Hosted by two commercial row-crop farmers, Field Work is a podcast that provides space for frank, realistic discussions about the benefits and challenges of sustainable agriculture. Hosts Zach Johnson and Mitchell Hora explore the successes and challenges farmers experience as they adopt new practices, without greenwashing over the difficulties.
Can Cotton Drive American Ag Sustainability?
Farmers from 17 southern states supply more than a third of the world’s cotton and bring in $7 billion a year. But brands and retailers — cotton’s customers — are getting picky about how their cotton is produced. They want to assure their customers that farmers care about the environment. The U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol gives farmers a way to measure and improve soil carbon, greenhouse gas emissions, water use and energy use, among other things. Dr. Andy Jordan, who helped write the protocol, explains how it works to Field Work hosts Zach Johnson and Mitchell Hora. They also discuss how the protocol might be adapted to other crops.
Read more: Five questions about the U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol
Small Farmers, Big Stakes
John and Kara Boyd are equally committed to farming and to farm ownership for people of color. John heads the National Black Farmers Association, and Kara runs the Association of American Indian Farmers. They told Field Work hosts Mitchell Hora and Zach Johnson they became activists because of their own experiences with a racist USDA. Meanwhile, they are trying to spread the word about cover crops, no-till farming and conservation.
Read more: John and Kara Boyd
A Winning Personality?
For a few years now, Iowa State University Professor Kevin Kimle has been asking students in his ag entrepreneurship classes to take a personality test. What he’s found so far is that compared to the average person, those ag students score pretty low when it comes to openness. He and the Field Work hosts talk about what that lack of openness might mean for trying new practices like cover crops. And after taking the personality test, Zach and Mitchell learn some awkward things about themselves.
Read more: The Big Five Aspects Scale
The Magical Dividing Line Between Counties
The Nature Conservancy and Purdue University are among a lot of people in the sustainable ag keen to figure out what it takes to scale conservation practices. Does it come down to the availability of funding? Climate? Soils? What happens if all those factors are pretty equal between, say, two neighboring counties, but the level of adoption of conservation practices varies dramatically between them? Kris Johnson from the TNC and Linda Prokopy from Purdue talk about research in three different states where they compare counties with a robust conservation culture to neighboring counties that aren’t doing much. They talk with Zach and Mitchell about cover crop culture, the importance of collaboration among farmers, government agencies and entrepreneurs, and what they still don’t understand.
Read more: The Magical Dividing Line Between Counties
Carrying the Torch
Young farmers coming back to a family operation often have to tease out a place for themselves with hard work, creativity and an entrepreneurial zeal. For Trent Stout, that meant taking on the family seed business and migrating it from being a local corn and soybean dealer to be the go-to source for diverse cover crop seeds. Michael Vittetoe brought cattle to the farm as an integral part of a rotation that relies on cover crops. He might just fold the chickens into the system, too. Hosts Mitchell Hora and Zach Johnson hear how some of their peers are making conservation their part of the family business.
Read more: A New Generation Advances the Cause
The Down-Low from DC: Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack
The Biden administration has ambitious climate mitigation goals, and agriculture has been called upon to be a strong partner. USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack led the department throughout the Obama years and is back at the helm. He talks with Mitchell and Zach about consumer demands for sustainably grown food, how to develop carbon markets that serve farmers first, the need to create more opportunity to sell what’s currently considered waste, and how farmers can make sure their interests are part of any future plans and policies. (Hint: comment here).
Read more: Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack on Climate Solutions