Designing for Drought Resilience

by Dale Strickler 

Less than 100 years ago, the Dust Bowl wreaked havoc on our nation’s farms and ranches, with drastic and lasting impacts across the land. While this prolonged time of drought underscored just how important water is – we also learned about the critical role that agriculture management plays in capturing and using rainfall when it does come for improved climate resilience.

Capturing Rainfall  

Research by Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension Service found that, on average, only 18% of rainfall is being captured by crops and used to grow food. A staggering 59% evaporates, while 23% falls prey to run off. The year that study was conducted, Oklahoma farmers produced an average of 33 bushels of wheat on only 6.2 inches of soil moisture, after factoring in what was lost to run off and evaporation. 

These figures help us understand that practices that improve water infiltration would allow farmers and ranchers to capture and use five times as much naturally falling moisture.

Of course, better utilizing rainfall would have an incredible impact on yields – but there are also important co-benefits for our environment and society.

Improved water infiltration lessens the dependence on additional irrigation, preserving fresh water sources for needed drinking water. At the same time, we see decreased run-off and erosion, keeping rivers, lakes, and other bodies of water cleaner.

As we collectively asses water risks and their role in resilience, geographically-specific interventions to improve water infiltration are critical.

A Case Study 

For inspiration on designing for drought resilience, let’s look at one of the driest and hottest places: Al Baydha, Saudi Arabia. There, the average rainfall is just 2.5”, while temperatures can climb to 120°F in the summer.

In 2011, a project was launched to design terraces, turning the bare rock and dirt into a thriving pasture for grazing. Capitalizing on every drop of rain, the landscape was transformed in just a few short years. 

 Lessons Learned 

While terraces aren’t the solution for every farm or ranch facing drought conditions, this project inspires us as to what is possible. There are hundreds of other techniques that farmers and ranchers can deploy to capture the full benefit of their natural rainfall. Some of these techniques include:

  • Eliminate Soil Tillage: Tillage exposes the soil to the pounding effects of rainfall, which leads to compaction layers at the soil surface that impedes the further downward movement of water.
  • Leverage Crop Residue: Another major step is to leave as much residue on the soil surface as possible, to cushion the impact of falling raindrops and reduce erosion. 
  • Utilize Cover Crops: A third major action to benefit infiltration is the replacement of fallow periods with cover crops. While cover crops use more moisture during their active growth than a soil that is being fallowed, the difference is not as great as many might expect.

Especially when used together, these practices help compound rates of water infiltration over time. For example, even after termination of the cover crop, the much higher rate of infiltration from the cover crop residue will make each successive rainfall event more efficient, if the mulch is left intact and not tilled under. After they decay, cover crop roots can leave large macropores in the soil that act as easy entry points for rainwater to enter the profile.  

These solutions, along with many more in a regenerative toolbelt, help farmers and ranchers maximize the benefit of natural rainfall – which lessens the environmental impacts on aquifers, rivers, lakes, and local drinking water.

Next Steps and Learn More

To learn more about the right water-wise management solutions to reach your business and land goals, Contact Us.

For Companies: Water stewardship throughout the value chain is a key part of climate resilience and action. The practices outlined in this article provide a plethora of benefits – from improved water infiltration as mentioned, to carbon sequestration and soil health, to enhanced biodiversity. Our team helps drive results toward these commitments, finding the right solutions to meet your goals.

For Farmers: Capturing and using rainfall to its maximum benefit has lasting benefit, economically and agronomically. Our landowner advisors help assess your land and goals, creating a customized plan to optimize water availability for crops and lessen downstream water impacts.

Additional Resources:


About the Author


Landowner Advisor

With more than 30 years of experience in agronomy, pasture management, and soil and crop advising, Dale brings an incredible depth and breadth of knowledge to AgSpire’s work.

