Leadership in the Headwaters Agriculture Sustainability Partnership

headshots of drew kessler and cassie monger

A different kind of farming is growing in Central Minnesota, thanks to the work of leaders from agriculture, conservation, finance, engineering, and research involved in the Headwaters Agriculture Sustainability Partnership (HASP). Formed, in 2018 as a way to incubate and implement farmer-led conservation projects, HASP is demonstrating real results, including the profitability of implementing conservation practices across three dairy operations in the region.

The partnership is administered by Environmental Initiative and led through a Chair and Vice-Chair model. After two years chairing the partnership, Minnesota farmer Steve Peterson is stepping down as Chair. The group recently appointed Drew Kessler, Project Manager and Principal at Houston Engineering as the new Chair and Cassie Monger, Dairy Lending Specialist at Compeer Financial as Vice Chair.

I recently had a chance to speak with each of them about their thoughts on HASP’s work, reflections on what we’ve accomplished, and what they’re looking forward to most in the coming year.

Drew Kessler, Chair

Project Manager and Principal, Houston Engineering

I am excited to see how our partnership continues to grow and contribute to sustainability efforts in the headwaters region during 2022. Between existing and new members that have joined our collaboration, we are poised to support farmers in finding win-win opportunities for their operations and improved sustainability outcomes.

I’m also thrilled to share that Environmental Initiative, HASP, and The Nature Conservancy will be hosting an interactive daylong session to explore market-based solutions to incentivize on-farm conservation on February 24. The event will be held in Saint Cloud, Minn., and will include in-person and hybrid participation options. Registration will open in the new year and I’m really looking forward to learning and sharing ideas with farmers, policymakers, and commodity groups. The event will also be an opportunity for HASP to welcome new farmers and community members into our work.

I’m hopeful our efforts to share information and increase conservation practice adoption continue to provide benefits to the environment, contribute to the economic viability of farmers, and support the vitality of communities in the headwaters region.

Cassie Monger, Vice Chair

Dairy Lending Specialist, Compeer Financial

I have really enjoyed the relationships that have been formed within HASP, as well as the network extension beyond HASP itself.

It has been exciting to see how the partnership has evolved over the past couple of years. I’m energized by our work to provide resources, relationships, and tools to our producers — particularly when we work with them to share their stories with their peers about how conservation practices have impacted their business. As an industry we need to continue to evolve.  If we can steer our focus on sustainability as a goal today, our producers will have a competitive advantage in the future.

HASP has really expanded my knowledge and understanding of conservation and sustainability. Many of our HASP partners have deep expertise in conservation and practice adoption. Our diverse group is well positioned to help support innovative ideas and scalable projects where we know there is more to learn and do.

Steve Peterson, Chair Emeritus

Minnesota Farmer

Sustainability came on the scene over a decade ago prompted by consumers and activists.  Today sustainability is a common issue fueled by climate change and changing consumer preferences. Farmer perception of sustainability has evolved from skepticism to confusion to early acceptance.

For a decade I have been saying, “It is better to play offense than defense,” meaning implementing conservation can improve farm profitability and land value as soil health improves. HASP is proving this hypothesis with real long-term data from Minnesota farmers.

We want to show that conservation is good for business and our data is helping to make the case.

Interested in learning more about the Headwaters Agriculture Sustainability Partnership? Sign up for our quarterly emails, or contact Gillian Greenberg at 612-334-3388 ext. 8127.

The Headwaters Agriculture Sustainability Partnership is supported by Compeer Financial, Edge Dairy Farmer Cooperative, Midwest Dairy, Minnesota Department of Agriculture, and the McKnight Foundation.