Like many of the projects funded through the USDA program, project outcomes will have a broad impact.
“At the farm level, it’s really an opportunity to work with farmers to scale up new conservation practices but also help them track metrics and give them credit for those practices,” Thomas says. “That helps at the corporate level because we can validate sustainability practices that could help them gain access to foreign markets.”
As packaged goods companies continue to take direction from consumers requesting more sustainable food production, more regulations get passed down to the producer. The voice of the producer isn’t always taken into consideration in those conversations, and there’s a hope that these partnerships will help bring those topics to the surface.
“Our vision for the project is that we will be working with farmers to identify environmental practices and experiences that are the most meaningful in terms of water quality and climate change,” says Richter. “It’s important to validate these practices and identify metrics so we can help ensure farmers have a voice in what will be done on the farm from a conservation standpoint.”
It’s important to keep in mind that this one project with Edge Dairy Cooperative is just one of many—more than $3.1 billion is being invested in 141 projects. The amount of partnerships being created by organizations that otherwise would not have worked together is a true benefit for all of agriculture.
“This is the future of agriculture, working in a broader network with more partners,” Brey says. “It’s not one group doing this alone and not one group is getting all of the credit. It’s more about discovering the outcomes and finding value for the farmers to help them be successful, and bringing all of the right partners together to help get that done. By expanding that network you find great partners in unlikely places.”
In the end, regardless of the players, these unique partnerships have one common goal in mind, and that is to do what’s best for farmers and their land. This is the common ground that has brought once adversarial organizations together toward accomplishment of this critical objective.