With a keen curiosity to find innovative solutions, combined with a thorough understanding of the realities of modern production agriculture, Dale is especially adept in developing highly effective management systems in challenging climates and soil types

He has also authored three books, including The Drought Resilient Farm, Managing Pasture, and The Complete Guide to Restoring Your Soil, which was named a top ten farming book for 2021 by Modern Farmer.

Agriculture’s Environmental Solutions

by Jared Knock

News headlines tell us of rising food costs and shortages, rising global temperatures, changing weather patterns, biodiversity loss, depleted soil, and clean water shortages. 

But today, on National Ag Day, we want to share a different headline: 

Agriculture is part of the solution. 

Everyday, farmers and ranchers around the world work in the soil – hands-on with our most precious resources and the building blocks of life. Because of this shear proximity to nature, farmers and ranchers have a dynamic relationship and important impact on natural systems.  

Unlike the finite stocks of copper, lithium, or cobalt, the stocks of agriculture can replenish and grow over time. With careful management, farmers and ranchers can add practices that promote stronger ecosystem health – while also building their own business resilience. This means that those hands working in the soil have the potential to regenerate our natural resources; clean our water and air; and provide abundant, nutritious, and diverse foods for a growing population. 

Earlier this month, the AgSpire team talked with farmers from around the country at the largest farmer-led trade show in the country. Time and time again, we heard from those farmers about wanting to find nature-based solutions to care for their land and optimize its potential – not just in the near term, but for generations to come. 

Through techniques like interseeding, cover cropping, reduced and no tillage, and holistic grazing, we see farm- and ranch-level benefits like:  

  • Improved soil health and fertility, which lessens our need for synthetic, emissions-intensive fertilizers 
  • Better water retention and filtration, which leads to drought resilience in arid environments and better down-stream water quality in wetter environments 
  • Enhanced biodiversity from the soil to the sky, supporting pollinators, wildlife, and complex ecosystems 

We know that there is immense potential in our industry – and we are working across the agriculture value chain to unlock that potential and highlight the solutions that are inherent within agriculture. 

We often think that these solutions all start with a seed. But, in reality, it all starts with the farmer or rancher. On National Ag Day, we celebrate these farmers and ranchers – and will continue our work to ensure they are part of the solution. 

Learn more about our work across the ag value chain to advance agriculture’s environmental solutions.

About the Author


VP, Business Development

Jared has 25 years of experience on the land as a part-owner of a diversified livestock and crop farm in Eastern South Dakota, raising cattle, sheep, hogs, corn, soybeans, wheat, oats, alfalfa, rye, and cover crops. Through the lessons learned on his own land, Jared is passionate about equipping fellow farmers and ranchers to enable greater resilience and functionality through positive land management and grazing practices.

Jared’s expertise has been further honed through his background in livestock genetics, seed sales, business development, and as co-host of the Roots + Ruminants Podcast. Jared has a degree in Animal Science from South Dakota State University and China Agricultural University in Beijing.


Unlocking Biochar’s Potential

by Derek Ver Helst

A proven way to sequester carbon and a soil amendment showing benefit for farmers – it’s no wonder that biochar is gaining traction in sustainable agriculture conversations.

Terra Preta

As we seek new ways to mitigate atmospheric changes, biochar presents a promising proposition – especially in agriculture communities that can use it as a soil amendment to contribute to soil health. As the availability and accessibility of biochar has increased in recent years, many farmers have seen increased yields, coupled with a decreased need for synthetic inputs – all thanks to biochar applications.

While the use of biochar might be a new practice to US farms, it’s not a new practice globally. In fact, it dates back 2500 years, with origins in the Amazon rainforest. Indigenous people of the region burned forest debris and covered the burning biomass with soil. The resulting ‘man-made’ soil (referred to as Terra Preta) was found to be far more productive than any of the native soils.

We now understand that it offers many agronomic benefits for soil, including increased water infiltration and holding capacity, microbiome health, and nutrient content.

