Investors Say Agroforestry Isn’t Just Climate Friendly — It’s Also Profitable

In the latter part of 2016, Ethan Steinberg and two of his friends planned a driving tour across the U.S. to interview farmers. Their goal was to solve a riddle that had been bothering each of them for some time. Why was it, they wondered, that American agriculture basically ignored trees?

This was no esoteric inquiry. According to a growing body of scientific research, incorporating trees into farmland benefits everything from soil health to crop production to the climate. Steinberg and his friends, Jeremy Kaufman and Harrison Greene, also suspected it might yield something else: money.

“We had noticed there was a lot of discussion and movement of capital into holistic grazing, no till, cover cropping,” Steinberg recalls, referencing some of the land- and climate-friendly agricultural practices that have been garnering environmental and business attention recently. “We thought, what about trees? That’s when a lightbulb went off.”

The trio created Propagate Ventures, a company that now offers farmers software-based economic analysis, on-the-ground project management, and investor financing to help add trees and tree crops to agricultural models. One of Propagate’s key goals, Steinberg explained, was to get capital from interested investors to the farmers who need it — something he saw as a longtime barrier to this sort of tree-based agriculture.

Propagate quickly started attracting attention. Over the past two years, the group, based in New York and Colorado has expanded into eight states, primarily in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic, and is now working with 20 different farms. Last month, it announced that it had received $1.5 million in seed funding from Boston-based Neglected Climate Opportunities, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Jeremy and Hannelore Grantham Environmental Trust.

A Propagate Ventures agroforestry project in Hudson, NY, planted in April 2020. Image courtesy of Propagate Ventures

“My hope is that they can help farmers diversify their production systems and sequester carbon,” says Eric Smith, investment officer for the trust. “In a perfect world, we’d have 10 to 20 percent of U.S. land production in agroforestry.”

For the past few years, private sector interest in “sustainable” and “climate-friendly” efforts has skyrocketed. Haim Israel, Bank of America’s head of thematic investment, suggested at the World Economic Forum earlier this year that the climate solutions market could double from $1 trillion today to $2 trillion by 2025. Flows to sustainable funds in the U.S. have been increasing dramatically, setting records even amid the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the financial services firm Morningstar.

And while agriculture investment is only a small subset of these numbers, there are signs that investments in “regenerative agriculture,” practices that improve rather degrade than the earth, are also increasing rapidly. In a 2019 report, the Croatan Institute, a research institute based in Durham, North Carolina, found some $47.5 billion worth of investment assets in the U.S. with regenerative agriculture criteria.

“The capital landscape in the U.S. and globally is really shifting,” says David LeZaks, senior fellow at the Croatan Institute. “People are beginning to ask more questions about how their money is working for them as it relates to financial returns, or how it might be working against them in the creation of extractive economies, climate change or labor issues.”

Agroforestry, the ancient practice of incorporating trees into farming, is just one subset of regenerative agriculture, which itself is a subset of the much larger “ESG,” or Environmental, Social and Governance, investment world. But according to Smith and Steinberg, along with a small but growing number of financiers, entrepreneurs and company executives, it is one particularly ripe for investment.

Although relatively rare in the U.S., agroforestry is a widespread agricultural practice across the globe. Project Drawdown, a climate change mitigation think tank that ranks climate solutions, estimates that some 650 million hectares (1.6 billion acres) of land are currently in agroforestry systems; other groups put the number even higher. And the estimates for returns on those systems are also significant, according to proponents.

Vulcan Farm in Illinois combines intensive perennial polyculture, windbreaks, alley cropping, and silvopasture, and also features an innovative long-term lease model that provides options to non-operator landholders and land access for agroforestry farmers. Photo courtesy of Savanna Institute.

Ernst Götsch, a leader in the regenerative agriculture world, estimates that agroforestry systems can create eight times more profit than conventional agriculture. Harry Assenmacher, founder of the German company Forest Finance, which connects investors to sustainable forestry and agroforestry projects, said in a 2019 interview that he expects between 4% and 7% return on investments at least; his company had already paid out $7.5 million in gains to investors, with more income expected to be generated later.

