May 21, 2024

Free program helps guide farmers in path to conservation

Aidan Walton

DWIGHT, Ill. — The benefits of enrolling in the Precision Conservation Management program were touted during a recent “Toolshed Talk.”

“We’re not-for-profit. We’re not selling anything. We are just helping growers adopt conservation practices and the economics of it,” said Aidan Walton, PCM specialist in Ford, La Salle, Livingston, Logan, McLean, Tazewell and Woodford counties.

“It’s a pretty simple program to be a part of. There’s no cost to the farmer to be in the program.”

PCM, an Illinois Corn Growers Association and Illinois Soybean Association program, was initiated through funding by the Regional Conservation Partnership Program of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.

PCM’s objective is to work one-on-one with farmers to help them understand the costs and benefits of adopting new conservation practices.

The partnership focuses on priority conservation practices — planting cover crops, reducing tillage and changing nitrogen application rates and timing — the three pillars of PCM’s on-farm conservation work in Illinois, Kentucky and Nebraska.

“We look at all your field passes, your fertilizer program, cover crop practices, and comparing your operation to others in the county, region and across the state,” said Walton during the Livingston County Soil and Water Conservation District-sponsored event. “The program looks at the economics of conservation.”

By joining PCM, farmers agree to allow PCM to aggregate and anonymize their data in a way that demonstrates how conservation practices affect both environmental outcomes and farm incomes. PCM participants also have access to private programs and cost-shares.

Industry Support

PCM announced last year a partnership with PepsiCo was extended through 2030 that will increase conservation acres in the program.

The company invested $216 million in a long-term program with a goal to reach approximately 600,000 in the ICGA/ISA program, another 1.5 million in the Practical Farmers of Iowa program and nearly 1 million acres through the Soil and Water Outcomes Fund program.

PepsiCo supports and rewards farmers who are new to conservation practices and those who have been using practices for years. In 2023, PCM farmers are eligible to receive $5 to $25 per acre for using conservation practices.

Through PCM, PepsiCo offers a higher payment during the first two years that a field is managed with cover crops and reduced tillage.

For years three and beyond, PepsiCo continues to offer financial incentives in exchange for the right to claim the carbon assets against their corporate climate commitments.

“The PepsiCo Incentive Payment Program is a partnership with PepsiCo. It’s an incentive for PCM farmers and PepsiCo is paying for cover crops, no-till, strip-till practices, whether you’re new to it or you’ve been doing it for 30 years,” Walton said.

“That PepsiCo program can be an add-on to the Conservation Stewardship Program, the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, any federally funded program. So, for example, a $40, $50 EQIP program, plus $20 from Pepsi, that starts to add up and really pay for cover crops and things like that.”

The foundation of the partnership is PepsiCo’s promise to its customers the company will decrease its greenhouse gas emissions. One way they aim to achieve that reduction goal is by helping farmers implement conservation practices that reduce carbon emissions.

Toolshed Talk panelists Jay Whalen, Streator, and Craig Swartz, Emington, spoke of their experiences with PCM and the PepsiCo partnership.

“The reason I looked more into it is because I’ve been struggling with all other carbon programs and information. I have not found one that I have liked, that I have cared for, where with PCM they’re not taking personal data. They’re just getting general information from you and using it,” Whalen said.

“I’m not getting as big of a kickback probably as I would from some of these other carbon programs, but it’s not a three years or five years — it’s just every one year.”

“I’ve been doing PCM for five years. I can’t speak highly enough about the PCM program. Also, PepsiCo has made the carbon thing a little more easier in my eyes,” Swartz said.

“I’ve been doing my cover crops and strip-till through PepsiCo because it’s super easy. It’s easier and worked out great.”

Anonymous Data

Once the data is collected and analyzed, PCM specialists meet with the farmers who are enrolled to review the information and compare anonymously with others in the program.

“We met with Aidan in February and he brought information that I’m using now comparing me to my neighbors, to the county, to the region on where I’m at and how I’m doing with conservation,” Whalen said.

“I really like having the information coming back to me and showing me this. Aidan does a really good job. It doesn’t take much time. He explains it really well. It’s my first year into it and I’ve been very happy and very pleased with it so far.

“The money you get from it is a real plus. I’ve got every acre signed up also. I don’t look at is as a carbon program. A lot of the other carbon programs only want that high-tillage guy (that’s switching over to no-till or strip-till), where with PCM it doesn’t matter how long you’ve been doing cover crops.”

Tom Doran

Tom C. Doran

Field Editor