4 Considerations for Successful Farm-Level Interventions

In the private sector to date, more than 50 US-based food and agriculture companies have set rigorous greenhouse gas reduction targets – leading to a widespread focus on reducing the largest portion of their footprints: Scope 3 emissions. These include all upstream and downstream greenhouse gas emissions that fall outside of a company’s direct control, typically within their upstream or downstream supply chains.

As the largest source of emissions, Scope 3 also offers the greatest opportunity for reductions. For the ag and food companies we work with, farm-level interventions hold immense potential both for reductions and removals. Despite this potential, successful farm-level interventions can be complex and challenging to design and implement. Many companies have conducted supply shed hotspot analyses and even identified strategic interventions to implement – but are struggling to truly generate results on the ground.

At AgSpire, we drive success down to the ground level with a simple approach: putting the producer first. By using that as our guide, we are able to amplify and accelerate results – delivering benefit throughout the supply chain, from the farmers and ranchers on the ground, to the companies we work with, and ultimately to our environment at large.

When designing a farm-level program, here are four ways in which putting the producer first can lead to measurable progress: 

  1. Get Regional: The US EPA currently breaks ecosystem management into 12 ecoregions across the continental US – each with different climates, weather patterns, soils, water sources, and plant species. As such, growing corn in South Dakota, for example, looks very different than growing corn in Kansas. In a Scope 3 program, this may mean approaching growers in different regions with entirely customized opportunities, practices, and incentives – based on the context, markets, and ecosystems of those localities. This regional approach helps accelerate adoption and lead to better outcomes.
  2. Design for Resilience: It is imperative to remember that implementing practice changes of any kind creates financial risk for the farmer – including additional input costs or investments in new equipment or other infrastructure, for example. This risk can create challenges for program recruitment, enrollment, and even program retention. That said, designing programs that simultaneously reduce GHG emission and create on-farm benefit through a positive return on investment in the form of improved profitability, enhanced farm resilience, shrunken costs, or greater productivity go a long way to creating producer motivation and interest.
  3. Build with Empathy: Despite the credibility that comes with rigorous models, standards, protocols, and verification practices, these requirements don’t always align with how a producer runs their operation. For example, not all producers keep 3-5 years’ worth of records on file at any given time at the level needed to enter the most rigorous carbon programs. Understanding these realities and adapting program requirements helps lower barriers that might keep an interested farmer or rancher from participating or changing practices.
  4. Provide Support: On-the-ground success is dependent on helping connect producers with the right practices, programs, and incentive mix for their operation. Providing producers with technical assistance to successfully implement the practices and financial assistance needed to cover the financial burden of tackling the change can be a significant motivator for participation and on-going retention.

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.

Facilitating Landscape Change

As a trusted advisor to the ranchers we work with, my goal is to understand the ranching operation, its business goals, and the environment where it exists. With that baseline understanding, I help the ranchers find the best path to reach their goals and improve their long-term sustainability and resilience.

This spring, that work took me to a small community in the Northwest US, where I worked with several ranchers in the same geographic area. Ranging in size and approach, I worked with them to meet their goals: enhance biodiversity, improve weather resilience, conserve grazing land, and simplify operations to improve management.

Despite operations that looked and functioned very differently, each rancher was affected by a common concern around the availability of irrigation water. In this project cohort, each rancher was located within a few miles of each other, where they shared one reservoir for irrigation. The irrigation practices they used at the time were water-intensive flood tactics, contributing to the depletion of the reservoir each summer. This limited forage output – affecting the viability of their ranching operations. By coming together as a group, the ranchers were able to learn about water conservation opportunities from one another, including potential ways to upgrade their irrigation equipment.

While individual efforts make a difference, the collective impact of working in a clustered geographic area revealed the power to bring about landscape-level changes. This collaborative approach enables producers, organizations, communities, and/or governments to pool their efforts and tackle complex challenges. The cumulative effect of these endeavors leads to significant impact, especially for shared resources like water.

About the Author

Grazing and Rangeland Advisor

Matthew brings vast experience managing and restoring rangeland ecosystems and an excitement to expand his knowledge of restoration and sustainability on working landscapes. Prior to joining AgSpire, he was a rangeland management specialist at USDA-NRCS Field Office in California.

Matthew holds a bachelor’s degree in Rangeland conservation and agricultural economics from the University of Idaho. He also holds NEPA and Wildland Restoration certifications and is a certified Technical Service Provider (TSP) through NRCS in 10 states and across 6 practices.

He maintains strong ties to his family’s ranch operations in California where they raise cattle, sheep, hay, and timber.