This has led to a wide variety of for-profit interest in agroforestry. There are small startups, such as Propagate, and small farmers, such as Martin Anderton and Jono Neiger, who raise chickens alongside new chestnut trees on a swath of land in western Massachusetts. In Mexico, Ronnie Cummins, co-founder and international director of the Organic Consumers Association, is courting investors for funds to support a new agave agroforestry project. Small coffee companies, such as Dean’s Beans, are using the farming method, as are larger farms, such as former U.S. vice president Al Gore’s Caney Fork Farms. Some of the largest chocolate companies in the world are investing in agroforestry.

“We are indeed seeing a growing interest from the private sector,” says Dietmar Stoian, lead scientist for value chains, private sector engagement and investments with the research group World Agroforestry, also known by the acronym ICRAF. “And for some of them, the idea of agroforestry is quite new.”

Part of this, he and others say, is growing awareness about agroforestry’s climate benefits.

Gains for the climate, too

According to Project Drawdown, agroforestry practices are some of the best natural methods to pull carbon out of the air. The group ranked silvopasture, a method that incorporates trees and livestock together, as the ninth most impactful climate change solution in the world, above rooftop solar power, electric vehicles and geothermal energy.

If farmers increased silvopasture acreage from approximately 550 million hectares today to about 770 million hectares by 2050 (1.36 billion acres to 1.9 billion acres), Drawdown estimated carbon dioxide emissions could be reduced over those 30 years by up to 42 gigatons — more than enough to offset all of the carbon dioxide emitted by humans globally in 2015, according to NOAA — and could return $206 billion to $273 billion on investment.

Part of the reason that agroforestry practices are so climate friendly (systems without livestock, i.e. ‘normal’ agroforestry like shade grown coffee, for example, are also estimated by Drawdown to return well on investment, while sequestering 4.45 tons of carbon per hectare per year) is because of what they replace.

Photo of silvopasture system in Georgia by Mack Evans. Image via U.S. National Agroforestry Center.

Traditional livestock farming, for instance, is carbon intensive. Trees are cut down for pasture, fossil fuels are used as fertilizer for feed, and that feed is transported across borders, and sometimes the world, using even more fossil fuels.

Livestock raised in concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), produce more methane than cows that graze on grass. A silvopasture system, on the other hand, involves planting trees in pastures — or at least not cutting them down. Farmers rotate livestock from place to place, allowing soil to hold onto more carbon.

There are similar benefits to other types of agroforestry practices. Forest farming, for instance, involves growing a variety of crops under a forest canopy — a process that can improve biodiversity and soil quality, and also support the root systems and carbon sequestration potential of farms.

A changing debate

Etelle Higonnet, senior campaign director at campaign group Mighty Earth, says a growing number of chocolate companies have expressed interest in incorporating agroforestry practices — a marked shift from when she first started advocating for that approach.

“When we first started talking to chocolate companies and traders about agroforestry, pretty much everybody thought I was a nutter,” she says. “But fast forward three years on and pretty much every major chocolate company and cocoa trader is developing an agroforestry plan.”

What that means on the ground, though, can vary widely, she says. Most of the time it is a company’s sustainability department that is pushing for agroforestry investment, not the C-suite. Some companies have committed to sourcing 100% of their cacao from agroforestry systems. Others are content with 5% of their cacao coming from farms that use agroforestry.

Alley cropping is a common form of agroforestry, where annual crops like hay, grains, or vegetables are grown between long rows of useful fruit or fodder trees. Here livestock advisor Gaabi Hathaway and herding dog Bohdi inspect ‘mulberry alley’ at Tennessee’s Caney Fork Farms. Image by Sherman Thomas courtesy of Caney Fork Farms.

What a company considers “agroforestry” can also be squishy, she points out — a situation that makes her and other climate advocates worry about companies using the term to “greenwash,” or essentially pretend to be environmentally friendly without making substantive change.

“What is agroforestry?” says Simon Konig, executive director of Climate Focus North America. “There is no clear definition. There’s an academic, philosophical definition, but there’s not a practical definition, nothing that says, ‘it includes this many species.’ Basically, agroforestry is anything you want it to be, and anything you want to write on your brochure.”

