A farmer is regenerative when he or she improves soil health, biodiversity and farmer economic resilience, says Steve Rosenzweig with General Mills.
The company has used the term a lot and believes adoption of regenerative processes is what it will take to change the paradigm through which farmers view agriculture.
Why it matters: General Mills believes regenerative agriculture is a solution to many environmental and economic challenges facing farmers.
Rosenzweig says the current paradigm of agriculture is that it is viewed as a machine that is to be made more efficient through technologies such as variable seeding and fertilizer rates. It’s about precision to ensure farmers do as little harm as possible but it does not address all issues.
“The new paradigm, the farm is not a machine, it’s really an ecosystem that we can restore. It’s about maximizing the connections between the components of this ecosystem.”
Rosenzweig spoke as part of a public lecture put on by Soils at Guelph at the University of Guelph on Sept. 19.
Key stakeholders in food are driving this change, which according to General Mills, includes activists, customers, investors and consumers.
Declining topsoil, greenhouse gas emissions, biodiversity loss and farm economy are the areas General Mills sees where regenerative agriculture can help.
The company has identified five key areas on the farm that can be influenced by regenerative processes, says Rosenzweig. They include:
- Minimizing soil disturbance,
- Maximizing crop diversity to naturally defend against weeds, pests and diseases,
- Keeping the soil covered to protect from all types of erosion,
- Having a root system in the field all year round to feed the soil,
- Integrating livestock to accelerate the process.
These fit on both organic and conventional farms, says Rosenzweig.
The processes work by restoring “broken ecosystems”; helping to better the nutrient and water cycles of these ecosystems with more infiltration, less erosion and higher organic matter content.
The General Mills plan
Earlier this year General Mills announced plans to advance regenerative agriculture on one million acres by 2030.
The Regenerative Oat Pilot was launched last winter to aid oat farmers within the regions of North Dakota, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. Forty-five farmers with more than 170,000 acres partnered with a consultant or coach to assist farmers in implementing these changes.
“Farmers would wonder how to do all these things, go to conferences, get all psyched up to go home and do something they really believe in, the power of soil health and regenerative ag, and then they go home and don’t actually change anything,” said Rosenzweig.
The farmers are paired with a coach for three years to develop and implement a regenerative management plan.
“All these farmers are starting to implement changes on their farm, trying out different things, what works, what doesn’t work; they are all in different parts of their journey.”
General Mills works with Shark Ag. Consulting in Saskatchewan, Soil Health Partnership in the United States and the University of Manitoba on all of these projects, to help guide farmers wanting to incorporate regenerative agriculture.
“Ninety per cent of farmers are saying ‘how do I do that’ and these 10 per cent of farmers that are actually doing it now, we have to learn from them and with them so we can transfer that knowledge to these other groups through shared field days, and publications. We need to use them as studies, ‘this is how you do this and this is why you want to use this’.”
Using satellite imagery, General Mills will analyze regenerative agriculture, and evaluate its projects, through the detection of cover crops, no-till, conventional tillage, reduced tillage, crop rotations and testing for the amount of carbon sequestered.