“The DeLong Company’s been around for a long time, and we have a really good relationship with the farmers. This is just another added benefit that we feel like we’re giving back to the growers and incentivizing them for doing the right things.”
— Dylan Vaca, brand and marketing manager, The DeLong Company
In this episode of the No-Till Farmer podcast, brought to you by Yetter Farm Equipment, we talk with Dylan Vaca, the brand and marketing manager for the DeLong Company’s Grown Climate Smart program. He talks about how you can be rewarded for no-till and sustainable farming practices — even if you’ve been doing them for decades.
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Full TranscriptMichaela Paukner:
Welcome to the No-Till Farmer Podcast, brought to you by Yetter Farm Equipment. I'm Michaela Paukner, managing editor at No-Till Farmer. In today's episode, we talk with Dylan Vaca, the brand and marketing manager for the DeLong Company's Grown Climate Smart Program. He talks about how you can be rewarded for no-till and sustainable farming practices even if you've been doing them for decades.Dylan Vaca:
Hi, my name is Dylan Vaca. I am the brand and marketing manager here at the DeLong Company for our Climate Smart Commodities grant and the associated brand that goes with it, which is called Grown Climate Smart. I handle everything that has to do with public outreach and education, things like the website and the social medias and the strategic partnerships and things like that too. So, it's been a really interesting thing to work on in these past few months. I think we're all of probably eight months or seven months old now in the sustainability space [inaudible 00:01:03] Grown Climate Smart itself. So, it's been really fun to work on it and kind of build up this brand and educate not only farmers, but the market itself on it as well.Michaela Paukner:
What led the DeLong company to get involved in the sustainability space in this capacity?Dylan Vaca:
The DeLong company really realized sometime last year that all of these companies out there are coming up with these goals for 2025 and 2030, and even further out like 2050 now, I've seen that. They have ESG goals and sustainability goals and carbon reduction goals and things like that, that the DeLong company itself saw that in the market and thought, "Wow, that's really interesting, and what should we look into to fill into that space and see what we can help with?"
And the DeLong company itself has been a very forward-thinking company. It's a hundred plus year old company, but in the past number of years, they've made really some awesome progress themselves on sustainability and things like solar panels and utilizing electric and things like that. I would say that DeLong Company has a really great mindset for that already. And then when they saw the Climate Smart Commodities grant get brought up and the USDA started pushing that and saying, "Hey, we're looking for applicants and for companies to make a difference in this space, and farmers with it," they thought it was a really great opportunity.
They wrote up the grant proposal for it and they ended up winning a five-year, $40 million USDA grant through it. The grant itself, the Climate Smart Commodities grant, is a little over $3 billion, but like I mentioned that the DeLong Company won $40 million of that to really start a brand and a program to promote sustainable farming practices throughout 11 different states. We work with farmers as far west as Nebraska or Minnesota, but we go all the way east to New York as well.Michaela Paukner:
So, can you explain the exact details of the Grown Climate Smart Program and how that's implemented from the farmer's perspective?Dylan Vaca:
Yeah, yeah, definitely. So, the Grown Climate Smart Program, like I mentioned, it's really focused on sustainable farming practices and four specific practices that have been found to increase carbon sequestration rates and really promote carbon capture. So, the four practices that really we specialize on are cover crops, reduced or no-till, nutrient management plans, and establishing windbreaks or renovating windbreaks.
So, those four practices are widely known as being sustainable or regenerative agriculture, sometimes they like to call it practices. So, really the process is we would speak to a farmer or a grower and they would say, "Hey, I'm doing these practices, at least one of the four," and we enroll them into our program and we're able to give them direct incentives for doing these sustainable farming practices. It's been a really rewarding experience to see us work with farmers that are directly on the ground and doing those actions and them being able to see incentives from it.Michaela Paukner:
So, any farmer who's doing one or more of those four practices is eligible?Dylan Vaca:
Yeah, so there's a couple caveats to the program. One of the caveats is kind of built in through the USDA and the government itself. A farmer or grower can't double dip on funding with other programs. So, if we think about CSP funding, if we think about the [inaudible 00:04:33] Equipped Program, farmers aren't able to double dip with these specific practices on that same piece of land with the program. And that's just to ensure... The government has a thing where they don't want farmers getting double the amount of incentives for that.
