Fortune 500 company helps farmers in Kansas
General Mills is working hand-in-hand with Kansas farmers to discover best practices in farming. As part of the company’s impact-based agricultural program, the corporation is supplying experts to mentor each farm’s ecosystem.
Farmers are implementing regenerative practices, including cover crops, to help their soil retain water and nutrients.
“General Mills is supporting a farmer-led initiative,” said Jim Eckberg, an agronomist for GM. “This is about building knowledge about resiliency in our supply chains.”
On June 27, this Fortune 500 company brought soil experts, ornithologists and entomologists to Kansas. They also introduced state-of-the-art equipment to farmers who are a part of a three-year pilot project in the 650,000-acre Cheney Lake Reservoir region. The Cheney Lake Watershed is helping to coordinate the farmers and researchers.
“Regenerative farming is the pathway back to resiliency that can keep people on the farm and keep generations of farmers on the farm,” Eckberg said.
Farmers are learning that by keeping living roots in their fields 365 days a year, they are able to beef up soil health, increase yield, make their soil permeable and decrease the soil’s temperature during the summer and increase it during the winter.
Since this partnership’s inception in early 2020, Ray Archuleta of Understanding Ag has helped mentor Kansas farmers in Reno, Stafford and Kingman counties. He said these farms are reducing herbicides and insecticides by 90%. He is teaching them biomimicry strategies and agroecology principles for improving soil function.
“We should have a relationship with our planet,” Archuleta said. “If you mimic your neighbors, you’ll go broke.”
According to Archuleta, both farmland and ranch land work the same as woodland and prairie. By keeping living roots in the ground at all times, the farmer is emulating nature. Without a living root, extreme temperatures kill soil fertility, winds blow nutrients off the fields and the ground becomes hard and unable to contain water and minerals.
“The more aggregates we have, the more infiltration we get,” he said. “We’re mimicking the forest floor – increasing yields and suppressing weeds.”
One of those aggregates farmers need are good insects. Mike Bredesen, an entemologist from Ecdysis Foundation, collected bug samples at each of the more than 40 farms in the study.
“We’re characterizing the community below the ground to above the ground to above that,” he said. “There are 30 million different species of insects on the face of the earth.”
Bredesen and his crew of technicians set up tents to trap the insects and will bring them back to South Dakota to categorize them. He will be back during the fall to discover more insects.
"I am happy to get it out of the petri dish and collaborate,“ he said.
Along with learning about good and bad insects, state-of-the-art technology was also introduced to these farmers. Nikolaj Sheller, a software programmer from FaunaPhotonics in Denmark, flew to Kansas to introduce his company’s new invention – a FaunaPhotonics sensor. This machine uses infrared sensors to detect above ground insect biodiversity and figure out how these insects migrate.
“It will tell you how your insect populations vary,” Sheller said. “We are working toward getting an inexpensive device.”
Bob Bacon, of Hutchinson, one of the farmers participating in the study, hosted the event on his cornfield.
“We all thought no till would be the golden bullet, but it’s just the silver pellet,” Bacon said. “From 1950 to now, what we’ve been doing hasn’t worked for the soil.”
Bacon said this program is helping him get some resilience in the soil.
Like Bacon, Jim French, who farms in Partridge and is a part of the study, is excited to learn and implement changes.
“I feel like I’m back in school again and I love it,” French said. “Today I was planting cover crops in the wheat stubble.”