We’ve pulled the key points from a recent Civil Eats article on Big Food and regenerative agriculture. You can read the full article here.
Background: regenerative agriculture
There is a growing interest in using regenerative agriculture to combat climate change. Regenerative agriculture, a term that is often used synonymously with “carbon farming,” is a set of practices—from cover crops and no-tilling to compost application and managed grazing—that builds organic matter in the soil, effectively storing more water and drawing more carbon out of the atmosphere.
Industrial support of regenerative agriculture
General Mills has rolled out a pilot project for oat farmers, as well an open-source self-assessment app available to anyone interested in implementing regenerative practices. 12+ other large companies have also publicly committed to increasing regenerative practices. General Mills will provide farmers financial assistance to change their practices, including three years of monthly one-on-one coaching, soil sampling/testing, and the creation of custom transition plans. And while the company isn’t planning to pay premiums for regenerative practices, it’s betting that once they’re implemented, the farmers will use fewer chemical inputs, making them more profitable.
Big Food: questionable commitment
The question now is if this effort will actually lead to substantive change, or simply allow ‘big food’ to sell more products. Big Food has historically mixed reviews on their investment in regenerative and organic practices. Furthermore, greenwashing is a growing problem for regenerative farmers. Greenwashing refers to companies portraying their practices as regenerative, despite not really changing the way their food is produced. For example, General Mills was sued for allegedly misleading consumers into believing dozens of Cascadian Farm food products came from a small farm in Washington state—while they’re actually sourced from large industrial farms all over the country and the world. The bottom line is that it’s hard for multinational companies to stop hurting the environment when they want to continue growing and making more money.
A farmer perspective
According to Harris, farmer of regenerative White Oaks, “The difficulty for any farmer trying to step out of the industrial model… is the risks they take. A company like General Mills is in the position to mitigate some of the risks by guaranteeing a market for their product.” But in the end, it’s consumers who must decide whether they “care enough about the land, animals, community and environment” to pay more for food produced using regenerative practices.
Environmental impact and policy
It is still unknown how much carbon can be stored in the soil. Regenerative agriculture is part of mitigating climate change, but not the entire solution. According to geologist David Montgomery, lasting investment is key. “If we invest in regenerative ag and 50 years later we plow it up, we undo all the benefits. We have to find a way to help maintain it there. To do that, we need policies in place to ensure that the regenerative work that’s done today is beneficial in the future.” A combination of public and private policy is key to successful efforts.
Earlier this summer, 21 oat-based cereals and snacks, including Cheerios and many other popular General Mills products, tested positive for traces of glyphosate, the active ingredient in the herbicide Roundup.
Picture pulled from Civil Eats Article.