Policymakers in Washington and across the nation continue to increase their focus on how the agriculture sector is safeguarding the air, land and water, and responding to climate change -- with multiple hearings on these topics scheduled early this year in both the U.S. House and U.S. Senate.
This week, a U.S. House hearing highlighted sustainability with a focus on how farmers can seize economic opportunity through agricultural stewardship. It was a perfect fit for Jason Weller, senior director of Land O’Lakes SUSTAIN and a former Chief of USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, to join the discussion and showcase examples of how Land O’Lakes and our members are leading the way on innovative stewardship solutions.
At the hearing of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, leaders of the Subcommittee discussed the importance of sustainability in agriculture and the role farmers play.
“Our farmers, consumers and industry are more conscious than ever about how their actions will impact air quality, water quality, soil health and animal life,” said Rep. Sanford Bishop (GA), Chairman of the Subcommittee. “Consumers want to know where their food comes from and they are increasingly drawn to products that are produced in a sustainable manner. Agriculture is a leader when it comes to sustainability and conservation, and it deserves public recognition for what it has done and what it is doing in this area.”
“Conservation is development. Sustainability is good business. And stewardship is a noble value,” said Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (NE), Ranking Member on the Subcommittee. “And what we have in our society, what we have in our economy, what we have in our agricultural policies is an alignment of these three variables: That sustainability can be good business when thoughtfully developed in harmony with other needed outcomes of the economy, that the value of stewardship is something that unites and does not divide, and that all of this can actually be a new way to think of the term ‘development.’”
Weller was one of three witnesses to present testimony. He focused on Land O’Lakes SUSTAIN’s work to help farmers and their agricultural retailer advisors focus on both natural resource stewardship and profit potential. He also emphasized how Land O’Lakes members are helping drive new ideas and innovation on sustainability.
“Every day, farmers, ranchers and private forest owners make stewardship decisions that impact over 1.4 billion acres of non-Federal rural lands,” he said in testimony to the Committee. “If we care about the long-term ability of working rural lands to continue to feed, clothe, and fuel the world while also ensuring a resilient environment that provides us high-quality and abundant natural resources, then it is in all of our interest to find innovative approaches.”
Weller’s testimony outlined for Members of Congress several examples showcasing how Land O’Lakes SUSTAIN, and Land O’Lakes members, are delivering new stewardship solutions, including:
Development of the Truterra Insights Engine, a first-of-its-kind, interactive on-farm stewardship digital platform to help farmers advance their goals for stewardship and financial return-on-investment, in real-time, acre-by-acre.
A collaboration with California Bioenergy (CalBio) to support the financing, installation and management of on-farm methane digesters to generate renewable compressed natural gas (“R-CNG”) fuel in California – creating a farmer-led model for “barn to biogas.”
A new effort alongside Campbell Soup Company, Environmental Defense Fund and local ag retailer The Mill supporting sustainable agriculture on farms in the Chesapeake Bay region using the Truterra Insights Engine – with a focus on benchmarking sustainability for wheat that ultimately ends up in Pepperidge Farm Goldfish Crackers.
Weller noted Land O’Lakes SUSTAIN is leveraging its strength as a farmer-owned cooperative, while contributing solutions alongside many leaders spanning the public, private and nonprofit sectors.
“We’re uniquely positioned to lead the way on this work as a ‘farmer-to-fork’ cooperative that spans the value chain. Our network of member-owner ag retailers and local co-ops, who serve as farmers’ trusted advisors, are especially critical to our delivery of new stewardship solutions, technology and innovation to the farm gate,” he said.
“No one entity or sector has all the answers and capabilities to accomplish alone what is needed, not the public sector nor the private sector. But because of surging innovation and growing consumer interest in sustainability, I am more excited and optimistic about our future and path forward than I have ever been in my career.”