The Science of Biochar Carbon Capture

Biochar is the lightweight, black carbon residue produced via a process called pyrolysis. It is produced using the most abundant carbon sources on Earth as feedstocks: forest and crop residues, grasses, animal waste, and food waste. By heating these feedstocks to extreme temperatures in an environment without oxygen, the molecular bonds break, producing three different forms of carbon: stable carbon, ash, and volatile compounds.

The biochar carbon that is created in this process is indefinitely stable and can stay sequestered in the soil for hundreds to thousands of years. This makes it a valuable carbon sink – as the feedstocks absorb carbon as they grow, and the conversion to biochar prevents the emissions that would have been released as the natural wastes decomposed.

Due to its ability to enhance soil carbon sequestration, biochar presents great opportunities both for insetting and offsetting to meet sustainability commitments. The Science Based Targets Initiative (SBTi) has highlighted biochar in their new Forest, Land and Agriculture Science Based Target-Setting Guidance as a key insetting strategy for companies with land-based footprints to use in reaching their targets. Similarly, Verra has created a methodology for biochar to be used as an offsetting strategy due to the carbon storage associated with the production and use of biochar.

Improving Our Soils

Like most solutions within agriculture, biochar isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. Instead, many factors determine the best types to use, as well as the optimum application techniques, rates, and timing.

Depending on the feedstock used and the temperature at which the biochar is produced, there is wide variety in the physiochemical composition of biochar – offering different benefits to soils. For example, a biochar produced from hazelnut shells will have a different physiochemical makeup than one made from ash tree sawdust. There are two main characteristics to consider, based on these physiochemical differences:

  • The porosity of biochar, which has the largest impact in how it reacts with water and nutrients in the soil profile. Internal structures in the feedstock such as the phloem and xylem define the porosity of the biochar it produces.
  • The amount of nutrients, which are determined by the chemical characteristics of the feedstock, along with oxidation/reduction reaction catalyst, pH buffering and CEC capabilities.

Learn More & Next Steps

For Farmers: USDA-NRCS has deployed new EQIP practice codes to encourage biochar use adoption (Codes 336/808 are referred to as the “Soil Carbon Amendment” practices). Read more from NRCS

For Companies: With its carbon sequestration potential, biochar can be an incredibly effective way to address Scope 3 emissions – either through credits or supporting its use in agriculture. Read this case study from Microsoft

Here at AgSpire, we are utilizing biochar in climate-smart commodity programs and look forward to incorporating the benefits of biochar more broadly. Contact us to learn more about how our advisory and implementation assistance services can help with your sustainability or land goals.

About the Author

Senior Conservation Agronomist

Derek has over 15 years of experience working with landowners and corporations to design, manage, and validate research trials, maximizing short- and long-term crop outputs. With a continued passion for conservation and the natural ecosystem, he is focused on the natural symbiosis organisms have with one another in the environment. Always eager to learn, he is continuously expanding his knowledge of soil health, chemistry, and pest disease management.

Derek holds a bachelor’s degree in Biology from South Dakota State University and a master’s degree in Agronomy from Iowa State University. He is also a Certified Crop Advisor.

Strengthening Your Sustainability Strategy

by Zach Pinto
Director, Carbon & Ecosystem Service Markets

In late 2015, many governments adopted the Paris Agreement – a legally binding, international treaty on greenhouse gas emissions. Since then, corporations and NGOS have joined governments to develop targets and strategies to limit environmental impacts. Now several years into the treaty, recent articles and analyses indicate that, collectively, we aren’t on track to make the changes needed.  

Sustainability Commitments 

To date, 341 food and agriculture companies have committed to and are engaging in science-based targets to advance sustainability and lower their environmental footprints. 

Within those commitments, targets around Scope 3 emissions offer the greatest opportunity for reductions and impact. Scope 3 emissions are environmental externalities that fall outside of a company’s direct control, typically within their upstream or downstream supply chains.  

For many food, feed, fuel, and fiber companies across the globe, reducing environmental impacts at the farm level is imperative for making progress toward these targets. 

