"Now I am looking for knowledge. There aren't many people doing it in my part the country. What works in Minneapolis will not work here," Klein said.
That's where Cargill comes in. By pooling resources, research and other farmers' experiences, Cargill hopes to connect all of the dots for farmers to advance the practice.
Klein has already eliminated the use of anhydrous ammonia and is hoping Cargill can help him get away from nitrogen entirely.
"It's my last hurrah to improve my land, to make it better for whoever gets it next. What's keeping me going is the cover crops, it's got me pumped up," Klein said. "Once I saw the erosion improve, the soil health improve and the weed control, I really jumped on the bandwagon. Because it is completely different from what I've done my whole life so it is kind of exciting."
This new regenerative agriculture commitment is intentionally open-ended because of Cargill's direct relationship with the farmers means it is taking a more "farmer-led" approach.
"As farmers adopt a new method, we will look to model the actual carbon improvement and water improvement of that farmer," Sirolli said.
Cargill has many critics who say efforts such as its outreach in regenerative agriculture amount to a form of marketing called "greenwashing," or the appearance of environmental stewardship even as its profits from the growth of farming and practices that are sometimes harmful.
But as the largest company in the food supply chain, Cargill is in a unique position to pull together various groups in any innovation in agriculture, said Jill Kolling, Cargill's vice president global sustainability. For example, last month it helped launch a five-year soil health project in Nebraska with McDonald's, Target and The Nature Conservancy, an NGO active in advancing regenerative agriculture.
Steve Groff, a lifelong farmer and author of a new book "The Future-Proof Farm," said he is cautiously optimistic about Cargill's new commitment to a system he has been practicing for years.
"I am supportive of this, but cautious. Some farmers are skeptical because history in agriculture is that typically corporations do not have the farmers' best interest in mind. They offer you a carrot, then you take the carrot, but then there are all kinds of strings attached," Groff said. "But just the fact that these big boys are doing more than just placating, more than just talking about it, they're going to do something about this, that alone helps."
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