Working Landscapes Initiative | Bulletin

October 2017

We have exciting news to share from the Working Landscapes Initiative’s Conservation and Crop Insurance Task Force (CCITF) which recently developed a series of consensus recommendations on conservation and crop insurance for the 2018 farm bill. These recommendations aim to strengthen agricultural data analysis to improve crop yields and profitability for farmers and the crop insurance program overall.

Building on several years of work, CCITF developed 15 consensus recommendations that will improve profitability and environmental performance while reducing risk on working lands. These consensus recommendations lay out a strategy for quantifying the impacts of conservation practices on soil health, crop yields, and farm income. They also include common sense changes to policies that will support producers that use cover crops and other conservation practices to improve both profitability and environmental performance. For example, the recommendations attempt to strengthen and enhance agricultural data collection to inform efforts related to conservation and crop insurance.

If enacted, the recommendations will enable producers to implement innovative conservation practices while maintaining a strong crop insurance safety net. Over the next several years, AGree believes implementation of these recommendations will lead to a body of information, analysis, and knowledge that will support an evidence-based approach to create effective policies while securing long-term cost savings for the Federal Crop Insurance Program. These policies will enable producer innovation with conservation practices, strengthen the actuarial soundness of the Crop Insurance Program to ensure it remains viable and defensible, and inform USDA efforts to improve the overall efficiency and effectiveness of the Crop Insurance Program and Conservation Programs while supporting producer profitability and environmental performance.

The Task Force has begun work to ensure the adoption and implementation of the recommendations by sharing them on a targeted basis with Congress, the administration, and other key audiences. Though the Task Force does not plan to publicize the recommendations externally at this time, we encourage those who are interested to contact AGree to learn more.

April 2017

AGree’s Working Landscapes Initiatives (WLI) has made great strides with the Conservation and Crop Insurance Task Force (CCITF) and the Working Lands Conservation Partnership pilot. These efforts have culminated in the production of several important publications including an article in the prestigious American Journal of Agricultural Economics, Morning Consult, and an AGree Point of View paper.

In February, the CCITF developed a series of consensus Principles that will be used to inform and shape the Task Force’s proposed 2018 farm bill policy recommendations. The CCITF has also been advocating for broader adoption of conservation practices on working lands while maintaining a viable federal crop insurance program.

Recent CCITF meetings have focused on ways to strengthen and improve USDA data collection methods in order to improve profitability and productivity for producers while enabling cutting-edge agricultural research. AGree and our partners, including USDA leadership, Hill staff, and leading academics, continue to promote data integration and analysis to quantify the risk reduction benefits of conservation practices.

For more information about partnering with AGree on activities related to data integration, please contact Todd Barker (TBarker@merid.org).

A number of communications pieces have been released in the past month, all of which reiterate the Task Force’s goal to develop innovative ways to drive broader adoption of conservation practices through federal crop insurance and conservation programs:

  • An AGree-funded research article, “Efficiency Impacts of Utilizing Soil Data in the Pricing of the Federal Crop Insurance Program” written by Cornell University Professor Joshua Woodard and Leslie J. Verteramo-Chiu was published in the prestigious American Journal of Agricultural Economics. The article provides a proof of concept for integrating high-resolution soil data into federal crop insurance rate determinations. Ultimately, this data integration could precipitate the adoption of soil enhancing practices into the crop insurance program to improve productivity, profitability, and environmental outcomes.
  • A new AGree Point of View paper outlines the relationship between credit risk and Federal Crop Insurance and discusses how lending practices impact agricultural investment decisions and conservation outcomes. The Point of View paper, Crop Insurance, Credit, and Conservationis authored by Joshua Woodard, Professor at Cornell University, and Scott Marlow, Executive Director at Rural Advancement Foundation International (RAFI).
  • An op-ed in Morning Consult, Data Matters in the Next Farm Billby Laurie Ristino, Director of the Vermont Law School Center for Agriculture and Food Systems (CAFS), discusses the need to consider data policy in the 2018 farm bill. The op-ed urges Congress to improve and strengthen agricultural data collection in order to reduce farmer respondent burden and enable innovative research to help farmers succeed and USDA better target its resources.

To learn more about AGree’s work on conservation and crop insurance, please contact Todd Barker (TBarker@merid.org).