Solutions within Agriculture 

Promising research shows that solutions exist within agriculture to accelerate progress and generate environmental benefit. From carbon sequestration, to improved water quality and usage, to enhanced biodiversity, these solutions can be scaled for positive global impacts.  

The good news is, much of the great work our industry is doing to inset its impacts – carbon programs, ecosystem markets, NRCS programs, USDA Partnerships for Climate Smart Commodities – can count as progress toward these targets. The key, of course, is making sure all of this work is measurable, verifiable, and scalable – and ensuring that the changes work for farmers and ranchers – both agronomically and economically.  

Here are three ways to strengthen your sustainability strategy and start unlocking the potential within agriculture:

  • Plan your strategy: Clarify what your supply shed looks like and outline your path forward. What are the most effective ways to drive change, measure progress, and reward farmers in the process? 
  • Partner with farmers: Farmers know how to farm, but adoption of regenerative practices is not a one-strategy-fits-all approach – cover crops don’t work for every farm, for example. Once you know where to focus, make sure you consult growers in the region to ensure you create interventions that work for their farm-specific conditions, make agronomic sense, and prove to be economically viable. 
  • Implement on the ground: Run pilots to test strategies and eventually scale them into full interventions. Ensure practices and outcomes align with leading public cost share programs and private ecosystem service markets that pay growers and count towards your targets.

Read more about how AgSpire can provide strategic guidance and implementation assistance to advance your sustainability goals: Our Services

Learn More

To showcase the great work going on in our industry, incentivize continuous improvement, and reward farmers for the positive practices they implement, many companies worldwide have set rigorous, protocol-based targets. These include:

  • Science-Based Targets: These targets define how quickly and by how much companies should reduce their environmental impacts, based on the best available science, to ensure that global goals such as the Paris Agreement or the Global Biodiversity Framework are met. Science-based targets for greenhouse gas emissions must be validated by the Science Based Targets Initiative (SBTi), and Science-based targets for water, land, and biodiversity must be validated by the Science Based Targets Network (SBTN).  
  • Net Zero Targets: Net Zero Targets are science-based targets that set the standard for how a company can credibly reduce their carbon footprint to net zero (when the amount of all greenhouse gases a company emits equals the amount it removes from the atmosphere) by 2050.

Additional Reading and Citations:

Soil Health and Carbon Sequestration in US Croplands: A Policy Analysis – 

Cover Crops, No-Till Increase Carbon Gains in Soil –

Negative Emissions Technologies and Reliable Sequestration –

About the Author

Director of Carbon & Ecosystem Service Markets

Zach promotes company strategy and client success by assisting industry groups, food and ag companies, and farmers on their sustainability goals. Zach has worked on carbon issues for stakeholders across the agriculture value chain and in a wide array of commodities, developing expertise in farm-level carbon accounting, MRV platform usage, voluntary and compliance market schemes, science-based targets, ESG reporting, and strategic planning.

AgSpire Celebrates Two Years

Born out of a passion for rural communities and positive land use practices, AgSpire has grown our staff, our services and offerings, our client portfolio, and our impact. The original staff members look back and share their reflections on the start of the company and the accomplishments of the last two years.

January 31, 2023 – This month, we celebrated the two-year work anniversary of our first employees: Vivian Georgalas and Jared Knock. And, therefore, the two-year anniversary of AgSpire itself. 

Two years ago, Vivian and Jared joined a mission. The unnamed venture was born out of a passion for rural people and a vision for implementing positive land use practices on farms and ranches around the country.  

With experience in native and regenerative seed sales – and having implemented sustainable practices on his own farm – Jared recognized the opportunity to work within agriculture supply chains, giving farmers and ranchers the right tools and management strategies for their land. 

Vivian came to AgSpire with experience in startups and economic development, previously working for two indoor farming companies. She has been integral in driving AgSpire’s mission forward and overseeing the company’s growth. 

