first organization, this is a key point of interest to RIPE as strong grower leaders must be actively involved in Field to Market to best represent the interest of their peers across the country, especially in the context of Field to Market’s efforts to establish standards and metrics for sustainability and ecosystem benefits.

Fortunately, growers do have strong representation at Field to Market in the Grower Sector and include three RIPE Steering Committee Members: the National Black Growers Council, Illinois Corn Growers Association, and Minnesota Farmers Union. Additionally, producer interests are well represented on the Field to Market Board of Directors including Nebraska corn producer and RIPE Steering Committee Chairman Brandon Hunnicutt, Arkansas rice producer and leader of Arkansas Rice Federation (also a RIPE Steering Committee Member) Mark Isbell, and American Farm Bureau Federation Chief Economist, Roger Cryan.

Cooke recounts one of the highlights of the General Session to be hearing from a panel of producers. Key messages from the producer panel share similarities with some previous discussions held in RIPE coalition member meetings, and are critical for the upstream members of the agricultural supply chain to hear.  Some of these messages included the need for the industry to be cautious in their data demands of producers.  There was a clear recognition that data collection and reporting is critical to track and document sustainability behind the farm gate.  However, the producer panel urged that the established and emerging processes be reasonable and appropriate in terms of the producer’s investment in time to document and report without compensation for their time or a premium on their commodities.

Another key takeaway from the producer panel was a message that RIPE has long embraced: the industry must better understand the producer.  It was suggested that farmers are not the first link in the ag supply chain, but rather the central link.  The farmer’s family, the families of workers on the farm, the community in which the farm families live and do business are all links in the ag supply chain too, giving emphasis to the point that rural economies and communities depend on the success of individual producers as much as the upstream value chain.  This point is foundational to the very existence of RIPE as it is reflected in our name, the Rural Investment to Protect our Environment.

The Field to Market team, with support from Edge Dairy Farmer CooperativeHouston Engineering, and Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin, provided another significant opportunity for members attending to engage with producers at Frost Farms in Waterford, Wisconsin.  Brothers Stewart and Spencer Frost walked the Field to Market group through their operation, originally founded in 1836, highlighting the efforts they have made to transition towards more sustainable approaches to milk and grain production. A continuous Q&A was held as the group walked throughout the dairy facility and in adjacent fields used for grain and silage production.

 

The brothers shared with the group their use of cover crops and manure from the dairy to improve fertility on their row crop farm. However, they did make the point to say that all conservation practices do not necessarily work on all farms.  They discussed how they had worked diligently to move towards no-till in their row crop operation, but were unable to be successful as yields dropped enough to compromise their profitability.  While they admitted that some of their friends in other parts of the state had made no-till work, they (and their consulting agronomist) believed their unique soils and micro-climate driven by Lake Michigan were creating some complicating conditions.  Regardless, it was abundantly clear that the Frost brothers are outstanding environmental stewards, actively using key sustainable and climate smart agricultural practices, and thoroughly succeeding.

RIPE’s time at the Field to Market meeting and at Frost Farms helped to further validate our approach to scaling conservation.  Producers and communities benefit in a system that aligns economic incentives with voluntary practices that enhances our soil, water and climate.  In order to fully realize these benefits, producers must have adequate and fair assurances that their voluntary environmental stewardship efforts will provide a return on investment, which is where RIPE comes in.

This is the first of many trips we have planned for the summer – be sure to subscribe to our newsletter and follow us on social media to stay informed! We’d love to hear your story too – contact us today to get started, and subscribe to our newsletter to stay up-to-date on initiatives like this.

ICYMI: RIPE ON THE GROUND IN WASHINGTON, DC MAY 2024

A collage of Washington DC Tidal basin, line drawing of Capitol Hill, and postcard image of RIPE's Trey Cooke and Reece Langley. This is the cover image for RIPE's blog "Boots in the Dirt: RIPE On the Ground in DC."

Boots in the Dirt: RIPE On the Ground in DC Spring 2024

Bipartisan conversations to advance Farm Bill and RIPE’s mission

Welcome to RIPE’s new blog series “Boots in the Dirt” – a recurring collection of stories and details about our on-the-ground work engaging with producers, policymakers, and other people of interest in the regenerative agriculture space. As we look toward the summer, we have several in-person meetings and events planned. Simultaneously, policymakers are actively working to develop an updated Farm Bill as the upcoming presidential election draws ever nearer. Given this whirlwind of anticipation, progress, and opportunity,  we figure there’s no better time or place to share updates with you about the work we are doing to improve agricultural policy that will benefit producers all over the country with operations of all sizes. For additional information and updates from RIPE conveniently delivered straight to your inbox, sign up for our monthly email newsletter The Conservation Chronicle over on our Subscribe page.

For this installment of Boots in the Dirt, we’re recapping our recent trip to Washington, DC earlier this spring. In an effort to better engage with producers so we can translate their needs into priorities for policymakers, this is just the beginning of a year littered with similar events. Part of RIPE’s work includes advancing ag policy and part of it includes listening to the stories of producers to ensure said policy is truly comprehensive and beneficial – this trip allowed us to do both!

As April turned to May, our Executive Director Trey Cooke was on-the-ground in our nation’s capital for a week full of conversations with policymakers and with RIPE members alike. RIPE’s work is driven by the wants and needs of producers first and foremost, and these conversations are crucial to ensure our work is timely, relevant and equitable. Our priorities are informed by several working coalitions of farmers, ranchers, producer groups and commodity groups nationwide (read more about our IDEA Committee, Steering Committee and Farmer Advisory Network). During this visit to Washington DC, Cooke had the fortune of meeting with some members of the RIPE Steering Committee, members of the House and Senate representing both major political parties, and prospective members of the RIPE coalition.