The Minnesota AgriGrowth Council (MAGC), AGree’s implementation partner for Working Lands Conservation Partnership (WLCP) pilots, continues to make progress on pilot efforts aligned with AGree’s WLCP model. MAGC is in partnership discussions with several supply chain partners (e.g., commodity groups, input suppliers, commodity purchasers, etc.) about specific watershed projects that would link on-farm practices with downstream impacts and these companies’ sustainability goals and objectives. AGree Advisor Kristin Weeks Duncanson, who is working with MAGC to shepherd the pilots, recently authored an AGree blog post, Message from Minnesota: Stay the Course,that provides an update on the work and underscores her and other producers’ commitment to advance producer-led, watershed-scale cooperative conservation efforts.

To learn more about AGree’s work on the Working Lands Conservation Partnership pilot, please contact Heather Lair (HLair@merid.org).

September 2016

In this issue of the Bulletin, we have progress to share from both the Conservation and Crop Insurance Task Force (CCITF) and the Working Lands Conservation Partnership (WLCP) pilots in Minnesota.

The CCITF continues to meet on a roughly bi-monthly basis to advance its work focused on driving broader adoption of conservation practices. Over the past several months, the CCITF has conducted extensive outreach to crop insurance industry associations and commodity agriculture groups to raise awareness and garner support for its efforts. It also continues to engage with staff in multiple USDA agencies to push for data integration and analysis, improvements in USDA’s data collection and management systems, and near-term changes to the crop insurance program that would better serve conservation-oriented producers (e.g., ending cover crop termination rules). At its June 2016 meeting, the CCITF refined a set of principles to more clearly articulate its intentions and efforts to external audiences. Keep an eye out for public release of the Principles this fall!

To learn more about AGree’s work on conservation and crop insurance, please contact Todd Barker (TBarker@merid.org).

The Minnesota AgriGrowth Council (MAGC), AGree’s implementation partner for the WLCP pilots, has formally launched a pilot aligned with AGree’s WLCP model in one West Central Minnesota watershed. The pilot is empowering participating farmers to better understand and implement optimal nutrient management strategies for their watershed, in partnership with state officials, NGOs, and supply chain companies. MAGC has established a diverse Steering Committee to advise them on this effort. This spring, AGree staff worked with MAGC to submit a USDA-NRCS Conservation Innovation Grant (CIG) application to support the pilots in MN. We will learn whether the grant has been awarded this fall – stay tuned!

To learn more about AGree’s activities with the Minnesota AgriGrowth Council, please contact Heather Lair (HLair@merid.org).

April 2016

AGree’s Working Landscapes Initiative has continued making progress on work at the intersection of conservation and crop insurance and on Working Lands Conservation Partnership pilots in Minnesota.

AGree’s Conservation and Crop Insurance Task Force (CCITF) is taking strides forward in its work at the intersection of conservation and crop insurance. In close consultation with leadership of multiple USDA agencies, the Task Force is continuing to push for research to assess the impacts of soil type on yield risk, and ultimately the yield risk impacts of conservation practices. Findings from this analysis could demonstrate the need to update the USDA Risk Management Agency’s (RMA) risk ratings. Data integration and analysis would also inform supply chain sustainability standards, markets for ecosystem services, and producer outreach and education to support conservation activities that are both effective and profitable.

In addition to the work above on soil and yield risk, the CCITF has recently recommended to the leadership of multiple USDA agencie several near-term administrative changes to the crop insurance program. These recommended changes are intended to: help level the playing for conservation-oriented producers who participate in the crop insurance program; and increase the understanding of the impacts of conservation practices on resilience. The Task Force is continuing to advance these recommendations with USDA, crop insurance industry representatives, and other relevant stakeholders.

In early 2016, the CCITF expanded its membership to include representatives from the American Farm Bureau Federation and National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. Great to have additional thought leaders on board!

Earlier this month, AGree released a set of four Background and Point of View papers on federal crop insurance. One of the papers focuses in depth on recent research – supported by AGree – at Cornell University that explores the correlation between soil, yield risk, and crop insurance ratings. The other papers explore complex and controversial aspects of the program and creative ideas for change. Please note that these papers are not consensus documents and are intended to contribute to thoughtful dialogue; the opinions and ideas presented in them are those of the individual authors only. We encourage you to share the papers widely with those in your network.