Click to listen to a podcast with Jared discussing the start of AgSpire >>>Roots + Ruminants on Spotify

“Since the start, AgSpire has been a connector. With our knowledge of the sustainability space and deep roots in the agriculture community, we have been able to connect those who want to make changes on the land with those who can make the change,” Vivian shared. 

“Our goal is to simplify a complex landscape,” Jared added. “We help our clients understand sustainability from the agricultural perspective, providing strategy and project execution to meet science-based targets and pledges. At the same time, we take a hands-on approach with farmers and ranchers to implement those strategies. Our team advises them on the best practices that will work for their operation, as well as available public and private incentives.”

Click to see a case study of AgSpire’s work with Walmart >>> Partnership for Sustainable Beef

With driven staff and a strategy for our work in place, one thing remained to formalize the start of this company: a name. 

Vivian, who originally hails from Norway, suggested a word from her native language:  spire, which translates to ‘to sprout.’ This idea encapsulated the sprouting company, looking to inspire a path forward that makes agriculture a part of the solution for planetary health and societal benefit. With that, AgSpire was born. 

“It’s been amazing to see the company grow over the last two years. As we’ve expanded our client portfolio, we’ve been able to help those partners achieve real results toward their sustainability goals, while also delivering value for the producers we work with,” Jared reflected. 

“Not to mention, we’ve seen growth within our company too. From just us two in the beginning, we are proud to now be part of a larger team that shares our excitement for this work,” Vivian added. 

Click here to meet our team

Happy Two Years to Jared, Vivian, and AgSpire! 

2022 In Review: Scaling Regenerative Agriculture as We Grow

2022 was a year of growth at AgSpire.

Since our founding two years ago, our team has diligently worked to expand and amplify positive land use practices. We believe that agriculture-based solutions and land stewardship hold significant potential for the health of our planet. Soil health, water and air quality, biodiversity, wildlife and pollinator habitat, and bio sequestration of carbon are just a few of the many outcomes of positive land use practices resulting in shared societal benefits.

In 2022, we were able to make huge strides in seeing our approach take root and our impact grow. As our client and project portfolio grew, we’ve helped implement positive land use practices on a total of 500,000 acres. With personalized assistance to producers and a deep knowledge of public and private incentive programs, we are able to see successful implementation.

AgSpire's Year in Review: expanding our reach, new projects, and new partners.

Building Our Capacity

One of our biggest priorities in 2022 was to grow our internal capacity, building a team that is rooted in the agriculture community and committed to positive land use changes. The AgSpire team grew from two at the beginning of 2022, to eight at the end of the year – with additional team members joining us in the new year.

We welcomed our first CEO in June. Aline DeLucia comes to AgSpire with diverse experiences in the agriculture industry – from nutrition and animal science to business management and stakeholder engagement – providing well-rounded and pragmatic leadership for AgSpire and our clients.

Joining the business development, operations, and management functions are Julia Andrus as Director of Marketing & Communications and Christian Lovell as a Program Manager. They join our AgSpire veterans Jared Knock and Vivian Georgalas in expanding AgSpire’s reach and ability to serve our clients’ sustainability needs.

We also added to our technical expertise, welcoming Dale Strickler, Derek Ver Helst, and Matthew Delbar. Each brings deep understanding and experience in conservation, grazing and crop management, and regenerative agriculture implementation.

AgSpire's team grew in 2022.

Forging New Partnerships

 AgSpire is proud to partner with organizations across the agriculture industry to build resilience into our agriculture and food systems.

This year, we were selected as a project partner for NGOs, universities, businesses, and other service providers under multiple USDA-funded Partnerships for Climate-Smart Commodities projects. Through these projects, AgSpire will impact an estimated 4.3 million acres over the next 5 years and will empower farmers and ranchers to make their operations more resilient, diversified, and holistically managed.

Expanding Our Advisory Services

Our clients have sustainability goals – and we provide sustainability strategy development, expertise in conservation practice implementation, and knowledge of public and private incentive programs to drive results to meet those goals.

