Now it’s getting exciting. When I (Storm Cunningham) included a chapter on what I then called “restorative agriculture” in my first book, The Restoration Economy (Berrett-Koehler, 2002), it was much more concept than reality. Actual examples, like Joel Salatin‘s regenerative farm and ranch here in Virginia, were few and far between.
In recent years, as you’ve seen here in REVITALIZATION, the regenerative agriculture momentum has been picking up nicely. But, while the news has been frequent, most of the progress has been on a fairly small scale. Now, the regenerative ag movement is scaling up.
On March 4, 2019, General Mills announced its commitment to advance regenerative agriculture practices on 1 million acres of farmland by 2030. The company will partner with organic and conventional farmers, suppliers and trusted farm advisors in key growing regions to drive the adoption of regenerative agriculture practices.
A contributor to climate change, it is estimated that the global food system accounts for roughly one-third of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and 70% of water consumption.
“We have been feeding families for over 150 years and we need a strong planet to enable us to feed families for the next 150 years,” said Jeff Harmening, chairman and chief executive officer of General Mills. “We recognize that our biggest opportunity to drive positive impact for the planet we all share lies within our own supply chain, and by being a catalyst to bring people together to drive broader adoption of regenerative agriculture practices.”
Regenerative agriculture is a holistic method of farming deploying practices designed to protect and intentionally enhance natural resources and farming communities.
These practices focus on pulling carbon from the air and storing it in the soil in addition to helping the land be more resilient to extreme weather events. General Mills will partner with key suppliers to drive adoption across key ingredients including oats, wheat, corn, dairy feed and sugar beets.
“Our first on-farm training and education academies will focus on North American growers where we source high-quality oats for Cheerios, Annie’s, Cascadian Farm, Nature Valley and Blue Buffalo,” said Jon Nudi, president of North American Retail for General Mills.
General Mills is granting $650,000 to non-profit organization Kiss the Ground to support farmer training and coaching through Soil Health Academies where growers will learn how to increase farm profitability, build resilience into the land and decrease input costs using soil health practices.
“Investing in soil health and regenerating our soils has numerous benefits including water infiltration, reduced pest pressure, resilience to unpredictable weather, and reducing greenhouse gasses,” said Lauren Tucker, executive director of Kiss the Ground. “We have an opportunity to not just sustain our natural resources, but to restore them for generations to come. We can only advance the adoption of these practices that benefit people and the planet if we partner with and support our farmers.”
This new announcement builds on the company’s commitment to improve soil health and to reduce its absolute GHG emissions by 28 percent across its full value chain by 2025. General Mills reported it is nearly halfway to that goal, with its GHG emissions footprint down 13 percent in 2018 compared to 2010.
General Mills also drives awareness of regenerative agriculture with consumers through its brands. For example, in 2018, Annie’s launched two limited edition products with ingredients grown using regenerative practices, and this year will offer two additional regenerative agriculture products: Macaroni & Classic Cheddar and Shells & White Cheddar, as announced here in the March 15, 2018 issue of REVITALIZATION.
Cascadian Farm, in partnership with The Land Institute, is working to commercialize organic Kernza, a perennial grain whose 10-foot long roots are able to capture carbon and water, while preventing soil erosion.
And EPIC Provisions is helping connect mission-based companies to progressive livestock producers using regenerative practices. Its Sweet & Spicy Sriracha Beef Bites product was the first consumer packaged product to feature the Savory Institute Land to Market Ecological Verification Outcome seal, which measures outcomes versus practices.
General Mills is leading the development of measurement science to connect regenerative agriculture practices, like no-till and cover cropping, to environmental and economic outcomes:
- Healthy Soil: Carbon rich, biologically active soil plays an essential role in cleaning and storing water, supporting biodiversity and regulating the climate.
- Above-Ground Biodiversity: Diversity in crop varieties, grazing animals, wildlife and pollinators supports resilient ecosystems that can better withstand disease, pests and climate fluctuations.
- Farmer Economic Resilience: Regenerative agriculture practices can strengthen whole farm profitability and resilience over time.
Healthy soil is the foundation for regenerative agriculture and since 2015, the company has invested more than $4 million to advance soil health initiatives. Previous and ongoing examples of General Mills’ work include:
- Development of The Soil Health Roadmap in partnership with The Nature Conservancy, which outlines key steps to achieve widespread adoption of soil health systems on more than 50 percent of U.S. cropland by 2025. These efforts could deliver $50 billion in societal benefits annually.
- Development of a Regenerative Agriculture Self-Assessment tool to help farmers understand how their practices influence soil health, biodiversity and economic resilience.
- A strategic sourcing agreement with Gunsmoke Farms to convert 34,000 acres of conventional farmland in South Dakota to certified organic acreage, using regenerative agriculture practices, by 2020.
“We need companies like General Mills who have the scale and commitment to create sustainable agricultural systems,” said Larry Clemens, North America Region Agriculture Director for The Nature Conservancy. “Efforts to improve soil health and enrich biodiversity are critical to addressing climate change and other environmental challenges.”
Featured photo of native pollinators (the restoration of which is a key goal of good regenerative ag practices) via Adobe Stock.