Partners: USDA Climate-Smart Grant Opens Opportunities To Build On Farmers’ Success

By Jamie Mara





The partners in a new broad climate-smart initiative recently touted the potential of the project to greatly expand farmer-led conservation practices and business opportunities.  

The groups learned they will receive up to $50 million from the U.S. Department of Agriculture for the initiative through USDA’s new Partnerships for Climate-Smart Commodities program. The initiative aims to help farmers implement sustainability projects that reduce their carbon footprint, document the improvements and demonstrate value in the supply chain.


“Farmers are doing incredible work with innovative practices that build healthy soils, protect water quality and cut greenhouse gas emissions. With this initiative, we can bring more farms into the fold while positioning them for business opportunities in a marketplace that rewards sustainability,” said Tim Trotter, CEO of Edge Dairy Farmer Cooperative, which has members throughout the Midwest.

Trotter participated in a roundtable discussion with U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack recently on a farm in northwestern Wisconsin.

Edge is spearheading the project ― Farmer-led Climate Smart Commodities Initiative: Building Success from the Ground Up ― involving 14 partners and dozens of supporting companies, organizations, government agencies and others.


“This U.S. Department of Agriculture award serves as an excellent opportunity to help U.S. dairy producers make progress on their sustainability journeys,” said Keith Braun, director of farm sustainability, cream sales and milk procurement excellence for Agropur, a global dairy foods manufacturer. “We are proud to support Edge Dairy Farmer Cooperative’s efforts to accelerate climate-smart practices at the farm and then help process that environmentally friendly milk into nutritious dairy products for our customers.”

The initiative goes beyond dairy as well to involve other commodities.


“The beet sugar industry is excited to launch projects to implement climate-smart production practices that further nutrient stewardship. Funding from USDA’s new Partnerships for Climate-Smart Commodities program will allow sugarbeet growers to take a leadership role in implementing sustainable practices and position the industry for a sustainable future,” Cassie Bladow, president of the U.S. Beet Sugar Association, said. 

Luther Markwart, executive vice president of American Sugarbeet Growers Association, echoed the excitement of the initiative.


“America’s sugarbeet farmers have been global leaders in sustainable sugar production for decades, using best practices and continuous improvement to provide reliable supplies to consumers,” Markwart said. “Our family farmers look forward to demonstrating the climate-smart benefits of their crops, along with our project partners. We appreciate this tremendous opportunity from USDA and are proud to work alongside them in this exciting process.”

The initiative will build off a first-of-its-kind framework for farm-level sustainability projects, which helps farmers determine what climate-smart production practices are most effective for their farms and provides tools to document the environmental and financial effects. The framework is currently being applied in projects involving farmers and others in the dairy food supply chain in the Midwest. 


“Customers want assurances that the food they buy is being produced in a way that’s sensitive to the environment,” said Lauren Brey, managing director of Farmers for Sustainable Food, a nonprofit organization of food system partners that helped develop the framework. “Demonstrating this starts at the farm but also has implications for businesses throughout the supply chain. We are excited to have a greater opportunity through the USDA grant to empower our farmers.”


Steve Richter, director of agriculture strategies for The Nature Conservancy in Wisconsin, said his group sees tremendous potential to build on the progress farmers are making.

“The Nature Conservancy is proud to be a partner in this grant, which will build on the great work being done by farmer-led groups and their collaborators all over Wisconsin to implement climate-smart management practices, share what they are doing with their peers, learn from each other and continuously improve,” Richter said. “We are seeing proof on that ground that this model works, and we’re excited about the opportunity for expansion across North America.”

All partners in the Edge initiative:

  • AgCentric, Minnesota State Farm Business Management
  • Agropur
  • Center for Farm Financial Management
  • Clean Wisconsin
  • Farmers for Sustainable Food
  • Farmobile
  • Fox-Wolf Watershed Alliance
  • Headwaters Agriculture Sustainability Partnership
  • Houston Engineering, Inc.
  • Southwest Wisconsin Technical College
  • The Nature Conservancy
  • University of Wisconsin-Madison/Extension
  • U.S. Beet Sugar Association, American Sugar Beet Growers Association
  • Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection
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