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Expanding Sustainability Through Partnership

Claire Stremple | February 13, 2019

Impact | Inside Magazine

Hormel Foods joins with private and nonprofit groups to protect water quality

New Math

“Ten years ago, if we wanted 200-bushel corn yield, we’d go out and apply 200 to 220 pounds of nitrogen.” Justin says that was common practice. “Now, we’re raising 240-bushel corn and we’re going out with maybe 150 pounds of nitrogen.”

Strip tillage is part of the change. The Krells use a different method of tillage than their neighbors do. The strip-till machine only disturbs the top 8 inches of soil, rather than sinking long blades deep into the ground and turning up huge clods of black dirt. Having machinery and fields that look different is a big risk in a close-knit community where many people do the same job.

But less nitrogen to produce more grain means more money in the bank. It’s thanks in part to technology that Justin is saving money and keeping his soil healthier. It’s a bonus that this kind of money-saving management means there’s less nitrogen potentially in the watersheds.

Proceeding with Excitement

With demonstrations like this one, the Cedar River Watershed Partnership hopes to bring everyone to the table in a spirit of teamwork. The morning’s tillage demonstration is designed so that farmers can see for themselves what the tools are and how they might work. In short, they’re opening up resources for farmers and giving them opportunities to see how things work before having to make investments themselves.

They’re also offering resources. “This is a value-add to the grower — free technological assistance to help address concerns and financial assistance for change management,” says Brad Redlin with the Minnesota Agricultural Water Quality Certification Program.

Brad explains that a nongovernment group will come out to participating farms and help farmers decide on methods to increase compliance with new state water-quality rules. “We want to create space for one-on-one, site-specific solutions. How they want to do it, not how anyone is telling them to do it,” he says.

Another value of the Minnesota Agricultural Water Quality Certification Program is recognition and a 10-year contract with the state that the farm will be considered in compliance with new laws that may be passed.

For people like the Krells, farming isn’t just a livelihood, it’s a life. It’s not just how you farm that they’re talking about, it’s how you live. It’s emotional. It leads to identity and honor in a small community.

Rewarding Change

The coalition wants to get farmers certified with the state to show that they have progressive water practices. “We want to recognize growers for great work and give people certification,” Brad says.

The Krell farm has this coveted certification, and Justin says it wasn’t hard at all. He’s willing to put his reputation behind the idea, too. He tells the group, “This is a collective effort of everyone who lives in the watershed, working toward keeping the land safe, beautiful and productive for generations to come.”

The collaboration began in 2017 and is convened and managed by the Environmental Initiative, a local nonprofit. Hormel Foods is a founding member of Cedar River Watershed Partnership. “It’s right in our backyard,” says Tom Raymond, director of environmental sustainability at Hormel Foods.

What’s in it for Hormel Foods? To Tom, the answer couldn’t be more obvious. The company has already met its 2020 goal to reduce water usage by 10 percent based on 2011 levels and is working toward achieving additional reductions. This focus on conserving water in its operations and facilities also extends to producers in the Hormel Foods family, so it’s in keeping with the company’s values to help fund an initiative that encourages farmers to get certified with the state for water quality.

This is our land. We live here. We live and breathe this. So, we’re not going to mistreat it. I think that’s one of the bigger misconceptions with the public.

Justin Krell, farmer

This is more than a move to give producers access to better practices, it’s also part of a movement to better represent farmers and give them more opportunities to share their stories.

“Thirty years ago, nearly everyone had a grandpa who was farming. As that’s changed, there’s less people with connections to agriculture,” Justin says. So, the challenge is communication between people who work the land and people who eat the bounty.

“I don’t know a single farmer who isn’t a steward of the land, because …,” Justin gestures to the lush green fields behind him, “This is our land. We live here. We live and breathe this. So, we’re not going to mistreat it. I think that’s one of the bigger misconceptions with the public.”

According to Justin, better water management is just better business. No one needs to tell a farmer that being a good steward of the land is a solid long-term economic strategy, but in a high-risk livelihood like farming, traditional methods can be hard to replace with new wisdom. “Sometimes,” he says, “You have to step up and blaze the trail.”

The Cedar River Watershed Partnership

This article was featured in Issue VII of Inside Hormel Foods magazine. Click here to explore these unique collections of thought-provoking and heartwarming stories, recipes and features on our employees and the different areas of our company, all packaged up in a beautifully designed digital viewer for you.