ESMC News Executive Director Update on May 2020 ESMC/ESMRC Member Meeting
Thanks to all members who participated in our fourth ESMC/ESMRC Member Meeting on May 11–12, 2020. We had just under 90 participants each of the two days and appreciate the participation, discussions and input received. Our previous 3 member meetings, beginning with the first in August of 2019, were held in-person, and this was our first to be held in a virtual setting in a shift to accommodate the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic response. We began with an acknowledgment that the COVID response has created upheaval for us all, personally and professionally, as well as within the food and agricultural sector, and we recognize the need to remain sensitive and cognizant of the impacts and associated uncertainty to our individual and collective efforts moving forward. But we did agree that our goals and outcomes remain critical.Our meetings allow us to update members on progress across a range of ESMC and ESMRC program areas. According to member meeting evaluations, the meeting highlights were the two panel discussions covering pilot projects and the activities of technical working groups. Organized and moderated by Program Director Caroline Wade, these discussions provided insight into the ESMRC investments being made to build ESMC’s market, as well as to show how pilot project work will test and refine those investments and continue to refine the ESMC market program. Thanks to the many members and technical working group members who participated in the two panels.An additional highlight was rollout of our new strategic marketing plan by the Trust in Food and Farm Journal Team, including Nate Birt, Stephanie Gable and Kristi Moss, in a session covering ESMC’s communications update and moderated by Bruce Knight of Strategic Conservation Solutions. We continued discussions with members of our asset and credit pricing structure assessment and planning as well, which we will test as part of our pilot projects.
Finally, we were pleased to announce the addition of four new ESMC team members: Deke Alkire, Program Development Manager working on technical assistance and verification manuals and certification program development; Cassie Kniebel Aherin, Project Manager and lead for pilot project development and coordination as well as Producer Circle development; Benjamin Bartley, Project Manager and lead for protocol adaptation and refinement and certification; and Paul Meints, Research Director supporting ESMRC technical working groups and R&D oversight. (See below for more on our new team members.)
As we enter our second year of our Public-Private Partnership with our members, partners, stakeholders and funders, we also publicly thanked our funders for their ongoing support, including recent awards by the Walton Family Foundation and General Mills, Inc. to fund critical ESMC operational needs.
Regards, and thanks again to our members and collaborators for your continued support and participation. – Debbie Reed and the ESMC Team
Awards Announced for ESRMC RFPs
ESMC was pleased to announce multiple awards in response to the two Request for Proposals (RFPs) released in March by Working Groups of the ESMRC, the research arm of the ESMC. The Working Groups are focused on the research, development, demonstration and deployment of cost-effective, scalable technologies and approaches to launch an ecosystem services market. The asset quantification component of this work is led by members of Working Groups 1 (focused on carbon and GHG assets) and 2 (focused on water assets), who are tasked with developing accurate, cost-effective and scalable quantification of agricultural management system impacts on soil C, net GHG (carbon, methane and nitrous oxide), water quality and water quantity. A total of eleven proposals were received, and RFP review committees made up of Working Group participants met to evaluate and rank the proposals.
Working Group 1’s Project 1 on “Advanced Quantification Technology Assessment” received seven proposals, and a team led by Repliculture, LLC with support from Regen Network Development, Inc. was awarded a contract for Phase 1 work. They will work collaboratively with the Phase 3 awardee, a team led by the Conservation Technology Information Center with support from Alliance of Crop, Soil, and Environmental Science Societies. Phase 2 work has been postponed, but the RFP may be reissued later this summer.
Four proposals were received for the Working Group 2 Project 1 on the “Evaluation, Improvement and Scaling of Water Quality Quantification Approaches for Water Asset Generation in ESMC’s Integrated Protocol.” A team led by Tetra Tech with support from Texas A&M Agrilife and Stone Environmental was awarded a contract for Modules 1 and 2. Module 3 work has been postponed although the RFP may be reissued at a later time.
Another opportunity for working with ESMRC is coming soon. A new RFP from Working Group 1 for development of a Soil Stratification App will be released on May 22nd and will be posted at that time on the ESMC Technical RFP webpage here. Further information on the above work and potential future announcements can be found on the ESMC Technical RFP webpage here.
New Funding Award for ESMC
ESMC is pleased to announce receipt of a new grant award of $300,000 from General Mills, Inc. for general operating support. ESMC thanks General Mills for their continued significant support of the ESMC. An award from the General Mills Foundation was instrumental in helping to seed our initiative. We extend our sincere appreciation and gratitude to General Mills for their continued support and participation in ESMC and our work.
