A new cost-share initiative offers up to $25 per acre plus discounts on Soil First brand cover crop seed by La Crosse Seed to Iowa soybean growers willing to establish or expand cover crop acreage and sign onto the Unilever/ADM Sustainable Soy Continuous Improvement Program. The program is paving the way for a supply chain that will ultimately allow Archer Daniels Midland Company (ADM) to supply sustainably produced soybean oil to Unilever for Hellmann’s and Best Foods mayonnaise.

“This cover crop cost-share program is a great opportunity for farmers,” notes Maree Deventer, soy sustainability program coordinator for ADM in Des Moines. “It will help provide financial assistance to farmers to see the benefits and learn first-hand how cover crops work on their farm. Participants will have access to special field days and one-on-one advice from other successful farmers and be able to use the Field to Market Fieldprint Calculator to compare data from their operations to sustainability indicators from farms around the country.

“They’ll also be at the cutting edge of a new supply chain, through which buyers like Unilever will increasingly be seeking out products from certified sustainably grown soybeans,” Deventer adds.

Unilever’s senior manager, external affairs and sustainability, Stefani Millie Grant, notes that her company aims to source certified sustainably produced soybeans from 1 million acres by the end of 2017. The Unilever/ADM program enables farmers to document their performance on key sustainability criteria and continually improve their operations.

“Many farmers are already farming sustainably,” Grant says. “Using the Field to Market Fieldprint® Calculator and enrolling in the Unilever/ADM Sustainable Soy Continuous Improvement Program allows them to document it. It’s a powerful story to tell to buyers like us, and to the consumers who feed our products to their families.”
 
New and Experienced Cover Croppers
Cover crops provide protection from soil erosion and nutrient loss to fields after harvest and into the spring. They may be grazed or harvested for hay or silage, but may not be harvested for grain. Farmers who have not used cover crops more than once in the past three years are eligible for $25 per acre in cost-share funds, plus a discount on cover crop seed sourced from La Crosse Seed resellers. Soybean producers who have used cover crops more frequently but wish to expand their cover crop acreage or diversify their cover crop plantings may receive $15 per acre plus the seed discount.

Cost-share funding is capped at 160 acres per applicant except in cases of special requests that will be considered individually. Farmers already enrolled in Nutrient Reduction Strategy Practice Implementation and Demonstration Projects are not eligible for the new funds.

La Crosse Seed will extend the cover crop seed discount to other farmers in the eight key watersheds until August 10.  “We’re pleased to be able to help accelerate this initiative and show our commitment to helping growers incorporate cover crops into their farming operations,” notes Scott Wohltman, cover crop lead for La Crosse Seed.

In addition to receiving funding, participating farmers will be invited to field days and demonstration plot tours hosted by the Practical Farmers of Iowa (PFI), DuPont Pioneer and La Crosse Seed. PFI staff will provide one-on-one coaching on cover crop management.

“Practical Farmers of Iowa is excited to share research results from our on-farm cover crop trials with soybean farmers in this program,” says Sarah Carlson, Midwest cover crop research coordinator for PFI. 

La Crosse Seed is offering technical assistance support as well as discounts on cover crop seed through the program.
 
Eight Watersheds, 43 Counties
The cost-share funds are provided by the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship as part of a three-year project to help increase the acreage planted to cover crops in 43 Iowa counties covering eight key watersheds in the state the East Nishnabotna, West Nishnabotna, North Raccoon, Middle Cedar, South Skunk and Skunk drainages.

Nearly half of Iowa’s soybean growers live in the eight program watersheds, notes Karen A. Scanlon, executive director of the Conservation Technology Information Center (CTIC), which is coordinating the cover crop cost-share effort. Surveys in Iowa indicate that 23 percent of the state’s corn producers plant cover crops, but most have fewer than 100 acres committed to the practice, Scanlon adds. One-third of the farmers in the Unilever/ADM Sustainable Soy Continuous Improvement Program have tried cover crops so far, most on 25 percent of their fields or less. That leaves plenty of room for growth of the practice.

“The goal of the Unilever/ADM program and its partners in this cover crop initiative—including the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, CTIC, Practical Farmers of Iowa, La Crosse Seed, the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Iowa Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts—is to see a major expansion of cover crops across Iowa’s farmland, creating a win-win-win for farmers, consumers and the environment,” she says.

“There are so many benefits to cover crops, from building healthier soils to increasing soil organic matter, keeping nutrients in the root zone throughout the winter, suppressing weeds and reducing erosion,” Scanlon says. “Each of those benefits can improve the economic and environmental sustainability of the farm, and they all resonate with consumers and policymakers. This program can help soybean growers make cover crops an integral part of their entire operation, not just an experiment.”

To apply for cost share funding and enroll in the Unilever/ADM Sustainable Soy Continuous Improvement Program, contact Maree Deventer at ADM at (515) 263-3266 or maree.deventer@adm.com, or Sarah Carlson at Practical Farmers of Iowa at (515) 232-5661 or sarah@practicalfarmers.org. Details on the La Crosse Seed discount will be available from participating La Crosse Seed dealers.