From environmental benefits to bottom-line profitability, it’s tough to underestimate the importance of soil health.
“Soil is the foundation of agriculture and core to a farm’s productivity and profitability,” says Jason Weller, senior director of sustainability for Land O’Lakes SUSTAIN. “By managing soil as a productive -- and living -- asset, farmers don’t just improve the environment, they also ensure the long-term business health of their operation. Our role is to assist in amplifying those results by thinking outside the box and helping farmers to scale soil stewardship in new, impactful ways.”
In recent months, Land O’Lakes SUSTAIN has taken steps to deliver tools that will help scale services to farmers and assist them in better managing the physical, chemical, and biological properties of their soils.
Healthy soil, healthy environment, healthy balance sheet
From an environmental perspective, proactive soil health management creates benefits that go well beyond the edges of the farm field.
Practices like the use of cover crops and reduced tillage systems improve numerous properties of the soil. Healthy soil is less prone to erosion and nutrient losses, allowing farmers to keep soil in their fields and optimize their nutrient use, thereby safeguarding water quality. Healthy soils allow for better water infiltration and soil moisture retention, turning farm fields into water storage reservoirs to better support plant growth during hot summer months. And maintaining soil health helps increase organic matter and soil carbon that are vital for plant vigor and productivity, while also reducing or even sequestering greenhouse gases.
But it’s also a question of economic sustainability.
As a farmer-owned cooperative, Land O’Lakes approaches soil health as a critical element of business success for growers. If soil deteriorates over time, or if soil is lost to erosion, farmers simply can’t be successful in the long term. It’s a simple, bottom-line question.
“We have to start with the farm and have a close look at the on-farm economics of soil health, because every farm, every field and every acre has unique needs,” says Matt Carstens, senior vice president of Land O’Lakes SUSTAIN. “Soil conservation deserves the same careful planning by the farmer as any other key business investment. We’re well positioned to provide that service thanks to our model -- with WinField United employees and agricultural retailers who can tailor soil conservation to the farm and field level in a way that strengthens farm economics.”
With careful planning and a targeted approach, farmers can maximize the environmental benefits of soil conservation, while setting their businesses up for productivity and success well into the future.
It also helps to have some “outside the box” thinking -- and that’s where Land O’Lakes SUSTAIN has stepped in, providing new avenues for precision conservation.
New investments and collaborations on soil health
As our network of agricultural retailers and farmers grows across North America, Land O’Lakes SUSTAIN is collaborating with other leaders in soil conservation to be able to provide the best tools and services for farmers.
Last month, Land O’Lakes SUSTAIN acquired Agren, a software company that will help farmers customize conservation practices to every farm and every acre, helping them grow their business while safeguarding the soil. Our SoilVantage suite of software tools gives farmers a new way to visualize and model the impact of various conservation practices -- a key opportunity to build soil health at every corner of a farm while keeping economics top of mind. “By helping farmers understand where and to what extent they are losing their most valuable asset -- their topsoil -- to erosion, and then providing field-customized options to tackle that erosion risk, retailers and farmers can maximize both economic and natural resource benefits,” says Weller. “SoilVantage is an example of how technology can help farmers protect and maintain the health of their soils.”
By growing our network of agricultural retailers across North America and working hand-in-glove with WinField United experts, we’re greatly expanding our ability to deliver stewardship solutions to the farm gate. In our first two years, Land O’Lakes SUSTAIN has developed an innovative model that brings together agricultural technology and on-farm business management, supporting a thriving network of 30 agricultural retailers with 500 locations in the U.S. and Canada. We’re focused on helping to tailor soil conservation field-by-field -- all aided by the new technical capability provided through Land O’Lakes SUSTAIN and tools like SoilVantage.
We’re finding new ways to deliver technology to the farm field that makes a difference on soil health. By working together with Environmental Tillage Systems (ETS), we’re making it easier for farmers to put precision soil conservation into practice and making it economical for both the farmer, manufacturer and ag retailer. Developed by ETS and promoted alongside Land O’Lakes SUSTAIN, SoilWarrior® is a complete precision zone tillage system custom built for each farm and delivered to each farmer ready to get in the field. SoilWarrior tailors tillage systems to protect soil health and minimize erosion, with precision technology built in to place the right amount of nutrients in the soil.
We’re excited about new, additional collaboration coming this fall on key soil health priorities -- from working with industry experts on cover crop management, to providing growers with new opportunities to harness microbials and replenish the soil. We’re looking forward to highlighting our work on soil health in the months to come. The exciting results we’ve achieved so far are just the beginning!
A commitment to soil health is central to our work at Land O’Lakes SUSTAIN. With expert insights and expanded technical capacity, we’re supporting a growing North American network of leading agricultural retailers to enhance conservation. Together, we’ll continue to provide and scale innovative new conservation opportunities to farmers that benefit soil health –- and strengthen agriculture for the future.