• Precision Ag Reviews

Ep. 22: On-farm Sustainability and Truterra with Amanda Bahn-Ziegler



Do you get excited to talk about sustainability, or does the topic feel like an unrealistic, endless loop with no real progress? I like to see instant results and things like measuring carbon credits always felt a little “pie in the sky” for me. That is, until my tactical sustainability conversation with Amanda Bahn-Zeigler in episode 22 of Precision Points.


Amanda is on the sustainability team with Truterra and they focus on improving sustainability and making it profitable. They work to drive on farm stewardship practices, helping growers understand where they are today and what they could be doing to improve their environmental stewardship.


How do you measure sustainability?


Truterra Insights Engine is the data collection tool. They collect nutrient information and yield data, along with information impacting each grower’s carbon footprint to give them a GHG Emissions score. These things include tillage, number of passes, drying system for grain, stabilizer usage, and how many pesticide products are used. Collectively this information is put through the Insights Engine to generate a benchmark score for each grower. The grower always owns the data so it will not be shared, except in an aggregated manner to prepare benchmarks to help growers improve.


“We do provide some aggregated benchmarking results that some of our other customers such as food companies might use to measure sustainability in the area that they are sourcing ingredients,” Amanda started. “But, there is not really what we call a ‘good’ or ‘bad’. What we are looking for is improvement in your score.”


How to make sustainability profitable


As growers, we care about our ground and depend on the environment where we grow our crops. Some of the activities we do to improve sustainability do not have a transparent return on investment. Things like cover crops and no-tilling may take years to notice a difference. I believe this has been a limiting factor to getting some growers to invest in sustainability efforts.


Amanda walks us through several examples of how growers can work with Truterra to be more profitable, including help with government assistance and programs. Truterra also works with food companies that are looking to have a more sustainably grown product. The Insights Engine’s aggregated benchmarks can help companies identify areas that fit their need for sourcing product. Finally, Amanda discussed the profit potential of the carbon market and how growers can leverage their scores to enter into this new arena.


How do you sell carbon credits?


Truterra through the TruCarbon platform works to connect farmers with carbon credits to companies looking to purchase carbon credits. The first round of carbon credit sales opened up earlier this year as Truterra formed a partnership with Microsoft. If growers are interested in applying to see if they are a candidate for this project they can fill out a 30-second survey to get started. From there, in-depth data entry would be required to validate those credits.


“There are a lot of companies launching scientific based programs about reducing their carbon footprint or becoming carbon neutral,” Amanda said. “But the reality is that they are going to have some emissions so how do they become carbon neutral? They buy carbon credits from agriculture. Farmers can play a huge role, the plants in our fields are pulling carbon out of the air and sequestering it in the soil. So we have a big opportunity to help these companies reach their goals.”


Truterra has found an innovative way to capitalize on stewardship, if you’re interested in learning more, check out truterraag.com or listen to our full conversation. Comment below your thoughts on selling carbon credits.


What tools have you used to improve sustainability on your farm? Leave a review here.

Transcription:

Host: Morgan Seger

Guest: Amanda Bahn-Zeigler


Morgan Seger:

Welcome back to Precision Points, an ag tech podcast from precisionagreviews.com. I'm your host Morgan Seger, and in each episode, we strive to bring you unbiased ag tech information and ideas.


Morgan Seger:

On the show today, I am joined by my friend, Amanda Bahn-Ziegler. She is a specialist with Truterra, a farmer-owned and farmer-driven food and sustainability program. We talk about the work that Truterra is doing to help growers capitalize on their carbon credits through TruCarbon. Now, I love this conversation because Amanda is working firsthand with growers. So she walks us through the type of data that you need to be able to participate in the carbon market and with companies like Microsoft wanting to be carbon negative by 2030. This is definitely a conversation that I think you can get a lot of value out of. Here is my interview with Amanda Bahn-Ziegler.


Morgan Seger:

Welcome back to Precision Points. Today on the show I'm joined by Amanda Bahn-Ziegler. Welcome to the show, Amanda.


Amanda Bahn-Ziegler:

Thanks Morgan. Excited to be here.


Morgan Seger:

Yes, I'm so excited to get caught up with you because you have made a transition lately to working in a sustainability effort. Would you mind taking just a couple of minutes to introduce yourself to our audience, give them some of your background and how you got interested in working with sustainability?


Amanda Bahn-Ziegler:

Sure. I'm Amanda Bahn-Ziegler. I grew up on a dairy farm in Wisconsin, so farmers and agriculture have always been at my heart. I interned for WinField United, or it was WinField Solutions at the time I think, in their Answer Plot Program right after college, and was accepted into what they call the Associate Program, and that's where I met Morgan.


