March 23, 2023
An agronomist’s advice can either make or break your farm’s yields, profits and, even, future. Enter the North Dakota Trusted Advisor Partnership — a new coalition made up of the Sustainable Food Lab, North Dakota State University and a variety of food and beverage companies.
The coalition works to equip certified crop advisers with actionable knowledge around soil health-building practices that best work for you and your farm.
Abbey Wick, NDSU Extension soil health specialist, says this program started as a way to join companies together and promote soil health. “Different food and beverage companies all had ideas, and it was recommended that we all talk at once,” she says. “As soon as we told the companies our ideas, they were on board.”
Wick and the Sustainable Food Lab brought together General Mills, Unilever, PepsiCo, King Arthur Baking and Anheuser-Busch, with Hershey’s joining the partnership in late 2022. The Walmart Foundation has provided $1.6 million in grant funding to the Sustainable Food Lab to support the program.
Goals to improve soil health
This program format is the first of its kind, partnering beverage companies with certified crop advisers (CCAs) and farmers to build soil health across North Dakota.
“This has not been done anywhere else,” Wick says. “We’re in a unique position in North Dakota to implement this program and lead the effort, and I anticipate it will expand to other states.”
The Sustainable Food Lab will simultaneously work with company partners to develop a set of financial incentives for farmers, which flow through the program and further extend regenerative agronomy across thousands of acres.
Wick, who has conducted “café talks” on soil health practices across North Dakota, says this idea came from the need to further soil health practices. “We had all of this data from our café talks,” where, say, 70 farmers and 200,000 acres were reached, she said. “We can reach even more with advisers. Working with crop advisers who responded to our surveys gave us exponentially higher acres we could reach.”
The project selected independent CCAs because they have already built trusted relationships with growers across the state. North Dakota is unique in that there is a large population of knowledgeable, independent CCA agronomists. “They’re not connected to ag retail. They’re not in Extension. They’re truly working independently,” Wick says.
While starting with CCAs, future training cohorts will expand to include other industry agronomists in the program.
About 10 participants are going through the first phase of the program, which began in January. Wick expects continued growth and networking. “Once they complete the online training modules, they recruit one farmer each to implement soil health practices in those fields,” she explains. “Then they’re building their network with other professionals and their conversations around soil health.”
Once they complete the program, these CCAs will support the recruitment of 20 new CCAs to join the next cohort of training that will take place starting January 2024.
“We’ll have those 20 complete the program January through March of 2024, and then they recruit their own farmers and the cycle continues into 2025,” Wick says.
As the program continues, it will leverage the networks of prior participants to recruit and train increasingly larger groups of crop advisers — and bring greater numbers of farmers into the fold year after year.
To find out more about the Trusted Advisor Partnership, and how you can join as a company partner or crop consultant, visit trustedadvisorpartnership.com.
The Sustainable Food Lab contributed to this article.
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