But it's also on our end too, where we don't want to collect all this data and all this acreage, and really put together some awesome, insightful reports and then we're reporting that as well. If they're in another program, that same data gets reported. So, it kind of just makes everything a little bit more transparent. That's the interesting part of it where it's one caveat where a grower wouldn't be able to get in, but that's not to say that they can't go from one program to another, and there's been some that do that.
And then the second caveat, going back to the traceability and the transparency side of it is if a grower enrolls their acres into our program, the grain from those acres has to be marketed or go through a DeLong facility for us to ensure the traceability and know where that grain goes and how it's attributed to the sustainability market as well.Michaela Paukner:
Sure, that makes sense. But that's still unique in that I know a lot of the carbon programs that we hear about here at No-Till Farmer, it's like you have to be switching to cover crops or no-till, whereas it sounds like your program, you can just be doing it and get some incentives.Dylan Vaca:
Yeah, yeah, exactly. And that's really the interesting part about our program and why I think it's been so successful. And we spoke to, quite frankly, hundreds of farmers and a good amount of them. Unfortunately, they've been doing these practices for years. We've been speaking to reduced or a no-till farmer, they've been doing that for 20 plus years and they know they've been doing the right thing in the right practice. But how these other programs are set up sometimes is that yes, they have to be a new practice.
The really cool thing about our program is that we're able to work with farmers who have been doing these practices for years and still incentivize them. And I think that's part of why we've been so successful because a lot of these farmers feel victimized that they can't get these funding opportunities. I think that's really part of why it makes it so rewarding to work with some of these growers who have been doing the right practices for a long time and have never gotten to see extra incentives out of it. That's a really cool part of it.Michaela Paukner:
And I'm glad you reached out, too, because we had one of our No-till Farmer Advisory Board members brought up what the DeLong company was doing for that specific reason, and he was like, "This is a company you should definitely look into and pay attention to because this is such a rare thing to see a reward for these practices that we've been doing for years versus trying to get people to switch to them."Dylan Vaca:
Just through the conversations we've had and everything, it's been really interesting to hear that. Like I mentioned, we have hundreds of growers and over 260,000 acres of sustainable land now that we've been able to enroll in 2023. And that's kind of been a resounding thing is that the DeLong Company's been around for a long time and there's been a great, conscious effort to make us a trusted company and we have a really good relationship with the farmers on the ground.
So, this is just another added benefit that we feel like we're giving back to the growers and incentivizing them for doing the right things and the right practices that ultimately, hopefully it becomes less of an niche thing and it becomes more of the norm. That's the end goal here is that these practices become more of the norm and ultimately make a huge difference for our Earth and the environment, but also help produce the actual yields of the crop as well.Michaela Paukner:
So, what are the financial incentives actually look like for the farmer? And how is that calculated?Dylan Vaca:
Yeah, so each practice itself, they're all kind of independent of each other and they all have different incentive amounts on a per acre basis. So, if we're talking about cover crops, those are coming in at $50 an acre. If we're talking about a reduced or a no-till, that kind of falls under our tillage management umbrella. So, a grower can be doing a reduced or a no-till and that comes in at $20 an acre as well as the windbreak establishment or renovations. Those are $20 an acre as well. And then to implement a nutrient management plan, those are at $19 an acre.
