The new public-private partnership will leverage state and federal funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) for soil health. The commitment is in addition to Danone North America’s investment of up to $6m in soil health research over the next four years.
By unlocking available public funding from NFWF and NRCS via a new concept in matching investment proposed by Danone North America, farmers now have more access to seeds and incentives to plant cover crops, which is important for nutrient balancing and overall soil health.
Danone North America will begin working with farmers in Kansas and Ohio before expanding to other states named in the application for NRCS funding, which include Indiana, Michigan, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, New Mexico, Nebraska, Idaho and Utah.
The company is working with NFWF to develop an application process to leverage the $3m of USDA funding to expand its soil health program with farmers. The grants are in effect “in escrow” and will be dispersed directly to farmers based on specific criteria — for example, agreeing to implement certain land management activities such as cover crops.
“Soil is the foundation of our food system, with an estimated 95% of food directly or indirectly reliant on soil,” said Tina Owens, senior director of agriculture, Danone North America.
“As America’s largest maker of organic and plant-based foods, as well as yogurt, we saw an opportunity to initiate this breakthrough collaboration to benefit the farms on which we rely to make great food.”
Jeff Trandahl, executive director and CEO of NFWF, said, “Some of the nation’s most important conservation efforts focus on voluntary efforts to improve soil health, habitats and agricultural practices on private lands.
“This new partnership with Danone North America will generate additional resources to drive innovative and collaborative conservation efforts that will help dairy farmers become even better stewards of the land.”
NRCS Chief Matthew Lohr, said, “The Conservation Innovation Grants program is funding the future of conservation and agriculture. The On-Farm Trials are a new component of the program that allow partners to work with NRCS and farmers to implement innovative practices and systems on their lands, providing new data to support conservation work in the future.
“Food companies like Danone North America have tremendous ability to drive conservation through their supply chains. NRCS applauds Danone North America for its leadership in supply chain conservation and we are happy to partner with them and NFWF to support conservation innovation at the field level.”
In 2018 Danone North America announced funding of $6m to soil health research and this new collaboration adds partners in the public sector.
Danone North America also has a soil health research program. Now in its second year, the research program has nearly doubled to approximately 50,000 acres, of which about 80% of the acreage added in 2019 is certified organic.
This includes 23 dairies in 10 states across 692 fields with 28 varieties of cover and cash crops.
Over the next two years, the company hopes to expand the research program up to 100,000 acres as it looks to verify the environmental and cost benefits of employing better practices, such as cover crops, and continue its study of other practices including improved conservation tillage, crop rotations and nutrient management.
The aim of Danone North America’s soil health initiative is to identify ways to help regenerate soils by enhancing organic matter and soil fertility, and drive long-term economic and environmental benefits — such as soil carbon sequestration, reduced chemicals use, soil water holding capacity, and increased biodiversity — to improve the economic resilience of farmer communities.
Key activities with participating grower and dairy farmer partners and third-party soil health experts include: soil sampling, review of yield, grower engagement, data collection and analysis, and field days with farmers to provide training around soil health best practices.