OSC2 Nebraska Farm Tour!

October 10, 2016 by dev_team


By:  Lara Dickinson

October 10, 2016

The OSC2 compostable packaging collaborative set off for Omaha Nebraska on the last weekday in September for special farm tour.  Our goal was to better understand NatureWorks compostable packaging  material and how they work to address Corn GMO inputs.  A potential outcome of this could be additional packaging components and new structures that allow a greater diversity of materials to address the current issues we are facing with window haze and (perhaps more importantly) pricing.

OSChas made great strides in identifying compostable flexible packaging that works. We have tested different structures across over a dozen different ingredients and have a structure that many companies could use.  From an environmental standpoint, the structures we have developed for our members and developed for the industry are break-through; they are Non GMO, certified compostable materials with appropriate barriers for most dry ingredients.  However, they are expensive.  After all, the petroleum based plastics industry is over 60 years old.  Compostable packaging is a fraction of that by comparaison. We have a lot of work to do to catch up and to compel the industry to opt for more sustainable packaging.  Natureworks could serve as a barrier or print layer. It’s an improvement in that it provides stiffness, low haze, and a lower cost.  However the potential GMO inputs are higher

We set out for our farm visit from Omaha the next morning, after a failed search to find a dark roast coffee purveyor that met our Bay Area derived expectations.  Jeanne Cloutier, Reyna Bryant and I journeyed with Dave Stanton and Steve Davies of NatureWorks to the Knuth Family Farms in Mead, Nebraska.  Angela and Kerry Knuth were waiting for us in front of their industrial sized barn that garaged a state of the art, show-worthy tractor.  Jim Kleischmit  and his father Martin Kleinschmit of Working Landscapes, also welcomed us.

We spent the morning learning about how a Nebraska Industrial corn farmer thinks about and introduces more regenerative land practices. This is pretty profound stuff in the land of industrial, GMO corn.

The Knuths are clearly a step ahead of many of their farming neighbors in technology and land

Angela and Kerry Knuth  www.knuthfarms.com

management practices.  They come from 3 generations of corn and soybean farmers and own and also lease some of their 3700 plus acres.   They clearly are organized and excellent business managers. Their farm is immaculate and it is clear they really know their numbers.  They use technology to make many decisions. The even have a website!  Angela keeps track of  the operations and Kerry really knows about sophisticated farming equipment his .  They make a great team.   What amazed me even more was that it was primarily just the two of them working this farm along with a couple of part time helpers. The tractors and machines do everything.

They are one of approximately 8 farms in the area who have incorporated the Working Landscapes into their practices.  Industrial GMO corn is a behemoth that is hard to shift over night.  Stoneyfield along with Jim Kleinschmit developed a way to encourage farmers to start to introduce more Non GMO production. The program works a bit like offsets. Farmers who historically produce industrial level GMO corn can integrate the Working landscapes model and receive a subsidy for growing and harvesting Non GMO per acre.  The Non GMO corn premium is about $.80 per bushel which is pretty meaningful. Right Now GMO corn is way down in pricing, going for a little over $3.40 a bushel.

The interesting part is the corn is sold just as any other GMO corn would be sold (Farmers cannot get double credit for harvesting  a Non GMO bushel).

Essentially the brand can buy the offset to make Non GMO corn, even though what they eventually buy from NatureWorks is primarily from a GMO corn source.   Currently, about 10% Non GMO makes it into their material.

So you have to believe in the farmer and the movement. After spending some time with Jim Kleinschmit, His father, and the Knuths, I believed they really understood what the land needed and were committed to moving in the right direction.

Kerry and Angela Knuth said they had been experimenting with some organic soil and are finding higher nutrient levels in that soil.   What made a stirring impact on me, was after I asked Kerry if he had noticed any real climate change effects over the years.  We stood in front of a row of GMO soybeans squinting from the dust all around us and the sun blazing down.   It was dry and eerily quiet.   No breeze. The air felt dead.

Kerry looked at me directly and replied, “I have never seen weather like what we’ve had over the last decade.”  It isn’t necessarily hotter, but the changes are disruptive.  One day is it is the hottest day we have ever had, then last year, the moisture was so high, we couldn’t harvest.

Knuth Soybean Farm

Martin Kleinschmit listened humbly to all of us.  I soon realized he was the real pioneering force here.  A man with a quiet, kind, and wise manner, he indicated that he could see the merits of organic farming over 3 decades ago. He converted over much to the chastisement of his neighbors.  Peer Pressure is big in Nebraska to conform to industrial.  He said the climate change indicators were showing up and he could see a real difference in his soil.  He made a  pretty courageous change before any of us were on the bandwagon.  Jim Kleinschmit grew up in that environment- deep commitment to farming and also looking for a better way.

After we got a lesson in driving the biggest tractor I have ever seen, we said good bye to this pioneering group –  their own experience, making a small dent in Big industrial Ag, but changing from within.

We stopped on the road out to pick an ear of dry, rock hard corn to bring back as a souvenir. This is the corn that goes into everything From batteries to erythritol, to corn syrup, to NatureWorks.

Nebraska GMO corn:  Reyna Bryant, Jeanne Cloutier, Lara Dickinson

We have a lot to navigate to figure out the best path for packaging and the larger sustainable supply chain picture.  And most of us probably have concluded there isn’t one path or one right answer.  For our vision…it is moving One Step Closer.  Perhaps influencing Big industrial Ag from within is one road our steps can take.  Others may be in the purer forms of Non GMO packaging or going for high renewables with Non GMOs.

But NatureWorks and their approach to supporting small steps toward more NON GMO production from within big Ag is a road to consider as well. It is a step in the right direction and away from Petroleum based plastic. That’s worth our consideration. OSC2 will evaluate NatureWorks as one option for brands to consider in our comparative study we bring to our members this January .