ESMC Submits Policy Comments to USDA
ESMC submitted two sets of comments to USDA in May related to policies in support of ecosystem services markets. Comments were submitted to Natural Resources Conservation Service on the Interim Rule for the Regional Conservation Partnership Program and to the Office of Energy and Environmental Policy on Updates to Technical Guidelines for Quantifying Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Emissions and Carbon Sequestration at the Entity-Scale for Agriculture and Forestry. Comments may be viewed on the ESMC policy webpage here.
ESMC Welcomes Four New Team Members
The Ecosystem Services Market Consortium (ESMC) is pleased to announce four new members have joined the team in its mission to advance ecosystem service markets that incentivize farmers and ranchers to improve soil health systems that benefit society. Paul Meints, Ph.D., will serve as the Research Director of the ESMRC, the research arm of ESMC. Two new Project Managers, Cassie Kniebel Aherin and Benjamin Bartley, will oversee coordination of pilot projects and protocol and certification work, respectively. Additionally, Deke Alkire, Ph.D., has joined the team to develop the ESMC Certified Technical Assistance Provider Program and the ESMC Certified Verifier Program. Caroline Wade has also been promoted to Program Director, providing leadership and coordination for linking the ESMC/ESMRC research and development, protocol development and pilot project work. Additional information is provided below, and full team bios can be found on the ESMC website here.
Research Director Dr. Paul Meints has extensive experience overseeing a multi-disciplinary research portfolio across subjects including: Water Quality, Soil Health and Fertility, Agronomics and Genetics, Sustainable Polymers and Green Chemistry, Livestock Feedstocks, and Biofuels and Engine Technologies. He comes to ESMC following over a dozen years leading the research program at the Minnesota Corn Growers Association and prior to that at the Minnesota Soybean Research & Promotion Council and seven years as a tenured faculty at Mississippi State University working in agronomy and seed physiology research and teaching.
Project Manager Cassie Aherin served the past two years as Program Manager at the Beef Cattle Institute at Kansas State University, administering the CattleTrace Pilot Program for animal disease traceability and coordinating partner relationships with multiple stakeholders across the supply chain. Previously, she worked for Elanco Animal Health for four years in sales and marketing positions with their U.S. poultry vaccines business and as an account executive on their multi-species distribution team.
Project Manager Benjamin Bartley has worked in food systems and sustainable agriculture throughout his career, from vending at farmers markets and processing livestock to working in cooperative extension and as a farm food safety auditor. His experience spans the non-profit, private and public sectors, including employment as an independent consultant and at a cooperative, family-owned business, social enterprise and academia, most recently serving as Program Area Leader, Food Systems and Local Food with Penn State Extension.
Program Development Consultant Dr. Deke Alkire worked for the Noble Research Institute as a Livestock Consultant and Consulting Manager for nine years, serving producers in the southern Great Plains. Most recently, he was the Project Manager for the Integrity Beef Sustainability Pilot Project, a collaboration between the Noble Research Institute, Beef Marketing Group, Tyson Foods, Golden State Foods and McDonald’s.
Welcome New ESMC Members
ESMC is pleased to announce The Keith Campbell Foundation for the Environment as its newest Legacy Partner member. Welcome!
ESMC Member News
American Farmland Trust Releases Report and Provides Farmer Relief
ESMC Legacy Partner member, American Farmland Trust (AFT), recently released the first-ever national report on Non-Operator Landowners (NOLs). Nearly 40% of U.S. farmland is rented or leased from agricultural landowners, with the majority being NOLs. “Understanding and Activating Non-Operator Landowners” provides results of a multi-state survey and identifies opportunities to advance conservation on agricultural land of NOLs. Read more here.Additionally, in response to the Covid-19 crisis, AFT established its Farmer Relief Fund and is currently disbursing 1,000 grants of $1,000 each to farmers across the country in need. Over 5,000 applications were received, and AFT is raising additional funds to meet the need. Donations may be made here.
Trust in Food Releases Report on Farmer Perspectives on Data
New research conducted by ESMC member Trust in Food, a Farm Journal initiative, in collaboration with The Sustainability Consortium, seeks to help close the gap between in-field conservation practices and supply chain needs. “Farmer Perspectives on Data: A roadmap for engaging with farmers to scale the collection and sharing of farm-level production data” highlights insights from of nearly 400 farmers in more than 40 states. Read more here.
Illinois Corn Growers Association: Success in Stewardship Network Honoree
Congratulations to ESMC Legacy Partner member, the Illinois Corn Growers Association, for the recognition bestowed on its Precision Conservation Management (PCM) program. PCM was recognized as one of the first honorees in the “Success in Stewardship Network” of the National Corn Growers Association, also an ESMC member. Read more here.
