Ag Sustainability Goes Long – From Field-Scale to Nation-Wide

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Ag Resource Strategies, LLC offers ‘Farm Portfolio’ approach to simplify conservation complexity

EcoCommerce 101

The farm 'sustainability' portfolio becomes an economic platform for government and corporate shared value.

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City dwellers as well as farmers need bottom-line returns from over $4 billion invested in federal conservation programs every year. A new “Farm Portfolio” approach shows that the U.S. economy, human health and the environment can benefit in measurable ways from coordinating conservation at all levels.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) highlighted the new six-step approach to focusing conservation programs in a first-of-its-kind Farm Portfolio webinar on Conservation Practices: Farm Fix-it to Farm Portfolio.

Since the 1930s, USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has relied on the 9-step conservation plan and its local and state partners to meet with landowners and install conservation practices like field terraces and streambank filter strips. While farm bill conservation programs remain an important component of the new farm portfolio approach, the priority shifts to national-scale environmental outcomes and using resource-driven, data-based professional expertise.

Tim Gieseke, president of Ag Resource Strategies, fourth-generation farmer and author, presented the farm portfolio based on concepts from his book, EcoCommerce 101 and three case studies. In the webinar, Gieseke described the complex nature of farm and natural resource management and how using verified land management data simplifies the assessment, planning and accounting for conservation benefits.

“In the last decade our nation’s conservation focus has shifted from on-farm needs to off-farm impacts. This seemingly simple shift has added a lot of complications for farmers, agricultural professionals and the traditional conservation delivery system,” Gieseke said. He explained that the farm portfolio model shifts conservation toward management and outcomes – goals which farmers are familiar with and which agricultural professionals can support.

“We’re seeing a proliferation of sustainability demands from corporations, governments and society as a whole and farmers are certainly in the best position to supply our nation’s needs from a commodity and environmental perspective. But these often conflicting demands are so unorganized that it’s just downright frustrating for farmers,” Gieseke said.

Gieseke, who farms in the environmentally sensitive Minnesota River watershed, pointed out that the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) launched a water quality standard process for the Minnesota River a decade ago. At that time he asked the MPCA staff how he could meet the new water quality goals. The reply was “Do more BMPs” (Best Management Practices, like no-till farming). He never got an answer when he asked, “How many BMPs and when can I stop?”

Gieseke explains that a professionally developed farm portfolio provides the answers he was asking for. He now knows how many BMPs he needs and the environmental benefits they deliver such as reducing soil loss and nutrient runoff. This data is also scalable for major watershed efforts such as the Mississippi River Basin and the Chesapeake Bay. It is also applicable for corporate sustainability supply chain efforts such as the Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture’s Field to Market® and could become a component of sustainable biofuels standards. The farm 'sustainability' portfolio can act as the platform for government and corporate shared value.

“Agriculture as a whole has been leery or even afraid of the environmental movement,” Gieseke says, “and I can appreciate that. But I see that it is now time for farmers to take more control of their future and the farm portfolio approach makes that possible.”

The recording of USDA’s Nov. 21 “Farm Portfolio” webinar is now available.

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