Niman Ranch, which focuses on sustainable agriculture and humane livestock practices, celebrated its 21st Annual Hog Farmer Appreciation Dinner in Des Moines, Iowa, recently. At the event, Niman committed $200,000 to help farmers expand or adopt new sustainable farming practices to protect pollinators, build soil health and preserve water quality. With a theme of resilience, the celebration focused on efforts that promote both economic success for the farmer and ecological sustainability, including an emphasis on monarch butterfly and other pollinator habitat conservation. Niman Ranch’s goal is building the largest network of independent farmers supporting pollinators.
“Sustainability is a foundational value for Niman Ranch and our network of 740 independent family farmers,” says Chris Oliviero, Niman Ranch GM. “Our farmers have always led the way in using traditional livestock practices that work in concert with nature and support biodiversity. This new infusion of $200,000 will help Niman Ranch farmers adopt new practices that will help build a more resilient future.” More than 500, including farmers, chefs, Niman Ranch customers and food and agriculture leaders, gathered in Des Moines to hear the announcement honoring the farming community.
These resources will go directly to Niman Ranch farmers, who will have the opportunity to apply for funds to expand sustainable agriculture practices that are relevant for their unique farm and land. “Adopting new sustainable farming practices requires time and money, two things farmers often don’t have to spare. We hope that these funds will provide the stability farmers need to make expanded sustainable farming practices possible,” says Oliviero.
The new sustainability commitment kicked off with a focus on protecting pollinators, which are increasingly in jeopardy due to habitat loss and other stressors. The iconic eastern monarch butterfly population, which migrates through Iowa and other midwestern states, has experienced an 80 percent decline over the past two decades. “The decrease in pollinator populations has been dramatic and something I have noticed over the years in Iowa,” says Paul Willis, Niman Ranch founding hog farmer. “As a young man, I remember fields of monarchs during their annual migration, but today, that is not the case. This change inspired me to set aside 136 acres of my farmland to grow a prairie of native plants and flowers that provides safe habitat for birds, bees, butterflies and other pollinators. Today this piece of land is abuzz with pollinators and a legacy I am truly proud of.”
Based on recent survey results, 25 percent of Niman Ranch farmers today have pollinator habitats on their property. Over the next five years, Niman Ranch aims to grow that number to create the largest network of independent farmers in the country supporting pollinators. The Niman Ranch network is uniquely positioned to provide a safe corridor for pollinators, including monarchs, to migrate and thrive due to their large number of farms committed to sustainability.
All farmers in attendance at the event received a bee hotel—small shelters similar to bird houses that provide nesting habitat for native bees—and seeds to grow their own pollinator gardens with a diverse mix of native flowering plants. Niman Ranch has already fielded calls from farmers hoping to take advantage of these new resources.
In addition to the sustainability announcements, the Niman Ranch Next Generation Foundation awarded more than $160,000 in scholarships to 39 children of Niman Ranch farmers to help support the next generation of sustainable agriculture leaders.
Based in Des Moine, Iowa, Niman Ranch is the largest farmer and rancher network in the Western Hemisphere to be 100 percent third-party-certified under the Certified Humane program.