To learn more about AGree’s work on conservation and crop insurance, please contact Todd Barker (TBarker@merid.org).

As noted in a November 2015 press release, AGree is also collaborating with the Minnesota AgriGrowth Council (MAGC) on a new partnership, Farmer Guided Solutions, that strives to proactively engage groups of farmers at a watershed level to collectively improve on-farm productivity, while addressing identified resource and sustainability challenges at a watershed level. This effort is farmer-driven and supported by agriculture and food businesses, non-government organizations, academic community and government partners.

Under the leadership of Project Director Joe Martin, the MAGC has convened an Advisory Committee that includes representatives from the above mentioned groups. With input from the Advisory Committee, MAGC has selected two watersheds and is meeting with key farm operators in each watershed to discuss next steps.

To learn more about AGree’s activities with the Minnesota AgriGrowth Council, please contact Heather Lair (HLair@merid.org).

September 2015

The Working Landscapes Initiative’s cooperative conservation effort in Minnesota is coming to fruition, as are our efforts on conservation and crop insurance.

The Working Lands Conservation Partnership in Minnesota has taken important steps forward. The Minnesota AgriGrowth Council (MAGC) serves as the institutional home for the effort in Minnesota. This summer, MAGC convened a multi-stakeholder steering committee that will guide the implementation of watershed pilots. This fall, MAGC is in the process of hiring a project director to work with the steering committee and local landowners on pilot projects in key watersheds around the state. For more information, please contact Heather Lair (HLair@merid.org).

Since July, AGree continues to hold conversations with leadership and senior staff at USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), Risk Management Agency (RMA), and other mission areas to garner support and build momentum for a data integration and analysis effort to assess the risk reduction benefits of conservation practices. We are making good progress and look forward to reporting further developments in upcoming issues of the AGree Bulletin. To learn more, please contact Todd Barker (TBarker@merid.org).

July 2015

Since May, the Working Landscapes Initiative has continued to pursue the development of a Working Lands Conservation Partnership approach in Minnesota and efforts to assess the risk reduction benefits of conservation practices.

AGree’s Conservation and Crop Insurance Task Force (CCITF) has further engaged with USDA leadership in multiple agencies to build support for the integration and analysis of data – while maintaining the full privacy of confidential producer data – to assess the risk reduction and environmental benefits of conservation practices, conservation systems, and enhanced soil health. USDA agencies engaged thus far include the Economic Research Service (ERS), Farm Service Agency (FSA), Office of the Chief Economist (OCE), Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), and Risk Management Agency (RMA). The CCITF is reaching out to additional USDA agencies that are involved in data collection or analysis related to conservation practice adoption, soil health, yield, yield variability, and other environmental indicators.

In 2015, the CCITF also plans to advocate for specific changes to the federal crop insurance program that would remove impediments to producers’ adoption of conservation practices. The group will also further examine challenges and opportunities related to federal data confidentiality, collection, and access in order to facilitate meaningful analysis by researchers.

To learn more or to partner with AGree’s conservation and crop insurance work, please contact Todd Barker (TBarker@merid.org).

May 2015

This spring, AGree’s Working Landscapes Initiative is advancing both the Working Landscapes Conservation Partnership (WLCP) approach in mid-western watersheds and pursuing efforts to use the federal crop insurance program to invite broader use of conservation practices.

AGree is working with food and agriculture leaders in Minnesota to demonstrate AGree's Working Landscapes Conservation Partnership (WLCP) approach to achieving improvements in water quality in agricultural watersheds while maintaining and improving productivity. Leading producers, commodity groups, companies across the agriculture and food supply chain, conservation groups, universities, and state agencies all are participating in discussions to identify Minnesota watersheds in which to engage producers in innovative efforts to achieve measurable improvements in water quality at a watershed scale in ways that respect local conditions and support producers’ long-term productivity and profitability.

AGree has raised funds to invest in a substantial cooperative conservation effort in several Minnesota watersheds. Under the leadership of Advisor Kristin Weeks Duncanson, a Minnesota farmer and past Chair of the Minnesota AgriGrowth Council, the WLCP effort is gaining steam. Diverse leaders and stakeholders see the value of a cooperative, watershed-specific approach in which producers provide leadership and receive credit for measurable water quality achievements from the public, state agencies, and their customers in the supply chain.