So, there are different incentive levels. And the cool thing is that a grower is able to stack those incentives. We have a lot of farmers that are able to do... A lot of them are doing the reduced or a no-till, but also utilize cover crops. So, they're able to get up to $70 an acre because they're doing those two practices, which makes a huge difference. Seeing the people that have been able to enroll, we have the part-time farmer that has 40 or 45 acres, but we also have the larger growers that have a couple of thousand acres. It's been cool to see it work for everyone involved and not just the small grower, not just the large grower, but everyone from each different size of the scale. It's made a huge difference for and impactful. So, that's been really cool.Michaela Paukner:
You mentioned the farmer can't double dip and those couple of caveats could. Other than that, let's say they pass those, would they be able to enroll all of their acres with your program or do you have a cap on that?Dylan Vaca:
We don't have necessarily a cap on the amount of acres. It's really first come first serve in our program. We don't necessarily even have a priority list that we reach out to. We basically just open it up for everybody. And like I mentioned before, we have a little bit over $7 million worth of incentives each year basically is how we broke it down through this five-year program pretty much evenly. So, every year we have a little bit over $7 million that we can incentivize growers for doing these practices.
That's why I was saying it's been really interesting to see some growers take advantage of it when they have 8,000, 10,000 acres, and there's been some that are able to do 60 acres. There's no cap on it, there's no minimum. It's really worked out for everybody as long as they're proactive and fill out the enrollment and the application and stay on top of the game in that matter. But yeah, it's been able to work on both sides of the scale.Michaela Paukner:
So, after they enroll in the program, what do they need to be providing to you in terms of either documentation or anything like that?Dylan Vaca:
Sure. Basically how the process starts out is they fill out an application packet just telling us about who they are and the practices they do and where they do it. They provide us a couple documents, simple documents they can get from the FSA office, the local FSA office they have or they work through. They can provide us documents like a 590 print or a subsidiary print, things like that, that they can provide us. And that kind of goes along with the checks and balances that we have throughout the system where a grower would basically apply and say they're doing these practices.
The next step is we would say, "Okay, great. Provide some proofs of practice." When we're talking about cover crops, for instance, it's providing a copy of your cover crop receipt or an invoice. When we're talking about a no-till, or a strip till, or a reduced till, it's providing pictures of that reduced or no-till in actual land and things like that.
We try to make it easy. We realize that not everyone wants to do the paperwork and do all these things, so we try to make it easy for the grower and we help them along. And that's kind of also why I think it's been successful is because the DeLong company has the resources where we have our own agronomy team, we have our own grain merchandisers, we have these prebuilt relationships with the farmers out there, and the whole company is willing to help them along the process with the paperwork and with any questions.
So, basically they would do that enrollment, they would do their proofs of practice, and basically we report that back to the USDA and then they kind of get the green light to get incentivized. So, there are numerous checks and balances and a lot of information exchanged between us, but so far it's worked really well and we're always thinking about how we can make the process easier for the growers themselves and us to get that necessary information.Michaela Paukner:
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What data are they, they being the farmers, collecting throughout the season for you guys?Dylan Vaca:
A lot of it is we look at things that they should already have, thinking about average yield numbers and how many acres that they're farming and doing these practices on. Things like how much cover crop seed you buy, how much nitrogen you apply, things like that. Hopefully it shouldn't be anything new for them to pull from their records or know about. Hopefully there's no surprises in our program or there's nothing that confuses them about what they're doing.
Believe me, it's a big thing for us is making it easy on them because, like I mentioned before, that's everyone's complaint that they don't obviously want to do more paperwork and look into that and spend the time, but I think we've made it easy enough where it's worthwhile for them to do that and get these incentives at the same time where they feel like, "Hey, this is a rewarding experience for me," and we have a good customer relationship that we can help them through it.Michaela Paukner:
And then what is the DeLong company doing with the data after it's collected?Dylan Vaca:
Sure. And that's a big thing for us right now is that we're really wrapping up our first year enrolling growers. So, we have some preliminary data and demographics and sizes and things like that that we can kind of pull together, but that's something that we're really excited about looking into more. Once we get through this enrollment process and reporting it back to the USDA and the Climate Smart Commodities grant itself, it'll be really interesting to see what we can get from that and some of the data that comes from it.
So, that's definitely something that we're excited about, but we don't have all the information yet. Hopefully by the end of the year we'll have some really interesting data about how many sustainable farmers are out there already and how many have been doing these practices for years, and how many new practices are there. Things like how much carbon capture our program is going to be able to attribute to these practices will be really interesting to see.
