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NCGA Unveils First Sustainability Goals to Achieve by 2030, Impacts to Michigan Farmers

Corn plants. Photo: Ashley Davenport

The National Corn Growers Association released its U.S. Corn Sustainability Goals and it’s first U.S. Corn Sustainability Report on Tuesday. This information comes from the formation of the Corn Sustainability Advisory Group.

“Making sustainability is a key component of maintaining and increasing market access opportunities,” said John Linder, president of NCGA. “If we didn’t address sustainability proactively as corn growers, we’d either be left behind or we’d be allowing someone else to define it for us. Neither option is a good option. The truth is we have a great story to tell.”

Before sustainability was a buzz word, the organization has been collecting data on improvements in corn farming for years.

“It’s important to recognize farmers across the country have adopted practices for many years to defend against soil erosion, improve water quality use, and manage resources and nutrients through continuous improvements found in modern farming,” said Linder.

There are five main goals NCGA wants to reach by 2030: to increase land-use efficiency by 12 percent; increase irrigation water use efficiency by 15 percent; reduce soil erosion by 13 percent; increase energy use efficiency by 13 percent; and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 13 percent. With nine years to reach those goals, NCGA will be using more technology, said board member Deb Gangwish.

“I see more and more farmers continuing to adopt various technologies so they can raise their corn crop more efficiently each year,” she said. “We have been pushing hard to increase our satellite technology imagery—that allows us as farmers to get a peek into our crop health, and we can tackle issues we have with watering. It’s all about using only what you need.”

NCGA Action Team member Patty Mann notes that the goals are based on national-level data, building on a unified message.

“Our goals are based on resource efficiencies, not overall resource usage,” she said. “As we continue to become more efficient producing corn, we’re always doing more with less, and our goals measure that progress.”

At the end of the day, Gangwish said the announcement is important in linking the consumer to the farmer.

“To be able to bring the farm to the people is key, and to be able to help people understand what is happening,” she said. “I want people to feel connected to what we’re doing and know we care, and that social sustainability, environmental sustainability, and economic sustainability is key for all of us.”

But what does this mean for Michigan producers? Kristin Poley, research manager for the Corn Marketing Program of Michigan, said corn growers are committed to improving production for environmental and economic sustainability.

“The Corn Marketing Program of Michigan fully supports the goals outlined by the National Corn Growers Association [Tuesday], and we’re really looking forward to seeing what more we can accomplish as a commodity over the next decade at a large scale in Michigan regionally and across the country,” she said.

Poley said farmers were the ones to create these five goals, which NCGA hopes to accomplish by 2030.

“The sustainability efforts by farmers are helping defend against soil erosion, which is good for the environment, but also improve water quality and efficiency,” she said. “That’s really a social benefit of famers doing some of these sustainable agricultural practices. Some of the specific goals that have been set have been around reducing land use impact, reducing soil erosion, but increasing irrigation and energy use efficiency, as well as reducing greenhouse gas emissions.”

The changes are incremental. Poley said at scale, they happen gradually.

“They’re often less tangible than economic decisions, for example, that can be verified quickly on a spreadsheet so producers are going to have to balance the short-term economics of these changes on their farms versus the long-term environmental, social and economic gain,” she said. “That’s not easy to do, but we know farmer have been doing this for a long time, so we’re confident in the goals that were set.”

To learn more about NCGA’s sustainability goals and report or submit a comment, go to ncga.com/sustainability.