Archer Daniels Midland Adopts New Sustainability Commitments
Although decarbonization of industrial processes remains a big technical challenge, food processing and commodities giant and ESMC Founding Circle member, Archer Daniels Midland (ADM), recently adopted new commitments to cut its absolute greenhouse gas emissions 25 percent by 2035 — with additional carbon sequestration projects and changes to its transportation fleet figuring largely in that strategy. ADM also has pledged to decrease energy intensity 15 percent over the same timeframe. Continue reading here.
General Mills Releases 2020 Global Responsibility Report
General Mills, an ESMC funder and Founding Circle member, recently released its 2020 Global Responsibility Report. The report highlights progress made on its commitment to “advancing planetary health through regenerative agriculture” on one million acres of farmland by 2030, among other initiatives related to nutrition, people and community. In 2019, General Mills also enabled 5.5 billion meals around the world through philanthropic partners and food donations. Read more here.
Look for ESMC at . . .
Ecosystem Markets in Nebraska Roundtable
ESMC team member Bruce Knight will be serving as a panelist to provide context at a virtual Roundtable discussion on Ecosystem Markets in Nebraska on June 16, co-hosted by The Nebraska Corn Board and The Nature Conservancy.
. . . Online!
Our ESMC team continues its active work in addressing goals and priorities of the ESMC. Please let us know if we can assist with requests for virtual presentations or other questions to be addressed. Stay up-to-date on ESMC happenings at our website and follow us on social media. We are active on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn as @MarketEcosystem, @EcosystemServicesMarketConsortium and Ecosystem Services Market Consortium, respectively.
Other News of Note
NRCS Releases Updated Conservation Data Viewer
NRCS provides quick and easy access to extensive data on the nation’s conservation program activities via its longstanding Interactive Data Viewer created with The Soil and Water Resources Conservation Act (RCA) in 1977. The Data Viewer was just The Data Viewer was just updated with FY2019 data, and for the first time it includes data on practice enhancements and bundles supported by the Conservation Stewardship Program.In addition to these updates, two cropland soil health performance measures were added to the Data Viewer. The Cropland Soil Health and Sustainability measure identifies land units where at least two practices are applied to improve soil health during a single year. Practices include crop rotation, no-till, reduced till, cover crops, and CSP enhancements and bundles. The Cropland Soil Health Management System measure identifies areas where a group of conservation practices and enhancements (or bundles) are applied that address four basic soil health principles: minimize soil disturbance, maximize soil cover, maximize biodiversity, and maximize the presence of living roots.
Farmers Are Coming Around on Climate Change
Roll Call (May 13) – Major farm and livestock groups held a press conference in February to project a united voice on an issue they’ve long avoided. The coalition leaders said they wanted to join the fight against climate change rather than remain cast as villains avoiding the responsibility. The approach was a sharp departure for an industry that less than a year earlier looked more like a victim as photos circulated of nearly 20 million acres so saturated and flooded that farmers, mostly in the Midwest, couldn’t get into their fields. But farmers and ranchers now acknowledge that they have to change their practices. Continue reading the article here.
Award-Winning 4R Advocates Say Data Driven, Environmentally Responsible Agriculture Is the Future
Lancaster Farming (May 8) – Mike Kurek feels frustrated when fellow farmers tell him he’s wasting his time and money by micro-managing his fertilizer applications. Kurek is a total believer in the 4R approach to nutrient management. “4R” is short for the right source, the right rate, the right time, and the right place. Kurek’s answer to his critics is that 4R lowers his fertilizer bill, boosts yields and keeps plant nutrients on his farm, rather than running off into the Susquehanna River. Continue reading the article here.
Could Changing the Way We Farm Rice Be a Climate Solution?
Civil Eats (April 23) – Rice provides one fifth of the world’s calories, and research shows that, per calorie, it has one of the lowest emissions footprints compared to meat, fruit, vegetables, wheat, and corn. Now, there is growing attention to practices that further reduce the climate impact of rice. And, given that it is the fourth largest crop grown in the world, those changes could amount to a significant climate solution. Continue reading the article here.
Show Me the Money: Making a Downstream Market for Diverse Regenerative Crops
Conservation Finance Network (April 16) – The prospect of positive financial returns is imperative to incentivize sometimes risky, wholesale change in agriculture. To drive a large-scale transition from conventional to regenerative agricultural practices, it is important for growers to retain, or even enhance, profitability during and after the transition. To help ensure this profitability, there are multiple interventions across the agricultural supply chain that could create attractive markets for regenerative products and/or reduce financial risk incurred by growers. Continue reading the article here.