I think that's something that we're working through right now and gathering, but we definitely want to be accurate with it and think about how to work in a way that it makes sense for everybody that when we share this information, that it really resonates with people out there, that we're making a difference, and that we're actually actively doing something and not just saying it, but we're actively want to show that we're making a difference.Michaela Paukner:
For sure. So, then your company knows that, "Hey, we're getting grain and crops from farmers who are producing it sustainably." How does that then translate to people who are purchasing the grain farther down the supply chain?Dylan Vaca:
And that's a big thing, and honestly that's a question we get a lot, is what does the DeLong company want from this program in the long run? What are we trying to do here? The end goal for us is after these five years and the funding ends. Year six, year seven, we don't want to say, "Hey, that was a great five years. We did a lot of good work and got farmers to do the sustainable practices and new incentives, but we're dropping it." And that's that, right?
Basically after five years, we really want to have a market developed where there's a premium commanded in the market for these grains that come from sustainable farming practices and the sustainable farmers themselves. So, when these corporate buyers buy these grains from us and they buy them at a premium, we can ultimately pass that premium down to the grower, because they're doing the right thing and producing better quality grains, then your average grain out there. So, that's really the end goal here is in year six, seven, eight, there's a market that commands a premium that meets some of these ESG standards and goals and carbon reduction goals that I mentioned before, that a lot of these corporations have when it comes to the ingredients they source and how it works all throughout their supply chain.
So, that's kind of the angle here, and I think it's really cool that we're thinking about that already in year one, right? We're not thinking about it in year four or year five because at that point, unfortunately it'd be too late. A lot of what we've been doing is speaking to the corporate buyers themselves, but other CSC grant awardees, and talking about how can we come to unify the market and making a standard that we can all go by so that this market is developed and ultimately commands a premium for the grains or the dairy or the livestock or anything that goes through this whole entire grant.Michaela Paukner:
In your conversations with the corporate buyers, what is their outlook on this type of market? Where's their interest at right now?Dylan Vaca:
Yeah, it's been really exciting to see that the corporate buyers and the other corporations out there that are thinking about this are very excited about it. There's definitely a market out there, but there's definitely some work to do to kind of keep building it. There's a lot of prior existing business and agreements that kind of lend themselves to what we're doing and everything like that, but there's a lot of one, education that goes along with it, saying how it makes a difference for you and your company and what you can claim, but it's also talking about the premium derived from it and what that percentage is going to be.
The feedback we've gotten so far has been really good and really exciting, and a lot of companies are out there are thinking about how they can work through their downstream supply chain partners and how it relates to sustainability. When we think about the big companies out there that have products on the Walmart shelves or the Woodman shelves or things like that, a lot of them are just now focusing in on how they can get sustainable ingredients into their products and how that makes a difference for them. We've seen some really great feedback and we're really excited to see what the future holds in this space.Michaela Paukner:
And talking about when you're framing it as the percentage premium, what does that look like at this point?Dylan Vaca:
Yeah, I think it varies depending on the market and depending on where it is. There's a lot of avenues that the premium might not command as big of a percent because the consumer doesn't necessarily see it in the market yet. There's a lot of products that there's so many different steps within the supply chain that the consumer doesn't even know that sustainable grains are in that end product. And a lot of that relates to what I'm doing and what other people in the Climate Smart Commodities grant are talking about is the branding and the marketing side of it and the education side of it.
I think depending on the market, it differs. And like I mentioned, we're doing mostly the grains and commodities, such as corn and soybeans and wheat and things like that, but there's other Climate Smart Commodities grant awardees that are doing different elements where it comes to dairy, when it comes to livestock or beef, things like that. I think that's something that we're still working through and figuring out, and I think it varies, like I mentioned before, depending on the market.Michaela Paukner:
Okay. You mentioned that you're talking with the other awardees about how you unify and make this market sustainable after the grant ends. What is the outlook on that and what's the current consensus about the best way to do that?Dylan Vaca:
Yeah, I think everybody is in year one here, and a lot of people are focused on, "Hey, we have to..." The first step is we have to get the growers, we have to talk to the farmers or the people that run a dairy or things like that. We have to get the buy-in from them first. I'll say with our program, we've been able to achieve that, and there's other programs that are currently still working on that. I think this year one is, I think, a lot of other awardees are currently working on getting that involvement.
