The conservation and natural resource challenges before us today are greater than ever. We are fortunate that there are more financial and technical resources and public support for achieving these goals than ever before. To reach the scale of adoption of conservation on agricultural lands that are needed we need to advance the resources, tools, and accessibility to expand the growing demand for what is truly needed.

In early spring, the Iowa Soybean Association, Agriculture’s Clean Water Alliance, Soil and Water Conservation Society and Keith Campbell Foundation for the Environment (along with many other sponsors) convened a unique meeting engaging agricultural retailers as a key for bolstering conservation delivery on working farms. “Making Retail Conservation Real” assembled about 100 state and national leaders from the agricultural retail sector, meeting with conservation leaders and other interested stakeholders to identify opportunities and strategies to scale up conservation adoption on farms.

Traditionally, we have relied on two groups to advance conservation adoption: government agencies and not for profit institutions. They are great people with lots of expertise, but they may not have the same top priorities that farmers have. Ag retailers, on the other hand, survive because of their close connection with farmers. They are well-known by farmers, understand the need to produce a crop, know the detailed history of individual farm management, and are very focused on the need for their customers to make a profit.

These retailers also typically are more up-to-date on ag technology than many traditional conservation partners. They closely track markets and are well-positioned to assist producers in connecting with emerging environmental markets. Most significantly, they speak the language of protecting yield, and many are shifting the discussion to maximizing profit. There is tremendous opportunity to reach many more farmers to improve environmental management when the discussion is how to make the farm more profitable.

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Simply put, relying only on the traditional conservation delivery strategies of today has not resulted in the scale of adoption our nation needs. By adding retailers to the equation, we can help make conservation adoption pay. The retailer must have a benefit to their firm, and the farmer must see an on-farm benefit. We also must achieve other benefits as well, like retailers who embrace developing a stronger relationship with existing clients and the ability to grow their base, and farmers to see not only yield protection but reduced input costs and lowering the risk of using new practices.

In the coming months, the conveners and sponsors of Making Retail Conservation Real will be taking specific actions to expand the role of ag retailers as a dedicated approach and solution for achieving scalable conservation adoption. The intent is not to replace government agencies or key partners like conservation districts and NGOs, but rather another entity to work alongside and to help farmers and to meet the need for achieving our collective natural resource goals and getting conservation adoption at a much greater scale.

Alex Echols is the Program Strategist for Agriculture for the Keith Campbell Foundation for the environment.

Roger Wolf is director of conservation at the Iowa Soybean Association Research Center for Farming Innovation and serves as executive director of the Agriculture’s Clean Water Alliance.