By Abby Rinne, Director of Sustainability, USSEC
U.S. Soy is rooted in a commitment to biodiversity conservation. Every time international customers opt for sustainable U.S. Soy, with its lowest carbon footprint compared with other origins, they are supporting a comprehensive system of biodiversity efforts.
Given the intertwined nature of soy cultivation and biodiversity efforts in the U.S., choosing sustainable U.S. Soy becomes an endorsement of U.S. Soy farmers practices and the country's conservation programs. This is what differentiates U.S. Soy.
‘America’s vast lands provide opportunities to both reduce emissions and sequester more carbon dioxide.’ As a part of multilateral agreements, such as the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) and the Paris Agreement, the U.S. showcases its commitment to global biodiversity standards by supporting scaling of climate smart agricultural practices (including, for example, cover crops), reforestation, rotational grazing, and nutrient management practices, further underlining the positive impact of sustainable U.S. Soy.
The backbone of the U.S. Government’s vision to protect and restore biodiversity is rooted in significant legislations and programs, including the Endangered Species Act (ESA), which provides for the protection of ecosystems and the conservation of threatened and endangered species, the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), and the monumental America the Beautiful Initiative, which aims to conserve 30% of U.S. lands and waters by 2030.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) plays a pivotal role by empowering farmers to remove land from agricultural production for 10-15 years and foster practices like filter strips and grassland development that yield significant ecological benefits. Additionally, programs such as the U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service’s (NRCS) Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP), Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), and Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP), which provides funding for conservation efforts at regional or watershed scales, establish a harmonious relationship between agriculture and the environment.
Between 1997 to 2017, U.S. forest land increased by 742,000 hectares while crop land decreased by 3.6 million hectares.
Notably, the U.S. NRCS Longleaf Forest Initiative, initiated in 2010 to restore longleaf pine forests in the Southeast United States has successfully reversed a century-long decline in forests restoring 870,000 acres or 352,000 hectares. This commitment to biodiversity directly benefits U.S. Soy, as the USDA's array of conservation programs equips U.S. Soy farmers with the resources and incentives needed to enhance their environmental performance across various facets, ranging from soil health to greenhouse gas emissions.
Within this eco-conscious framework, the role of sustainable U.S. Soy is more significant than ever. Recognized for its low environmental footprint and soil health augmentation, sustainable soy can serve as a beacon of responsible food and agriculture production. The robust regulatory frameworks facilitated by the USDA ensure that soy cultivation aligns with the broader vision of biodiversity enhancement, encouraging farmers to embrace conservation programs and environmentally beneficial practices.
As an example, the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) receives $2 billion USD in funding per year for the adoption and installation of conservation practices on agricultural working lands and there are currently more than 170 conservation practices offered under this program. The USDA also offers the Conservation Technical Assistance (CTA) program, which provides technical staff with the knowledge and tools to help farmers with planning, designing, and implementing conservation practices to improve and restore natural resources. Each year the USDA allocates around $900 million for the Conservation Technical Assistance (CTA) program.
Protecting and nurturing the biodiversity of agricultural land is a significant priority for U.S. Soy farmers, which aligns with growing efforts by the U.S. government to protect and restore biodiversity. In recent years, the U.S. has sought to revitalize its commitment to biodiversity, with legislative mechanisms and initiatives all shifting towards a greener, more sustainable future. For example, U.S. farmers use conservation practices including cover crops, diverse crop rotation, conservation tillage or no till, intercropping, conservation buffer strips, and hedgerows. A U.S. NRCS study completed in 2018 showed that conservation tillage was used on about 70% of soybean acres in 2012, with about 56% of that being no-till.
Conservation tillage includes practices that:
- Minimally disturb soils,
- Keep soil, nutrients, and crop treatments with the plants,
- Prevent soil compaction, enabling biodiversity to thrive and rainwater to penetrate/filter,
- Limit carbon emissions from both soil disturbance and from tillage equipment,
- Protect surface water sources from run-off,
- Allow better absorption of rainwater for efficient utilization, aqueduct recharge and run-off prevention, and,
- Promote soil health.
And a 2021 USDA study found that U.S. farmers increased cover crops acreages by 50% to 15.4 million acres or 6.23 million hectares in 2017 from 2012. Most of the increased cover crop acreage was in soybean and corn-for-grain fields.
Many different farming production and management methods used on U.S. Soy farms contribute to U.N. Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 2.4. These methods increase productivity and production efficiencies and help maintain ecosystems that strengthen adaptation to climate change, while progressively improving land and soil quality.
- Greenhouse gas emissions per ton of production declined 43%
- Land use in acres per ton declined 48%
- Soil erosion in tons per bushel declined 34%
- Energy use per ton of production declined 46%
- Crop productivity increased 130% in tons per acres
In a world where sustainability isn't just a buzzword but an imperative, the case for sustainable U.S. Soy stands strong. As companies prioritize and consumers choose products with sustainable U.S. Soy, they’re choosing to commit to a brighter, greener, and more biodiverse world.
 Claassen, Roger, Maria Bowman, Jonathan McFadden, David Smith, Steven Wallander.
Tillage Intensity and Conservation Cropping in the United States, EIB-197,
U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service, September 2018.
 Steven Wallander, David Smith, Maria Bowman, and Roger Claassen. Cover Crop Trends, Programs, and Practices in the United States, EIB 222, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service, February 2021.