An extraordinarily diverse group of farmers, ranchers, environmentalists, processors and supply chain companies have agreed on a new approach to conservation. AGree’s vision of “cooperative conservation” puts producers in the driver’s seat, holding themselves accountable for achieving improved environmental outcomes at the watershed or landscape scale while ensuring long-term productivity.

AGree’s Working Landscapes Initiative is the product of a three-year discussion and debate by diverse parties about how to sustain vibrant farming and ranching communities while also improving environmental quality. Their overall conclusion – transfer the responsibility for achieving environmental outcomes to watershed-scale, producer-led partnerships.

The Working Landscapes Initiative has negotiated and developed a landmark set of consensus recommendations that offer practical solutions rooted in community leadership and leverage cutting edge technology and science.  The consensus recommendations detail strategies, goals and specific public policy changes needed to realize the cooperative conservation vision of more profitable, productive and sustainable agriculture systems.

“Farmers and ranchers across the country have an extraordinary opportunity to strengthen our agricultural systems through cooperative conservation,” said Jim Moseley, AGree Co-Chair and former USDA Deputy Secretary of Agriculture, who also farms in Indiana. “I have first-hand experience with this exact approach on my own land as well as in my own farming community in Indiana. The long-term observation from this experience is that cooperative conservation, led and directed from the ground level, remains the only way society really accomplishes improved performance of our private lands. Implementation of any management decision or practice must always depend on landowners, farmers and ranchers to take the final action steps. Our call within AGree is to increase recognition of that fact and invigorate considered thinking and new leadership toward that end.”

“This has been an unprecedented effort to bring together large- and small-scale conventional farmers and ranchers, organic producers, environmentalists and processors,” said Gary Hirshberg, AGree Co-Chair and Chairman of Stonyfield Farm.   “While we often disagree, we found common agreement that soil, water and biodiversity conservation and enhancement are critical to supporting long-term sustainable productivity, and that environmental goals do not need to come at the expense of economic success and productivity. We also agree that the best conservation approaches are often watershed-specific, and that communicating, incentivizing and achieving desirable environmental outcomes may be most effectively executed at the local level. ”

Some of the Working Landscapes Initiative recommendations include:
Shift up to 50 percent of USDA conservation program spending to support producer-led models for watershed-based cooperative conservation, such as the Regional Conservation Partnership Program;

Increase continuous no-till practices (where compatible) by 50 percent and planting cover crops on 65 percent of annual row crop acreage to decrease soil degradation ratings by 2025;

Increase water supplies suitable for irrigation by 33 percent and mitigate overdraft of aquifers by 2025;

Universalize methods of nutrient application that result in efficient uptake and reduce release into water and air; and
Reduce by 30% the number of rivers, lakes and streams currently designated as impaired primarily because of legacy and current nutrient, pesticide, and sediment runoff from cultivated cropland.

The Working Landscapes Initiative will make progress on these goals by supporting on-the-ground pilot projects that showcase best practices; work with USDA to support better data integration for decision-making in the federal crop insurance and other USDA programs; and continue a productive dialogue to engage others in this vitally important work.