FBN launches GRO Network to pair grain buyers with farmers using carbon-capturing practices
Regenerative practices can pay off long term by building organic matter and improving soil health, but they could also bring a premium for your grain as companies look for raw ingredients that are sustainably grown.
A new program of Sioux Falls-based Farmers Business Network (FBN) is connecting farmers who use regenerative methods with buyers that will pay them a premium. The so-called GRO Network launched Sept. 1 with another Sioux Falls company as a major player.
Poet will buy corn for ethanol production through the program. This comes at a time when even makers of renewable fuels need to reduce their carbon footprint to be competitive with other fuels under regulations like the California Low Carbon Fuel Standard.
There are other sustainability programs like the GRO Network where growers track their farming practices for manufacturers like Grain Millers or food companies like General Mills. The GRO Network aims to simplify things for the farmers by measuring sustainability on one set of criteria and marketing the grain to any number of buyers.
“This gives buyers a chance to plug into one system that is farmer-approved,” said Steele Lorenz, head of sustainable business for FBN.
While some environmental programs end up be a “tremendous” burden on growers, Lorenz said the GRO Network makes it simple for farmers to gather data about their growing practices. Much of it will come from machine data that they’re already collecting with in-cab monitors. That will be supplemented with some remote-sensing data and a small amount of surveying, Lorenz said.
Farmers will share information about their fertilizer applications, tillage, cover cropping and other practices to get a farm-level score. That score is all FBN will share with prospective buyers in an effort to protect data privacy.
Since its inception six years ago, FBN has aggregated farmer-generated data to help growers make decisions like which seed varieties would yield best on their farm. But much of the information farmers collect is lost when the grain is traded, Lorenz pointed out.
“We wanted to build that next step and help carry that information through when grain is sold,” he said.
He expects grain buyers will be looking for more and more information about what they’re buying into the future. It follows the trend of consumers wanting to know where their food is coming from, as well as goals for cutting carbon emissions and making sustainable products.
While the premium buyers pay will depend on the market, Lorenz said growers have seen a bump of anywhere between 5 and 10 cents a bushel from such sustainability programs.
South Dakota farmer Todd Haten talked about the benefits in an FBN news release.
“Regenerative agriculture techniques have not only saved us money, they’ve made us money,” said Hanten, who farms 3,000 acres of corn, soybeans and spring wheat near Goodwin. “We’ve always tried these practices side by side and can compare conventional tillage to no-till and strip till and we’ve realized the benefits through our data analytics. We’re happy to find out that the practices we’ve adopted are saving us money and making us a better return.”
Farmers using no till practices or using cover crops are essentially growing a premium product, Lorenz said.
“Farmers take on the price of (improving) soil health alone. We’re trying to bring some of that value back to the growers,” he said.