Innovation

The Future of U.S. Soy Is Bright …Green

From things that seem simple, like no-till or buffer strips, to things that seem a world away, like carbon credits or green investments, the United States soy industry is listening to all of it.

A recent U.S. Farmers and Ranchers in Action report, developed in partnership with the soy checkoff, shares an initial examination of what will be a long-term effort to bring farmers and ranchers and the financial community into a productive conversation about climate-smart agriculture that leads to solutions that not only meet end-user needs, but also provide benefits for farmers.

By scaling up investment in climate-smart agriculture, U.S. agriculture could reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions over the next decade.

“With proper investment from the financial community, U.S. agriculture has the potential to be the first net negative greenhouse gas emissions sector in our economy,” said Lynn Rohrscheib, United Soybean Board (USB) farmer-leader from Illinois and USFRA board member. “Reaching that goal is important to me because sustainability’s connection to improving soil health translates into long-term viability for my farm and the next generation.”

The report also included an in-depth analysis of the $972 billion in annual capital that flows from asset owners through asset classes and financial intermediaries to participants in the U.S. agricultural value chain. The report revealed the primary funding sources include institutional investors (approx. $600 billion), retail investors (approx. $360 billion) and U.S. government via federal/state payments and incentives (approx. $20 billion).

Beyond investment, leveraging technology to accelerate and scale on-farm adoption of climate-smart agriculture encompasses several action steps that align with USB’s sustainability goals. This ranges from supporting the development of tools that collect on-farm data to exchanging best practice know-how and data related to soil health, yield, profitability, and more. The report outlines these action steps as a vital linchpin to unlock the full potential of our soils.

“This vision around the future is a resilient, restorative, economically viable and climate-smart agricultural system that produces abundant nutritious food, natural fiber and clean energy for a sustainable, vibrant and prosperous America,” said David LeZaks, Ph.D., senior fellow at the Croatan Institute. LeZaks worked closely with USFRA on this study and offered insights on how it impacts U.S. soybean farmers.

The report, titled “Transformative Investment in Climate-Smart Agriculture,” is a summary of a larger study developed in partnership with the soy checkoff to examine four key areas of regenerative agriculture:

  1. Soil-Health Practices, Potential Benefits and Barriers to Adoption
  2. State of Soil-Health Technology
  3. Agricultural Capital Flows
  4. Financial Mechanisms and Enabling Infrastructure

For each area, the report recommends action steps to leverage technology and finance innovation to accelerate and scale the adoption of climate-smart agriculture. The recommendations are designed to capture value for farmers as they adopt climate-smart practices.

“All of this work is really homing in on this next decade of ag — it’s taking that vision and making it a reality,” he said.

This collaborative study will help inform the soy checkoff’s investments in years to come as farmer-leaders continue to focus on driving value for U.S. soybean farmers. And while those investments will be innovative, they will not be the checkoff’s first foray into forward-thinking sustainable programs.

With the future in mind, the checkoff is collaborating with The National Pork Board and National Corn Growers Association on a project to ensure alignment and collaboration in sustainability research and how the results can and will be shared to benefit U.S. farmers and, ultimately, their customers.

Leaders from the three commodity groups agree it is prudent to consider specific ways in which they might work together more effectively as each organization moves toward its sustainability goals with end users in mind.

Trends Point Toward Large Opportunities

About $2 trillion currently circulate in the climate solutions marketplace. As the world continues to try to align on how to address climate change, LeZaks said he is seeing governments, companies and other economic organizations look at how they can use their capital resources to make the progress they want to see. The data included in the USFRA report may encourage additional investment in agriculture-based solutions that bring revenue back to farmers.

“For a long time, investment has been very focused on the energy sector, transportation and buildings,” he said. “Really, this report and the work behind it is a reflection and a reaction to point out in various ways that agriculture not only deserves a seat at this table but is also really primed and ready to continue to be used as one of a set of strategies around creating a more climate-smart economy.”

The checkoff has already partnered with many organizations valuing green investments and a sustainable future.

The Yield Lab Institute and the soy checkoff partnered together for a sustainable future, creating The Soy Innovation Challenge, a competition that seeks ideas for the creation of new kinds of supply chain structures and technologies that offer transparency, facilitate alignment based on measurable sustainability parameters and increase farm profitability.

LeZaks said that data from last September showed that about 294 companies made similar sustainable, science-based targets — more than triple the amount of companies that have set these targets in the past.

“While those companies may have been in the building sector or the automotive sector, we’re seeing more and more companies that take part in agricultural value chains making these commitments,” said LeZaks.

Mace Thornton
Mace Thornton

Vice President, Communications and Marketing Strategy

United Soybean Board