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Partnerships for Climate-Smart Commodities Helps Partners Expand Reach, Make Lasting Impact on America’s Farmland

Partnerships for Climate-Smart Commodities Helps Partners Expand Reach, Make Lasting Impact on America’s Farmland

Andrew Johnstad’s family has farmed in Minnesota since his grandfather immigrated to the United States from Norway in 1905.

Johnstad, a fourth-generation farmer in Beltrami, Minnesota, farms 11,000 acres of corn, soybeans and sugar beets along with his dad, David, and brother, James. They pride themselves on employing locals and being an economic driver in their small town of 80 people, but in recent years, changing weather patterns have made that mission more difficult.

The winds have gotten stronger, and the rain has gotten less predictable. Then, it all came to a head three years ago when poorly timed “hellacious winds” came through, devastated their sugar beet crop and convinced them it was time to take a leap of faith and adapt the way they farm.

As an early adopter of cover crops, they’d built resiliency in the field for just that scenario by planting cover crops on their beet fields. Time was just not on their side and —10 days after they terminated their cover crops — the winds they were trying to protect against arrived with nothing left to protect their crop.

“It just about cut the yield in half because the dirt blew and cut off all the beet plants,” Johnstad said. “That was kind of the last straw for us for like, 'Alright, there's got to be a better way, right?'”

A Leap of Faith Their search for a better way led them to transition their beet fields from conventional tillage to strip-tillage. Strip tillage (strip-till) creates a narrow band of tilled soil, while leaving the remainder of the field undisturbed. This undisturbed soil reduces soil erosion, increases pore space development through the soil profile and generally increases the overall soil health. The alternating rows of cash crop and cover crop creates permanent wind protection throughout the entire season, instead of leaving the cash crop unprotected following cover crop termination in a conventional tillage system. Strip-till also provides ancillary soil health benefits through better water infiltration, reduced fertilizer usage and reduced erosion from both wind and water.

“Basically, now that we do strip-till, we're pretty much guaranteeing that our beets won't blow out from wind,” Johnstad said. “We believe that. We're seeing that. We're excited about that.”

The program started in 2019 and works by providing a per-acre payment to farmers in return for them adopting climate-smart practices such as reduced or no-till practices, cover crops, crop rotation or nutrient management systems. The goal of the program is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, improve water quality and create markets for commodities grown using climate-smart practices.

Even in these early stages of the program, farmers are seeing positive climate impacts. Johnstad said by using strip-till he has reduced his field passes and fertilizer usage. He estimated they have reduced their nitrogen and phosphorus inputs by 20% and that fuel consumption is down 35%.

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Photo Credit: gettyimages-luiscarlosjimenezi

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Categories: Minnesota, Crops, Corn, Soybeans, Sugar Beets, Weather

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