For the Associate Program, they kind of move you out of your comfort zone and away from your home for a couple of years, just to learn and kind of broaden your horizons a little bit. I moved to Ohio and I've been in Ohio for seven years now. During that time, I spent a few years shadowing and learning from you, Morgan. I had the opportunity to sell seed and ag inputs through the retailer network with WinField United and that was super fun.


Through that experience, one of the things I enjoyed most about it was supporting the retailer. So just helping them get the tools that they needed to help their farmers improve their yields and just finding those creative ways to help the retailer help the farmer. I've always just really liked that part of my role. And then as my career developed, I also found myself fairly interested in sustainability in my home, in my life, on farms. So when the opportunity came up to join Truterra, which is the sustainability division of Land O'Lakes, I applied for it and was really happy to be able to join that team recently, and just in January.


Morgan Seger:

Yes. I've always appreciated how adaptable you are. I mean your career really, even though you've been working alongside ag retailers the whole time, you've taken on a lot of different roles and things like that. I remember watching you on Instagram, I think just go through your house and talk about ways you can cut down on plastic and other things that you can do that are good for the environment. So for me, it was a no-brainer when I saw you take this role at Truterra. I was so excited for you.


Can you explain what Truterra is and what you guys are trying to do?


Amanda Bahn-Ziegler:

Sure. I mentioned it a little bit. Truterra is the sustainability division of Land O'Lakes, the hundred year old farmer cooperative. We are retailer and farmer owned, and that is at the center of everything we do when it comes to sustainability. We are trying to drive on farm stewardship practices and help farmers identify where they're at today, and then also what could they implement on their farm if they wanted to move forward and advance their stewardship. We work through a network of currently 27 ag retailers to provide our cutting edge insights tool. We call it the Truterra Insights Engine. Farmers can input their data about what they're doing on their farm today, and then the tool provides facts and insights and measurements that can help them see where they're at and where they could go or suggest which practices to look at next.


Amanda Bahn-Ziegler:

The other unique part of what we're doing with sustainability is that profitability is also at the heart of what we're trying to show farmers. We keep in mind that yeah, we can improve sustainability, but we also need to make it profitable and make it just a good move for the farmer.


Morgan Seger:

Yeah. You said that the grower share data with you. What types of information are they sharing back? And then how does that give them a recommendation on what they could be doing or, or how does it give them that benchmark score?


Amanda Bahn-Ziegler:

Sure. Farmers can put in a lot of information about what they're doing on their farm right now. We focus a lot on fertility management. So what types of products are you using? How much? We look at fertility rates per acre. We collect yield information. We also collect more information than people are usually measuring about their carbon footprint. GHD emissions is something that the Truterra Insights Engine provides some insight back to the farmer on. And the things that impact that would be things like tillage, how many passes are you making over your field? What kind of drying system are you using for your grain, even stabilize your usage, or how many pesticide products, things like that, can affect that GHD emissions number.


Morgan Seger:

Okay. I know a lot of the growers that we work with are, I guess, kind of competitive, is there a good score or a bad score, or how does that work? How do they know how they're doing?


Amanda Bahn-Ziegler:

We do provide some benchmarking type of information, but farmers always own their own data, so they're not going to see what their neighbor's score is and their neighbor is not going to see what their score is. We think that's really important. We do provide some sort of aggregated benchmarking results that some of our other customers, such as food companies might use to measure sustainability in the area that they're sourcing ingredients and things like that. But there's not really what we call a good score. What we're looking for is improvement in your score. The range is zero to a hundred, but we think if you're on the spectrum and moving up the spectrum to 100, somewhere closer to that end of the range, that you're doing a good job and that's all we're trying to see.


Morgan Seger:

You talked about profitability, and there's a couple of different ways you can look at that. One is that they're making changes on their operation where they're still being profitable. One way is that they are actually getting paid or incentivized to take some of these steps. Now, for me, this has always been kind of like a gray zone because I feel like we all want to be good stewards and if we can get advice on how to be better stewards of our land and just in general, that's a good thing, but we hear a lot of people talking about maybe getting paid for doing some of this stuff.


Where is Truterra in that aspect?


Amanda Bahn-Ziegler:

That is one of the things that we're also trying to provide back to the farmer and the retailer through being in our network. Food companies that we would work with, sometimes they are looking for something specific. One food company might want to see an increase in cover crop adoption in their area. Well, what can we do to take the farmer's message back about maybe why there aren't as many cover crops? How can we partner with that food company to make it easier for farmers to adopt a practice like that?


Another example would be when there are funding programs, like sometimes there's an opportunity to apply for a grant to improve stewardship. Well, we're in a great position to partner with the retailers to find out what stewardship practices could be most attractive to farmers in their area, apply for those grants and try to bring that funding to those farmers that are within our Truterra network to make it easier for them to adapt.


