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Cargill joins regenerative agriculture movement, sets goal for 10 million acres

By Kristen Leigh Painter, Star Tribune (Minneapolis) on

Published in Business News

By enlisting the help of soil's natural biology - using cover crops, reducing chemicals that kill earthworms, minimizing disturbance by eliminating tillage and employing crop rotations - regenerative agriculture is believed to help the take carbon out of the atmosphere.

Advocates of this farming system say it is one of those rare solutions to agriculture's impact on climate change that is win-win for everyone.

Al Klein has been growing corn and soybeans near Freeburg, Ill. for 40 years. He experimented with cover cropping - one of the pillars of a regenerative system - about 12 years ago, but failed to see the benefit.

"There's a learning curve on cover crops. It's not as simple as it looks," Klein said.

He continued to struggle with severe erosion on the 1,800 acres he farms. So about seven years ago, he gave cover crops another try. After switching up the type of clover he planted over winter, he was shocked to see what happened next.

"I never expected to have these results so fast. It's really exciting to have a shovel full of worms. That's what it is all about - the living stuff in your soil," Klein said. "All those worm holes are taking that water down into your soil rather than running across your field and into the streams. It's kind of exciting. I wasn't a big believer. It is a bit of a slow process. But I'm trying to do it just for soil health."

 

Successful cover cropping has also saved Klein $50 an acre in reduced nitrogen use.

There's plenty of skepticism in the farming community, a stigma and fear Klein and others have had to overcome.

"First of all you have to make money to stay in business," he said. "If you ask my wife, it has been the most stressful thing on me. When you try something new, people are watching to see if you fail. You've got landlords and bankers and you can't fail. It's just the opposite way of how I've farmed the last 40 years."

With about five years to go before he retires, Klein is thinking about his legacy. He's interested in some of the other principles of regenerative agriculture, like reduced tillage or eliminating pesticides and herbicides. But after losing a lot money two years ago when he planted the wrong type of clover for his particular region, he doesn't want to figure it all out on his own.

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