General Mills chooses Kansas for restorative farm project

Agricultural program will pay farmers for increased soil carbon, reduced greenhouse gases, and improved water quantity and water use efficiency.

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State News

February 14, 2020 - 4:04 PM

HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) — A major food corporation has selected Kansas wheat as the best in the nation for a three-year pilot project.

The restorative farming project will discover ways farmers can save water, increase soil health and decrease carbon footprints, The Hutchinson News reported.

General Mills, with the help of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment and the Ecosystem Services Market Consortium, selected the 650,000-acre Cheney Reservoir region as the project’s location.

This region includes farms in five counties — Kiowa, Reno, Pratt, Kingman and Stafford. Water from the reservoir where the runoff from these farms goes is used by residents of Wichita. By way of application, 24 farmers were chosen for this pilot project.

“They saw we were already doing some of this. It’s an opportunity to put additional resources in there and get everything snowballing,” said Lisa French, project director for the Cheney Lake Watershed. “This has an impact in making the farms more profitable and more resilient, and in turn, makes our farming communities more resilient.”

This impact-based agricultural program will pay farmers for increased soil carbon, reduced greenhouse gases, and improved water quantity and water use efficiency. This is part of General Mills’ regenerative agriculture program.

By not using century-old farming methods of tilling each field, pulling out the nutrients from the earth and then adding fertilizer, this model leaves living roots in the ground 365 days per year, creating less soil erosion, less chemical use and higher nutrient crop value.

But for farmers, the practice takes time and a lot of initial work.

Chad Basinger, of Pretty Prairie, has used regenerative practices for more than five years.

But although he and his wife, Cassondra, believe in the practice, they feel they need to learn more and become “all in.” Along with not tilling several of his fields, five years ago, Basinger introduced cover crops — cowpeas, flax and turnips.

These crops have helped him find good forage for his cattle operation, as well as increase the permeability of his soil.

“We’ve seen the organic matter improve. Our soil will hold more water, so we can weather some of the droughts and store more rain,” Basinger said.

Basinger feels it is important for farmers to work alongside the environment and not fight it. He hopes through this study he will incorporate more regenerative farming methods.

“We want to keep the life cycle continually growing,” Basinger said. “If we can make more money by the way we farm, regeneratively and sustainably, that’s part of the payoff.”

Helping farmers understand the benefits of regenerative farming is the goal of this project.

“This unprecedented pilot is a leading example of public and private sectors coming together to quantify environmental improvements and compensate farmers for implementing soil health and regenerative practices on their operations,” said Mary Jane Melendez, chief sustainability and social impact officer at General Mills. “We must demonstrate not only meaningful and measurable environmental benefits to communities at large, but economic benefit to farmers, as well.”

General Mills has partnered with consultants from Understanding Ag who will work with producers to identify and implement changes to their farming. Understanding Ag’s farm advisers will collect the information needed to verify changes.

Jason Hildebrand, a farmer from Stafford who will be part of the study, has seen his cattle herd increase because of some of the regenerative practices he implemented during the past three years.

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