Morgan Seger:

Sure. There's the equipment going across the ground and stuff like that. Do you look at logistically what they could be doing to reduce how many passes they're taking and all of those types of things, or is it mostly like cover crops and tillage and looking at the fertility like you mentioned?


Amanda Bahn-Ziegler:

That's part of the conversation that the retailer would have when they're following up with that farmer and trying to make their stewardship plan for the future. So yeah, the number of passes of tillage that you're doing is impacting your stewardship score and that should be a part of the conversation exploring how could I farm differently. Maybe implementing cover crops on your farm could help you eliminate a weed control pass, something like that.


Morgan Seger:

Okay. Recently I've heard a lot of chatter where I get my news on Twitter about TruCarbon. Can you fill in our listeners on what TruCarbon is?


Amanda Bahn-Ziegler:

Sure. TruCarbon is something we're really excited about. We just launched TruCarbon. It is Truterra's first entry into the carbon market. What we're doing is connecting farmers that have carbon credits generated on their farm already, we're using the Insights Engine to help make that in marketable credit. There's a lot of things that go into having a marketable carbon credit. And then we're connecting that with a buyer that is looking to buy carbon credits. We have our first offer out right now and the enrollment period for that should wrap up towards the end of February, but we're hoping to have more offers and more carbon contracts in the future too.


Morgan Seger:

Okay. Yeah. I saw you guys were teaming up with Microsoft for this first round. If a grower is interested in possibly selling some of their carbon credits to Microsoft, what would that process look like for them?


Amanda Bahn-Ziegler:

The first step, whether you've been involved in Truterra in the past or not is for the farmer to visit www.truterraag.com/carbonsurvey. There is a 30 second survey that basically asks for some details about what you've done on your farm. One of the things that the Microsoft offer has that is different from other offers in the carbon market is that we have a five-year lookback period. So we can reward farmers for stewardship practices they've adopted within the past five years, whether that's reducing their tillage or implementing cover crops on their acres. That is what this short 30 second screening survey is looking for is, have you implemented this practice change? And then if you're a good candidate, you'll get an email back that says that and gives you a link to take the next survey. That's where we start exploring your fields and learning a little bit more about your operation and what has happened there.


Morgan Seger:

Oh, awesome. Awesome. A lot of the growers that we work with have been collecting data for a long time. Can you just tactically walk us through, if they wanted to start getting involved in Truterra or any sustainability program really, what does it look like? How do they start getting that data to start working for them?


Amanda Bahn-Ziegler:

Well, I think it is really important for farmers to find a partner to help them in the carbon market. There is a lot of data that's going to be required to enter the carbon market. Farmers that have had their data in the Truterra Insights Engine would already have most of what is needed recorded, but there's still a little bit more information specific to the carbon market outside of the Insights Engine metric that we need to collect.


Amanda Bahn-Ziegler:

My advice to farmers that want to participate in the carbon market, first of all, look at the sustainability practices on your farm today. Most of these carbon credit market offers are looking for people that have recently or are thinking about adopting sustainability practices. A lot of them focus on reduced tillage and cover crop implementation. So if you've already implemented cover crops, you're well on the way, but if you haven't implemented any of those sustainability practices yet, you could think about, how can I incorporate that in 2021 to prepare me for a carbon credit opportunity at the wrap-up of harvest?


Amanda Bahn-Ziegler:

The next thing is the data. We've talked a lot about the data in this call. You need to start recording your data around things that we normally don't record such as tillage practices. If you planted a cover crop, when was it planted? How was it planted? All of those more detailed pieces of information are going to be important if you want to participate in the carbon market.


Morgan Seger:

Just thinking here, obviously this is going to give growers an incentive to start driving this conversation even more. Just from your perspective, what's really driving - is it the consumers or is it growers or is it ag industry CEOs, or what's leading this conversation and starting all of this?


Amanda Bahn-Ziegler:

I do think that it's partially consumers. We've talked about that even prior to the carbon market really blowing up here recently. Consumers at the grocery store want to know where their food is coming from and how it's been raised, and that's part of what Truterra does. We help share the farmer's story about what they're doing right on their farm and the stewardship practices they're implementing, and just share that back to the consumer so that they feel connected to their food. They know where it came from. They can trust the people that are growing it as they should.


Amanda Bahn-Ziegler:

Yeah. The other piece is for the companies that are buying these carbon credits, there's a huge push on environmental aspects right now. Climate change is a really big conversation. So I think companies are trying to prepare themselves for potential new laws or mandates that may come to them in the future about their carbon emissions. There are a lot of companies launching scientific based programs about reducing their carbon footprint or becoming net carbon neutral.