But I will say a lot of them that I've talked to, they're thinking the same thing as we do as, "Hey, we need to come together and unify and come up with a certain standard that qualifies as a Climate Smart commodity." Or in our case, a Grown Climate Smart commodity. I think that we're all in the same boat and we all want to progress the sustainability market. It's been really awesome to hear that people want to collaborate and partner and come together and unify, opposed to trying to be competitive with it and trying to gate keep in that sense. I think everyone's really excited about it from what I've heard. I think there's going to be some really cool activations and new things for year two that will show that unification in the market more.Michaela Paukner:
Awesome. I think that is a trend that we see with no-tillers too, is they're very much willing to share and set aside that competition. It seems fitting that when you're working with those type of people and trying to forward this, that you're all working together.Dylan Vaca:
Yeah. Yeah, it's been awesome to see the involvement from the no-till community and the no-till Farmers, and it's always great to hear when we talk to one farmer and say, "Hey, we have this program and we can incentivize you and we want to get you in here and help you out." A lot of them are like, "Hey, I have a really good friend down the road that does no-till and we've been doing it for years and he should know about this too." A lot of it comes from that word of mouth and these prior relationships and throughout the years.
It's been really rewarding to see it resonate with farmers and the no-till community, which I think this is a great medium for us to discuss the program because it's very active and people want to share and collaborate. I think that's great, and it's been fun to see it work with the community and continue spreading the word about why you should be doing a reduced or a no-till and what effects it should make. And like I said, hopefully it's a growing thing that in the future it's more of the norm, more so than the specific group that, "Hey, we're a no-till group." I think it should be more the norm where it's better for our soil health and water quality and things like that.Michaela Paukner:
We definitely hope so, year two. Looking ahead to year two, what's on deck for year two? What have you learned from year one that you're going to implement in year two?Dylan Vaca:
Yeah, so year two, we're going to start enrolling growers in January, February timeframe. Again, a big thing for us is to continue to scale this program. We are very successful this year and enrolling, like I mentioned, 260,000 plus acres and hundreds of growers and covered a wide range of growers as far as the geographic presence of the states and everything that we're in. But a big goal for us is not to just cap at 260,000 plus acres. We want to continue to scale and reach more growers and more acres and make a larger difference. We're really excited about that.
Really excited about the marketing side of it and coming together, as we mentioned before, the collaboration with other grant awardees as more and more programs get their feet under them. We're really excited about the possibility of partnering with them and getting some products into the market that come directly from this Climate Smart Commodities grant I think is going to be really interesting and rewarding to see, and hopefully that's just the very beginning of it and it gets the ball rolling. We're very optimistic about it and excited to keep going and building this Grown Climate Smart brand and the program itself.Michaela Paukner:
If anyone listening wants to find out more or work with you, how do they go about doing that?Dylan Vaca:
Yeah, so they can visit the drownclimatesmart.com. They can go to the DeLong Company website itself and find us through there as well. Or you can always call in or talk to a DeLong company rep that's at one of the grain elevators near you. There's a lot of ways to get in touch with us. Hopefully it should be easy to learn more about the program, and obviously we'll be sending out a lot of things as well throughout the winter and touching base with everybody that could possibly in this program.
Been great to see this program start this year and be successful and grow, but like I said, we're super excited about enrolling more growers next year and building the program out more and getting more people in here. I would say if anyone's listening or watching and is interested, feel free to reach out and we'll be glad to talk to you about the program and how we can help you and progress the sustainability market more.Michaela Paukner:
Thanks to Dylan and the DeLong company for today's conversation. A video and transcript for this episode are available no-tillfarmer.com/podcasts. Many thanks to Yetter Farm Equipment for helping to make this No-Till podcast series possible. From all of us here at No-Till Farmer, I'm Michaela Paukner. Thanks for listening.