In addition, AGree is seeking to identify additional places in the Corn Belt to demonstrate the WLCP approach and is recruiting a group of leading producers from the region to catalyze the adoption of cooperative conservation and the WLCP approach in their states.

For more information, or to partner with AGree on cooperative conservation efforts, please contact Heather Lair (HLair@merid.org).

AGree also continues to pursue ways to use federal crop insurance to drive broader adoption of conservation practices. As part of this work, AGree is supporting an analysis of federal data by a Cornell University professor that could demonstrate and quantify the impacts of conservation practices on yield, yield variability, resilience during extreme weather events, and other environmental indicators. AGree is engaging with USDA leadership and national groups, such as the Soil Renaissance and the National Working Group on Cover Crops and Soil Health, to advance this work and address issues related to data storage, integration, accessibility, and privacy.

In conjunction with these efforts, AGree’s Advisors and expert affiliates within our Conservation and Crop Insurance Task Force are exploring ways in which the federal crop insurance program may impede producers’ ability or willingness to adopt conservation practices. The group plans to advocate for removal of these barriers within the crop insurance program.

For more information, or to partner with AGree on data integration and conservation and crop insurance work, please contact Todd Barker (TBarker@merid.org).

March 2015

Since January, AGree’s Working Landscapes Initiative has released several publications to advance the watershed-scale cooperative conservation model and federal data integration and analysis efforts.

AGree Co-Chair Jim Moseley recently authored an opinion piece, “Increasing Productivity through Cooperative Conservation,” that was featured in the March/April edition of Resource magazine, a special issue with diverse thought pieces on the topic “Feed the World in 2050.” In his piece, Jim discusses AGree’s Working Landscapes Initiative recommendation to advance producer-led, watershed-scale cooperative conservation in the context of his experience building soil health and increasing productivity in his Indiana community. Please see page eight here to read Jim’s article and explore other authors’ perspectives. For more information on partnering with AGree on watershed-scale cooperative conservation activities, please contact Mark Jacobs (MJacobs@merid.org).

In mid-February, AGree published a Point of View paper and an accompanying blog post that argue for improved integration and analysis of federal data to better understand the extent to which conservation practices increase yields and reduce risk of crop loss. The Point of View paper, Quantifying Benefits from Adoption of Conserving Agricultural Practices, is authored by Stephanie Mercier, former Chief Economist of the Senate Agriculture Committee. Ferd Hoefner, Policy Director of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, and Bruce Knight, former Chief of USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, wrote an AGree blog entitled Crop Insurance that Conserves? which highlights the issues and opportunities presented in the Point of View paper.

AGree and our partners, including USDA leadership, Hill staff, and leading academics, continue to promote data integration and analysis to quantify the risk reduction benefits of conservation practices. For more information about partnering with AGree on activities related to data integration, please contact Todd Barker (TBarker@merid.org).

January 2015

AGree Advisor Kristin Weeks Duncanson and NRCS Chief Jason Weller prepare to testify before the Senate Agriculture Committee
AGree’s Working Landscapes Initiative: Achieving Productivity, Profitability, and Environmental Outcomes, rounded out 2014 by presenting AGree’s recommendations in testimony before the Senate Agriculture Committee, advancing potential cooperative conservation projects in several states, and holding meetings with senior USDA leadership about efforts to integrate and better leverage productivity and conservation data.

On December 3, AGree Advisor and Minnesota grower Kristin Weeks Duncanson testified before the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry about her experience engaging in conservation on her farm, the Working Lands Conservation Partnership concept, and AGree’s consensus recommendations. To learn more and read her testimony, please see her blog about the experience and the Committee’s web page on the hearing.

AGree is continuing to work with partners to catalyze and support projects to test its cooperative conservation approach in Minnesota, Indiana, and Wyoming. AGree continues to seek additional partners to begin implementing projects in 2015. For information on partnering with AGree on these activities, please contact Mark Jacobs (MJacobs@merid.org).

In mid-December, AGree staff initiated meetings with several senior USDA officials to identify potential collaborators for a cross-agency data integration effort. AGree is also exploring promising collaborations with university researchers engaged in agricultural data mining, integration, and analysis. AGree will be issuing a “Point of View” paper on data integration challenges and opportunities in early 2015. For more information about partnering with AGree on these activities, please contact Todd Barker (TBarker@merid.org).

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