The action-packed week started with a meeting with Rod Snyder, Senior Advisor for Agriculture at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and former President of Field to Market. RIPE discussed the interests of its producer-led coalition to receive fair compensation for voluntary conservation efforts. These conservation efforts are justified and supported by the stacked ecosystem service values that are provided to the public. This conversation between RIPE and Snyder included RIPE’s research on stacked environmental benefits, which Snyder felt is a significant piece of work that could further bolster the EPA’s interest in addressing water quality issues associated with agriculture and nonpoint source pollution. Additionally, RIPE’s research could help advance the EPA’s interest in voluntary climate-smart mitigation activities.

What is the stacked ecosystem service value? RIPE proposes paying farmers in alignment with the stacked ecosystem service value of stewardship practices whose minimum is $100 per acre or animal unit. Farmers would be paid not just for their carbon, but also for the water quality, air quality, biodiversity and other ecosystem services they provide. As illustrated in the chart below, the value to the environment and society from one acre that is sustainably farmed is significant.

Important preservation practices identified by RIPE, the USDA and additional researchers can address a number of environmental challenges including climate, water quality and supply, air quality and more. While the EPA indeed has significant regulatory authority, it is also interested in facilitating efforts to address environmental challenges through a voluntary approach, especially in the agricultural sector.

Additionally in the policy space, RIPE met with the Democrat and Republican House Ag Committee Staff and received a briefing on the status of the Farm Bill. Committee staff from both parties indicated that Chairman G.T. Thompson and Ranking Member David Scott were working hard to finalize a bill this summer, and have made significant strides to achieve alignment on some of the key issues. Both parties also detailed notable progress made on the Conservation Title which include several key RIPE Coalition priorities. RIPE’s approach includes bipartisan support for policy that benefits producers of all products with operations of all sizes – read our Principles & Practices to scale voluntary agricultural conservation to learn more.

That same day, the House and Senate majorities released their framework for the Farm Bill. Over the coming weeks, the Committees will be working toward to advance a bill through their respective Committee, with the House Agriculture Committee scheduled to hold a markup on May 23. RIPE rounded out the policy portion of the week with a number of meetings with member offices working on conservation issues in alignment with RIPE Coalition priorities, including:

  • Rep. Don Bacon (R-NE)
  • Rep. Mike Bost (R-IL)
  • Rep. Rick Crawford (R-AR)
  • Rep. Angie Craig (D-MN)

Another noteworthy meeting included conferring with former RIPE Executive Director Aliza Wasserman. Wasserman contributed significantly to building RIPE’s foundations and currently serves as USDA Senior Advisor on Energy for Rural Utilities Service. During this meeting, Wasserman provided a briefing on the current movement to advance renewable energy strategies across rural America within key agricultural regions. This is supported in RIPE’s proposal. Moreover, Cooke met with National Farmers Union staff to discuss conservation priority alignment and provide a briefing on joint efforts of RIPE Steering Committee members Minnesota and North Dakota Farmers Union. Our producer-led steering committee advises on producer engagement, contributes to policy design and makes recommendations on other opportunities that support RIPE’s mission. It is made up of a diverse group of state, regional, and national trade associations and producer groups; the MN Farmers Union and ND Farmers Union represent 2/10 of the committee.

Speaking of RIPE’s Steering Committee, Cooke had the opportunity to meet with Steering Committee member Dr. Loston Rowe, Interim Executive Director of the National Black Growers Council (NBGC).  The NBGC is a collective of multigenerational producers who advocate for the best interests of Black farmers locally, statewide and nationally, and whose mission is to improve the efficiency, productivity and sustainability of Black row crop farmers. Discussions were had about the partnership between the organizations, as well as implementation of the several USDA Climate-Smart Commodity Grants of keen interest to both parties.

Finally, Cooke attended the Ducks Unlimited Capitol Hill banquet and was afforded the chance to connect with many NGO and agricultural industry partners working on conservation initiatives that benefit producers across the country. Throughout the evening, Cooke conversed with Government Affairs staff of Corteva Agriscience, Agricultural Retailers Association, USA Rice Federation, Pheasants Forever, the Nature Conservancy, and Ducks Unlimited about Farm Bill priority alignment. Cooke also participated in a  Congressional Reception hosted by the USA Rice Federation. As mentioned above, conversations like these are critical in informing RIPE’s priorities and ensuring our mission is comprehensive and suitable for all producers.

RIPE’s Spring 2024 visit to Washington DC was full of purpose and powerful conversations. As the summer draws near, we look forward to visiting several locations around the country and connecting with current and prospective coalition members with operations of varying size. During these trips, we look forward to hearing the stories of these operations and the hardworking people and history behind them.

RIPE’s mission reflects our desire to unify both sides of the political aisle and pass legislation that is relevant and equitable for operations of all sizes. We believe that farmers and ranchers who voluntarily implement conservation practices in their operations should be fairly compensated based on the public benefit of the services provided by such practices. The RIPE Proposal clearly identifies the environmental benefits and carbon value provided by various conservation practices. By outlining these various practices, we can justify equitable payments, particularly when a producer implements several of them simultaneously. By having conversations with producers and policymakers akin to those had on this DC visit, we can justify the RIPE proposal and its economical benefits for producers as well as its environmental benefits for the planet.

 We’d love to connect with you and hear your story too. Contact us via email or by engaging with us on social media (Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter/X). Be sure to subscribe to The Conservation Chronicle to stay up-to-speed on RIPE’s work, current affairs, regenerative agriculture developments and more.