National Corn Growers Association releases sustainability report, goals

Grace Connatser
Wisconsin State Farmer
NCGA has set five sustainability goals to reach by 2030 that focus on efficient resource use. Some organization leaders say they believe these goals can be met before 2030.

The National Corn Growers Association has announced their multipronged approach to sustainability that will focus on improving energy efficiency, water quality, soil health and more.

The 24-page document outlines research being done by the organization since 2019 to not only figure out the current state of corn growing sustainability on a national scale, but to also figure out where it's going in the next decade. NCGA set several goals to meet by 2030, some of which key leaders believe they could meet even earlier than then:

  • Increase land use efficiency by 12%
  • Reduce soil erosion by 13%
  • Increase irrigation water use by 15%
  • Increase energy use efficiency by 13%
  • Reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 13%

Corn board president John Linder said that sustainability is becoming a key part of reaching new markets and maintaining success in existing ones. While he said many farmers across the US have already adopted sustainability practices before "sustainability" became a buzzword, he said corn farmers could get left behind if they don't define it.

John Linder

"The truth is that we have a great story to tell. We have decades of documented improvements on our side which happened long before sustainability became a part of our daily vocabulary," Linder said. "It's important to recognize that the farmers across the country have adopted practices for many years to ... manage resources and nutrients with continuous improvements found in modern farming."

NCGA has already reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 31% and is well on its way to the further 13% reduction goal, said Patty Mann, vice chair of the NCGA production technology access action team. She explained that the ever-increasing adoption of precision ag tools has allowed farmers to change their impact on the environment and meet sustainability goals. On Mann's farm, she said all of their engines are fueled by ethanol or other biofuels, reducing emissions. Seed treatments also reduce emissions, Mann said.

"We're building on the opportunity for a unified US corn message," Mann said. "Our goals are based on resource efficiencies, not overall resource usage. As we continue to become more efficient producing corn, we're always doing more with less, and our goals measure that progress. ... Our goals focus on long-term gains."

Deb Gangwish, a member of the board, expressed the dire need to preserve water as a resource. She said she looks forward to watching irrigation and satellite imagery technology continue to evolve as tools to use in the way of reducing water usage while increasing efficiency. She said her own farm has weather stations located at key points in the fields so they only apply what they need to.

Deb Gangwish

"On our farm we're 100% irrigated, so this is really near and dear to our heart," Gangwish said. "Irrigation technology has advanced substantially. I see more and more farmers around us continuing to adopt various technologies, so they can raise their corn crop more efficiently each year."

Linder said a public comment period is being held on the NCGA website until Aug. 8 this year to gain more feedback from corn farmers. This is especially important because the practices and methods farmers use highly depends on the climate, soil type and topography of their region, leading many farmers to adopt different ideas that all achieve sustainability together.

NCGA's seven action teams, plus their 15-member board, has dedicated their time to the report and goal-setting process for two years and will continue to do so, Linder added. He said talking with ordinary farmers in the field has helped them develop a good sense of where they are now and where they need to go in the near future.

"It's a very critical time," Linder said. "It's really important that we as growers take this opportunity up because it is on everybody's mind. It's a great time to communicate what we're doing and where we want to be in the future, to be good stewards (of the land)."