Corn production in the United States is subject to a wide variety of mandatory national sustainability and conservation laws and regulations, concurrent with widespread voluntary implementation of environmental best practices established by the nation’s farmers. A combination of environmental regulation and improved corn production practices has led to dramatic improvement in land use, water use, energy use, greenhouse gas emissions, and soil erosion over the last four decades.
To capture, measure, and facilitate the progress made in U.S. corn sustainability, the U.S. Grains Council (USGC) has created the Corn Sustainability Assurance Protocol (CSAP). This farmer-led initiative is made operational for international trade through Sustainable Corn Exports LLC, a web platform created by the USGC to provide traceability across international supply chains of the volumes of sustainable U.S. corn as defined in the CSAP, allowing for the issuance of Records of Sustainability (ROS) free of charge for individual export shipments.
Corn: an ever-evolving crop
Percent Reduction, 1980-20201
The story of agriculture in the United States during the last century is in many ways a story of corn. Achieving dominance in terms of acreage and production in the 20th century, the crop persists as the most widely planted in the 21st century in the United States. The abundance and versatility of the nation’s corn crop is reflected in the adaptability and receptiveness to innovation of the nation’s corn producers. As producers have been willing to apply and accept new production practices that increase yields, so have they been willing to adopt more sustainable methods.
Field to Market: The Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture is a multi-stakeholder organization committed to facilitating more sustainable agricultural practices and outcomes worldwide. Provided in their 2021 report, Field to Market measured environmental outcomes from on-farm production in the United States across major field crops including corn. The following figure shows the reductions in land use, water use, energy use, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and soil erosion per bushel of corn for grain and per ton of corn for silage. Since 1980, corn for grain in the United States has required 44% less land, 56% less water and 55% less energy per bushel grown. In that same time, corn for grain in the United States has produced 48% less greenhouse gas (in pounds of CO2) and has resulted in 40% less soil erosion, measured in tons of soil per acre. Corn for silage, the entire stalk of which is harvested, has also seen significant improvement across metrics.
Corn Sustainability Assurance Protocol
Progress on the aforementioned sustainability metrics was achieved through decades of policy development and the implementation of best practices by corn farmers, including more efficient fertilizer use and reduced tillage.
To capture the scope of U.S. corn sustainability, the U.S. Grains Council (USCG), the primary export market developer for U.S. corn producers, developed the Corn Sustainability Assurance Protocol (CSAP). USGC works closely with the National Corn Growers Association (NCGA), state-level producer associations and its members to best represent and support the interests of the nation’s more than 300,000 corn growers. The CSAP consolidates the existing laws and regulations surrounding U.S. corn production, as well as prevailing and recommended sustainability practices. The protocol identifies key impact categories that align with Field to Market’s measurement framework and NCGA’s sustainability commitments.
CSAP Impact Categories:
- Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Fossil Fuel Use & Air Quality
- Water Quality & Quantity
- Soil Health & Productivity
- Land Use, Sensitive Habitats and Biodiversity
- Crop Health & Agricultural Best Management Practices
- Agrochemical & Nutrient Management
- Waste & Pollution
- Working Conditions & Labor Relations
- Worker & Public Safety
- Community Relations
- Continuous Improvement
Sustainable Corn Exports LLC and the record of sustainability
Sustainable Corn Exports LLC is a web platform created by USGC with the purpose of helping the international buyers of U.S. corn and corn products to address sustainability requirements within supply chains, through the registry and issuance of documentation that provides assurance of the U.S. corn volumes that meet the definition of sustainability in light of the CSAP.
According to the Protocol, Sustainable Corn Exports LLC annually determines the total amount of U.S. corn in compliance with the CSAP based on a minimum verification threshold, which is linked to corn producers submitting to USDA an annual internal audit of compliance with the Highly Erodible Land Conservation and Wetland Conservation provisions (Form AD1026). USGC estimates that over 90% of U.S. corn acres are subject to conservation compliance provisions, and thus subject to verification by USDA-Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) reviews.
Making use of reported acres by U.S. corn farmers and each marketing year’s average yield, as reported by USDA, USGC employs a mass-balance2 approach to account for the volumes of sustainable U.S. corn registered within its platform. This means that it does not require individual registration from U.S. corn producers on its system, or physical segregation of the corn derived from reported and non-reported acres. Instead, eligible U.S. sustainable corn volumes that are exported get discounted from the global calculated amount in the system, with each shipment of corn that goes overseas.
Through the Sustainable Corn Exports electronic database, interested and eligible corn buyers can register online and request a shipment-specific record of sustainability (ROS) that validates product eligibility under the CSAP for each shipment of corn. Shippers using the database can establish and maintain a firm-specific record that will provide the necessary information for a uniquely identified ROS to accompany individual U.S. corn exports.
Each shipment of U.S. corn covered by CSAP will be accompanied by a uniquely numbered shipment-specific document containing selected information from the shippers’ record, and a Sustainable Corn Exports LLC validation of the mass balance accounting method chain of custody from a volume of CSAP-compliant corn meeting the minimum sustainability verification threshold. There is no cost to any of the parties for the use of the Sustainable Corn Exports platform or for the issuance and use of the respective ROS.
CSAP and the Future of U.S. Corn Sustainability
USGC supports and aligns with the National Corn Growers Association (NCGA) national sustainability goals, which are centered around Field to Market’s measured impact categories. By 2030, NCGA aims for U.S. corn to see increased land use efficiency by 12%, a reduction of soil erosion by 13%, water irrigation efficiency increased by 15%, energy use efficiency increased by 13% and a reduction in GHG emissions of 13% over 2020 levels.3
Corn in the United States has seen significant improvements in all major sustainability metrics over the past four decades. The U.S. Grains Council (USGC) and the National Corn Growers Association (NCGA) have sought to facilitate, measure, and codify the progress made by the nation’s farmers, resulting in the Corn Sustainability Assurance Protocol (CSAP) and Sustainable Corn Exports platform. Several components of the CSAP rely on the 3rd-party national environmental indicators developed by Field to Market.
Corn covered by the CSAP may receive, free of charge, a record of sustainability (ROS) issued by Sustainable Corn Exports LLC, to prove a level of sustainability recognized by international buyers. The organizations recognize the work yet to be done in reaching future corn sustainability goals, look towards further reducing the environmental impact of the crop, and seek to articulate with stakeholders across international supply chains to address sustainability requirements.
Launched in 1877, Corn futures have reflected an evolving underlying crop. Looking ahead, CME Group Corn futures will continue to reflect an ever-developing industry. Learn more at www.cmegroup.com/corn
- Corn for silage is grown for animal feed and is present in every U.S. state. Corn for silage production is similar in the first part of growing season to that of corn grown for grain. Mid-season, however, the entire stalk of corn grown for silage is harvested, while corn grown for grain is left in the field at this time. Corn grown for silage, accordingly, results in less crop residue on-field.
- “Mass balance is a sourcing method that allows for certified and non-certified ingredients to become mixed during the shipping and manufacturing processes”; Rainforest Alliance, ‘What is Mass Balance Sourcing’, https://bit.ly/3AW2uH5
- National Corn Growers Association Sustainability Commitment and Goals, NCGA 2021 Sustainability Report, https://bit.ly/3KxATAm
All examples in this report are hypothetical interpretations of situations and are used for explanation purposes only. The views in this report reflect solely those of the author and not necessarily those of CME Group or its affiliated institutions. This report and the information herein should not be considered investment advice or the results of actual market experience.