Amanda Bahn-Ziegler:

I talked to a company this morning that said their goal is be a carbon sink. They don't just want to be carbon neutral. They want to be a carbon sink. But the reality is they're going to have some emissions, so how do they become carbon neutral? Well, they can buy carbon credits from agriculture. Farmers can play a huge role. The plants in our fields are pulling carbon out of the atmosphere, sequestering it in the soil. So we have a big opportunity to help these companies reach their goals.


Morgan Seger:

I think that that's huge and it's a whole new way of looking at what we're doing, how we can be benefiting the environment. I think this is a hard one for us because it's not always super tangible. We can do these things, but we don't always see a direct impact either to our bottom line or to the way our cash crops are growing.


Morgan Seger:

How do you talk growers through that; something that's in theory good, but we don't always see a direct tangible result out of it?


Amanda Bahn-Ziegler:

Yeah. A lot of the stewardship practices we talk about, they take time for a farmer to see the benefits. Soil health takes time to build, and that is where the benefits for the farmer are going to come from in terms of yield on their acre but it may take a few years. I think markets like this where we can incentivize growers or reward them for adopting stewardship practices, they help provide that ROI to the farmer for the practices they're implementing until they get to the point where they're seeing it on their farm and in their field.


Morgan Seger:

Yeah. I love this conversation. You're getting me to think about this in a totally different way right now, so I'm really grateful for that.


If anyone is listening and interested in following along with what you and Truterra are doing and the work you're doing with TruCarbon, where would you recommend they go?


Amanda Bahn-Ziegler:

We have a brand new Instagram page. You can search for us on there. We also have a Facebook page. You can find us on Facebook. Our website is www.truterraag.com. That's where you can find information. Whether you're a farmer, a retailer, a food company listening to this, we have different sections on the website for each of those types of customers to explore.


Morgan Seger:

Great. Great. Thanks for sharing. I'll link out to those in the show notes so if anyone wants to go grab those, they can.


One final question I have for you. One thing I like to ask our guests is what is one technology, it can be in or outside of agriculture, that you are most excited about?


Amanda Bahn-Ziegler:

Oh my gosh, Morgan, you know that I am all about reducing plastics and things like that. So I think I'm actually more excited about the prospect of less packaging and less technology needed to produce things like this. That's probably what I'm more looking forward to is plastic-free.


Morgan Seger:

Yes. Awesome. You are taking great steps in your own home. I personally am very grateful that you share that you share that kind of stuff on Instagram and social media, because it's hard to find good research and to know what to do, so seeing your practical advice I always appreciate.


All right. Well thank you so much for joining us today. I hope you have a good one.


Amanda Bahn-Ziegler:

Thanks. You too.


Morgan Seger:

Thanks for listening in on my episode with Amanda. I think that sustainability and soil health are two things that we've talked about more this year in the short amount of time that we've had than we have in any other year. I am so excited to bring people who are working hands on with this onto our show for you to listen and learn from.


If you are interested in following along or possibly looking if you're qualified to sell your carbon credits, go to truterraag.com, and right there on the top, it has that 30 second survey that Amanda was talking about that you can take to see if your operation would qualify. I think as an industry, we're definitely going to try to capitalize on our opportunity to highlight the good that we are doing by, like Amanda said, all of the carbon that our plants are sequestering is definitely going to help when we're looking at the opportunities these other companies are trying to seize right now. I'm excited to see where this conversation continues because we are really just getting started.


As always thank you for tuning into another episode of Precision Points. We love that you give us the opportunity to share this information with you. If you have a second, we would love a rating and review wherever you find your podcasts. That helps other growers find our information so we can grow together.

Host: Morgan Seger

Morgan Seger grew up on a small farm in northwest Ohio before studying agriculture at The Ohio State University. She spent 10 years working with ag retail – specifically in ag tech – prior to hosting the Precision Points Podcast. She lives and farms in western Ohio with her husband Ben and their four children. Morgan has her own blog, Heart and Soil, where she talks about her experience farming, gardening, and raising her family.



Guest: Amanda Bahn-Ziegler

Amanda Bahn-Ziegler grew up in Central Wisconsin on a small dairy farm. She attended the University of Wisconsin-River Falls to gain a degree in Ag Studies with a Crop Science emphasis. After 7 years with WinField United and various roles focusing mostly on CROPLAN seed, she joined Truterra, LLC as an account manager in Ohio in January 2021 and is currently serving as the field team lead for the TruCarbon launch. Within her role, she supports Truterra retailers and their farmers to advance on-farm stewardship and conservation. Amanda has always enjoyed the service and creative marketing aspects of her roles both at work and at home. When she isn’t working, she can be found at church serving others through children’s ministry and the Care Team; crafting handmade cards, sewing, knitting, crocheting, and creating small wood projects; or, helping others find eco-friendly products to use in their everyday life.

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