In 2022, we launched new projects with new and existing clients, developing and testing strategies that produce real results. We work with our clients to conceptualize nature-based solutions, providing direction to advance their sustainability goals. Our technical landowner advisors then work directly with producers to successfully implement that strategy and achieve quantifiable outcomes for the land.

Looking back on the year, we are thankful for our clients and partners who have trusted us to advance sustainability and steward the land. The AgSpire team wishes you a Happy New Year – and we look froward to continuing to scale regenerative agriculture in 2023.

AgSpire Increases Ability to Help Companies Meet Sustainability Goals


(BROOKINGS, SD) – AgSpire is committed to amplifying the implementation of positive land use practices through hands-on, customized plans with farmers and ranchers. As of November 1, AgSpire doubled their team, bringing on four individuals with vast experiences and a wide range of connections to help farmers and ranchers, as well as corporations and businesses, achieve their environmental and sustainability goals.

“AgSpire exists to advance adoption and implementation of climate-smart practices that benefit both the producer and corporations. These four new teammates, in roles such as Grazing and Rangeland Advisor and Senior Conservation Agronomist, expand AgSpire’s expertise in conservation practices, and their networks allow us to connect farmers using those practices to companies looking to meet their supply chain sustainability goals,” said Aline DeLucia, CEO of AgSpire.

Dale Strickler is a Grazing and Rangeland Advisor with more than 30 years of experience in agronomy, pasture management, and soil and crop advising. Strickler uses his bachelor’s degree in science education and Agronomy, as well as his master’s degree in Agronomy, to develop highly effective grazing systems for numerous ranchers with a range of often challenging climates and soil types. He is the author of three books: The Drought Resilient Farm, Managing Pasture, and The Complete Guide to Restoring Your Soil, which was named a top ten farming book for 2021 by Modern Farmer.

Derek Ver Helst’s experience and education makes him an excellent fit for AgSpire’s Senior Conservation Agronomist role. Ver Helst has more than 15 years of experience working with landowners and corporate organizations to design, manage, and validate research trials, maximizing short and long-term crop outputs while protecting the integrity of the environment. He has a wide range of knowledge in soil fertility, agronomic chemistry, and pest and disease
management. Ver Helst boasts a bachelor’s degree in biology with a minor in botany, a master’s degree in agronomy, and is a Certified Crop Advisor.

Matthew Delbar joins the team as a Grazing and Rangeland Advisor, and he brings a deep understanding of managing and restoring rangeland ecosystems throughout the United States. His experience as a rangeland management specialist with the USDA-NRCS in California, and degree in rangeland conservation and agricultural economics, is sure to benefit companies looking to connect with farmers to produce environmental benefits.

Christian Lovell joins AgSpire as a Project Manager with nearly a decade of experience working on federal agricultural policy in Washington, D.C. Most recently, Lovell was legislative director at the bipartisan National Governors Association where he oversaw federal advocacy and advised Governor’s and their staff on agricultural, rural, and environmental policies. Lovell will put his agricultural economics degree from Texas A&M to use collaborating with farmers, policy makers and corporations.

Roots + Ruminants: New Income Sources for Farmers

Roots + Ruminants Podcast hosts Jared Knock and Justin Fruechte chat with guest Vivian Georgalas about upcoming new public and private programs that may be available for farmers to boost their income.

> Apple Podcasts

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Roots + Ruminants: Ruminations Ep. 2

Join us for episode 2 of Ruminations with Justin + Jared! The guys get into the carbon conversation tackling everything from the basics of what is carbon, to direct air capture plants and carbon programs. We are introduced to AgSpire and we learn what we’ll be seeing from them in the future.

> Apple Podcasts

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Roots + Ruminants: Special Episode

In this episode, we were fortunate to have not one but two great guests! Laura Wood Peterson of Laura Wood Peterson Consulting and Vivian Georgalas of AgSpire join Jared to discuss the state of ESG, carbon net neutrality aspirations, and land whales. Yes, land whales. Check it out!

> Apple Podcasts

> Spotify