On September 16, 2020, Cargill–which many practitioners of organic and regenerative agriculture consider one of their great enemies—announced that it is now supporting farmer-led efforts to adopt regenerative agriculture practices across 10 million acres of North American farmland over the next 10 years.
As documented in The Restoration Economy back in 2002, regenerative agriculture 1) restores the quantity and quality of topsoil (such as no-till), 2) restores the watershed, 3) restores local biodiversity, especially native pollinators, and 4) boosts profitability (primarily by lowering expenses for chemicals and equipment), thus revitalizing rural economies. More recently, carbon sequestration has been added to the definition, so it also helps restore our climate.
Not surprisingly, Cargill’s approach is extremely limited. But any regenerative progress is positive, which is why we’re featuring this news here. Their initiative will focus primarily on row crop rotations that include corn, wheat, canola and soybeans and other staple crops.
This can be a component of regenerative agriculture, but is only a small step up from business as usual. Cargill says it “expects these regenerative agriculture practices to benefit the long-term profitability and resiliency of farmers while simultaneously advancing the company’s progress against its science-based climate commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in its global supply chains by 30 percent per ton of product by 2030. The initiative will also contribute to the company’s efforts to protect and enhance water resources.”
“At Cargill, we view agriculture as an opportunity. Because we know agriculture is how we’ll ensure a safe, responsible and sustainable food system,” said Ryan Sirolli, Cargill sustainability director for row crops. “When farmers adopt practices, and ultimately systems, such as reducing or eliminating tillage and adding cover crops, we can help mitigate climate change and protect water resources while improving the resiliency of the soil. Investing in soil health principles is how agriculture can help enhance farmer livelihoods while reducing greenhouse gas emissions, improving water quality and increasing drought resilience.”
Regenerating the soil with farmers and partners across the supply chain
While pockets of regenerative agriculture systems exist in North America, there is a need to more rapidly scale soil health practices so that nature and people – including farmers – can reap the benefits.
“The land is a farmer’s most valuable asset—key to their livelihood and productivity,” added Sirolli. “By supporting adoption of soil health principles with our farm partners, we can build healthy soils, increase resiliency and profitability and ensure their success, and the viability of their land, for future generations.”
Through the initiative announced today, Cargill will work with partners and other stakeholders across the supply chain to provide farmers access to technical and agronomic resources that support yield and profit objectives, training opportunities, support with data collection for benchmarking and visibility to the needs of downstream consumer facing companies.
Understanding the financial pressures farmers are facing, Cargill will help connect farmers to cost-sharing options and support the development of new market based solutions to incentivize outcomes that reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve and protect water quality, like the Soil and Water Outcomes Fund, of which Cargill is a founding member.
“To feed a growing population and protect our planet, we need to celebrate and elevate farmers who are adopting sustainable agriculture practices and caring for the land while feeding the world. By collaborating across the supply chain with farmers, ranchers, customers and partners, we can scale solutions that drive lasting change,” said Jill Kolling, Cargill vice president of global sustainability.
Partnering for impact
Cargill has established multiple partnerships to help implement soil health practices and provide dedicated resources to promote regenerative agriculture systems. Cargill already has several efforts underway to support the 10-million-acre initiative including:
- Establishment of the Soil & Water Outcomes Fund. This partnership with the Iowa Soybean Association and Quantified Ventures helps row crop farmers implement regenerative agriculture practices. Farmers are incentivized on a per-acre basis for adopting practices like planting cover crops, reducing tillage and optimizing nutrient management. In the first year, 9,500 acres were enrolled in the program;
- Working in partnership with The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences. Cargill collaborates with Ohio State Water Quality Extension Associates to engage farmers in implementing agriculture practices focused on soil health and nutrient management;
- Through its BeefUp Sustainability initiative, Cargill has teamed up with The Nature Conservancy, McDonald’s and Target to support Nebraska farmers in further adoption and implementation of proven soil health practices to help mitigate greenhouse gas emissions and help farmers adapt to climate change. The five-year, $8.5 million project will impact 100,000 acres of row crops and feed production in a key beef producing region;
- Cargill is partnering with the Soil Health Institute to assess, demonstrate and communicate the economics of soil health management systems across North America. As part of the work, Soil Health Institute scientists have analyzed over 120 experimental research sites across North America to gather data on soil health management practices and interviewed 100 farmers across 9 states to assess impacts of soil health management practices on farmers’ profitability;
- Working with the Practical Farmers of Iowa (PFI), Cargill has launched two pilot programs focused on boosting adoption of cover crops in Iowa, Illinois, Missouri Ohio, Nebraska, Arkansas and Tennessee. Through the partnership, PFI consults with farmers at no cost, and helps connect them to additional resources such as field days and webinars. To date, 201 farmers are enrolled in the programs, covering over 26,000 acres;
- Cargill has partnered with The Nature Conservancy on two soil health projects establishing nearly 900 acres of cover crop demonstration sites in Minnesota with the goal of educating farmers on the benefits of cover crops and incentivizing adoption of these practices. By planting cover crops, soil health in the area will improve and local water systems will be better protected; and
- Cargill agronomists in Canada work with farmers to incorporate 4R Nutrient Stewardship principles and practices into fertility plans. These practices have been shown to improve the quality of water, soil and air while contributing to the long-term profitability of the farm.
Featured photo courtesy of Cargill.