The biggest flour miller in the U.S. is looking to shift 250,000 acres of wheat fields to using regenerative agriculture practices, including cover crops, by the end of this year. Ardent Mills, the largest North American miller of wheat for flour, is based in Denver, Colo., and wants to improve soil health, water quality, and crop yields while simultaneously trying to keep climate change at bay. To start, Ardent Mills will have 150 growers participating from Texas to Saskatchewan.
Efforts like this are one more way for the agriculture industry to sequester more greenhouse gas (ghg) emissions. Data from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimated that in 2018, U.S. agriculture sequestered 764 million metric tons of carbon, representing 12% of total ghg emissions.
An international initiative launched at the 2015 Paris Climate Conference showed that increasing soil carbon just 0.4% annually could offset each year’s new growth in carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels around the globe.
Cover crops can be part of the solution when it comes to climate change, but U.S. farmers are going to need to use a lot more cover crops on millions more acres to start making any kind of progress on carbon sequestration and climate goals.
It starts with shifting the mindset about farming. Last week, when I was at the South Dakota Soil Health Coalition annual conference, I interviewed Steve Kenyon, a rancher from Alberta, Canada. He doesn’t see himself as a “rancher”, but as a land manager. Yes, farmers grow crops, tend livestock, fix equipment, and many other things, but maybe how they identify themselves should be as land stewards or managers — with their other duties stemming out from that.
Another paradigm shift that needs to occur is the lens by which farmers measure their success. Success in regenerative agriculture cannot be measured by the highest number of bushels in the county, the most dollars in the bank or even what pickup truck or combine you drive. Success with cover crops looks like thriving soil health heaping with earthworms; fields with few weeds, washed out areas, or yellow plants with nutrient deficiencies; and high-quality water drawing wildlife and pollinators.
The agriculture industry can indeed feed the world, grow high yielding crops and restore our soil and water. Let cover crops be one step on the path to that future.