U.S. Soy is collectively rooted in a commitment to biodiversity conservation. Backed by half a million soybean farmers, these land stewards engage in soil health, nutrient management, and conservation practices with the intent of driving positive environmental and economic outcomes.

Every time consumers or food companies opt for sustainable U.S. Soy, with its lowest carbon footprint compared with soybeans of other origins, other plant proteins and vegetable oils, they support a comprehensive system of biodiversity efforts. America’s vast lands provide opportunities to both reduce emissions and sequester more carbon dioxide.[1] To further U.S. Soy’s commitment to land stewardship, a multistakeholder effort to create a shared vision and aligned methodology for land use change measurement is underway. The focus is to develop a framework that provides improved farmland preservation, greater certainty for native and natural ecosystem protection, access to global markets, and carbon accounting, and benefits the many other sectors that rely on accurate measurement of land use change.

Definition Inconsistency

One of the challenges facing farmers, the industry, NGOs, and the government is that there are differing definitions, data sources, time scales, and modeling techniques used in calculating land units, such as grasslands in the Great Plains across the U.S. Without an agreement on how land units and conversion are calculated, differing methodologies and assessments on the amount of conversion and its related impact cause confusion. This confusion has undercut the current stewardship farmers are undertaking and stifles new advances that would help them with the continued stewardship of their land. It also impedes company purchasing decisions, hinders collaboration, deters innovation, and creates lack of clarity for consumers who seek to make responsible and sustainable consumption choices. 

In short, direct land use change methodology and assessments in the United States are inconsistent. But none of these issues identified are insurmountable, and partners can and are working to create a collaborative resolution.

Taking Action

U.S. Soy is taking proactive steps to help drive collaboration and advance sound science around land use change. By creating a working partnership with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), The Nature Conservancy, and several other industry leaders in this space, we can achieve a better understanding of land use change that’s more representative of today’s farming practices, the role of grasslands in our agricultural system, and ensuring system resilience, and that takes into account the stewardship of our land and natural resources.

“North America is home to some of the last remaining intact temperate grassland ecosystems, which are imperiled globally,” said Suzy Friedman, WWF senior director of food policy. “Conversion is a major threat to U.S. grasslands, so this industrywide collaboration to advance alignment on data, terminology, and measurement for land use change is essential to advancing meaningful solutions to support both viable, sustainable row crop production and intact, healthy grasslands and grass-based agriculture.”

As a first step, a two-day workshop convened 60 experts from academia, industry, nonprofit organizations, conservation groups, public agencies and farmer groups. The workshop reviewed the varied definitions of land use change, created a shared vision for a land use change measurement process and developed an action plan for making progress. As a key takeaway from the workshop, a land use change work group was developed that builds consensus to tackle the issues on land use change. 

While in the early stages of the work group, this multistakeholder collaborative group has agreed that there needs to be a methodological evaluation on the various land use calculations. This work will help showcase the limitations and positive components of the different methodologies and data sources available.  

“With 655 million acres [2] of pasture, range, and grassland, I’m proud to say the United States has one of the largest grassland acreages in the world, and it is important that we protect that resource,” said Meagan Kaiser, United Soybean Board chair, soil scientist and Missouri farmer. “Our stewardship of that resource has been undercut by the inconsistency with land use change data and is a major detriment to market access for U.S. Soy, which can significantly impact farmers’ bottom line. So, we are committed to bringing together the best minds in this sector to validate the science that will indelibly showcase farmer stewardship of the land.” 

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[1] https://unfccc.int/sites/default/files/NDC/2022-06/United%20States%20NDC%20April%2021%202021%20Final.pdf (pg. 5)

[2] https://www.ers.usda.gov/webdocs/publications/84880/eib-178_summary.pdf