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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.

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