Missouri farmers want to share their story – one of sweat, tears, perseverance and responsibility, and one that deserves to be heard. That’s why the Missouri Department of Agriculture launched the new Agricultural Stewardship Assurance Program (ASAP) in 2015.
“With the brainstorming of new ideas tossed in with some tried-and-true techniques, the department launched ASAP to champion farmers who are doing the best for our land, our farms and our families,” says Richard Fordyce, Missouri Director of Agriculture. “This new program serves as a seal of approval in the farmer’s community and eventually across the globe. This type of fostering and encouraging of environmental stewardship is critical to the future growth of agriculture throughout the world.”
ASAP recognizes farmers and ranchers for their positive, sustainable practices and challenges them to do even more.
“Many of Missouri’s producers already use efficient and sustainable practices in their operations,” Fordyce says. “We must continue to advance the use of such practices by understanding and implementing environmental stewardship and communicating those successes with the public.”
Farmers who practice sustainable management in their operations can become ASAP- certified in as many as six categories: cropland, energy, farmstead, forestry, grassland and livestock. Once certified, the producer receives benefits, including farm signage, recognition on the ASAP website, early access to educational programs and access to national and international markets.
“ASAP is a very simple, proactive way to share what you’re doing with consumers,” says Sharon Oetting, who raises corn, soybeans and hogs with her husband, Steve, in Concordia. Oetting Homestead Farms is ASAP-certified in livestock, crops and farmstead. The farm has been in Steve’s family since 1839.
“Nobody tells our story better than we do, and we want people to know we are raising food in a responsible manner for them and for our own families,” Oetting says. “Today’s consumer is three to four generations removed from the farm. ASAP creates a way to share our story with the general public, both individually and collectively as a group of producers, and it’s very impactful on the public perception.”
Participating in ASAP costs nothing except a small amount of time to fill out the application and a farm visit with a representative from the Department of Agriculture. “Today’s farmers have to be out front telling our story, and this is certainly one way we can do that,” Oetting says.
More than 50 Missouri farmers have already become ASAP- certified. The hope is that the program will create conversation between producers and consumers via social media and word of mouth.
Rick and Jonna Ayers became ASAP-certified in grasslands and livestock in early 2016. The couple raises beef cattle and 1,300 acres of grassland in Green City. They are also co-teachers of agriculture at Green City High School.
“Our farm was purchased by my dad in the 1960s, and he was always about leaving things better than you found them, so that mindset was born and bred into me,” Rick Ayers says. “It’s important to us to tell people about what we do. Our food supply in the U.S. is safe, abundant and affordable, and that’s because producers are doing a good job. We want to show people we are doing things the right way.”
ASAP shares similarities with the USDA’s Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), a national program that provides financial incentives for producers who have achieved a high level of environmental stewardship. Both programs were developed from the idea of rewarding producers for being good stewards of the land.
“We are beginning to see more and more marketing opportunities for farmers and ranchers who produce environmentally friendly products,” says J.R. Flores, state conservationist with the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service. “Increasingly, we see an interest, or even a demand, from consumers for products that are not only healthy, but also produced in a resource-friendly manner. I see this trend becoming more popular in coming years.”
USDA has been working with Missouri’s 114 soil and water conservation districts for many years to help producers reduce soil erosion, improve the quality of water in streams and lakes, improve wildlife habitat and improve the condition of grazing lands.
“With ASAP and CSP, I see the opportunity to reward those producers for their efforts and provide an incentive to other producers to be good conservation stewards,” Flores says. “Using these programs to build upon what we have already accomplished will further reinforce Missouri’s reputation as a conservation leader.”