He says he has seen cases in South America where people have worked to transform degraded cattle ranches into cocoa plantations. They have planted banana trees alongside cocoa, which needs shade when young. But when the cocoa is five years old and requires more sun, the farmers take out the bananas.

“They say, ‘it’s agroforestry,’” Konig says. “So there are misunderstandings — there are different objectives and standards.”

He has been working to produce a practical agroforestry guide for cocoa and chocolate companies. One of the guide’s main takeaways, he says, is that there is not a one-size-fits-all approach to agroforestry. It depends on climate, objectives, markets, and all sorts of other variables.

This is one of the reasons that agroforestry has been slow to gain investor attention, says LeZaks of the Croatan Institute.

“There really aren’t the technical resources — the infrastructure, the products — that work to support an agroforestry sector at the moment,” LeZaks says.

Pigs raised on New Forest Farm in Wisconsin benefit from tree shade, fruits and nuts. Livestock serve multiple purposes in agroforestry, such as pest management, soil fertilization, and additional farm revenue. Photo courtesy of Savanna Institute.

While agroforestry is seen as having significant potential for the carbon offset market, its variability makes it a more complicated agricultural investment. Another challenge to agroforestry investment is time.

Tree crops take years to produce nuts, berries or timber. This can be a barrier for farmers, who often do not have extra capital to tie up for years.

It can also turn off investors.

“People are bogged down by business as usual,” says Stoian from World Agroforestry. “They have to report to shareholders. Give regular reports. It’s almost contradictory to the long-term nature of agroforestry.”

This is where Steinberg and Propagate Ventures come in. The first part of the company’s work is to fully analyze a farmer’s operation, Steinberg says. It evaluates business goals, uses geographic information system (GIS) components to map out land, and determines the trees most appropriate for the particular agricultural system. With software analytics, Propagate predicts long-term cost-to-revenue and yields, key information for both farmers and possible private investors.

After the analysis phase, Propagate helps implement the agroforestry system. It also works to connect third-party investors with farmers, using a revenue-sharing model in which the investor takes a percentage of the profit from harvested tree crops and timber.

Additionally, Propagate works to arrange commercial contracts with buyers who are interested in adding agroforestry-sourced products to their supply chains.

“Here’s an opportunity to work with farmers to increase profitability by incorporating tree crops into their operations in a way that’s context specific,” Steinberg says. “And it also starts addressing the ecological challenge that we face in agriculture and beyond.”

This report is part of Mongabay’s ongoing coverage of trends in global agroforestry, view the full series here.

Reposted with permission from Mongabay

‘Carbon Farming’ Could Make US Agriculture Truly Green

ON A FARM in north-central Indiana, Brent Bible raises 5,000 acres of corn and soybeans that go into producing ethanol fuel, food additives and seeds. In Napa Valley, California, Kristin Belair picks the best grapes from 50 acres of vineyards to create high-end cabernet sauvignon and sauvignon blanc wines. Both are part of a growing number of “carbon farmers” who are reducing planet-warming greenhouse gases by taking better care of the soil that sustains their farms. That means making changes like plowing fields less often, covering soil with composted mulch and year-round cover crops, and turning drainage ditches into rows of trees.

Now Congress is considering legislation that would make these green practices eligible for a growing international carbon trading marketplace that would also reward farmers with cash.

This morning, Bible is scheduled to testify at a Capitol Hill hearing before the Senate Agriculture Committee that is considering the carbon farming legislation.


Manejo Holístico: ¿Puede cambiar el rol de la ganadería en el futuro?

Términos como regenerativo, ecológico, natural están cada vez más presentes y surge otra opción bajo el nombre de Ganadería Regenerativa (GR).

Para conocer más sobre este nuevo paradigma basado en el Manejo Holístico (MH), AgrofyNews dialogó con Juan Pedro Borrelli, coordinador de la Escuela de Regeneración (ER), un proyecto incubado por Ovis 21. Esta escuela nació en 2013 con el objetivo de enseñar y aprender actividades que promuevan la regeneración de los ecosistemas y las comunidades.

En palabras de Borelli, se trata de una ganadería que aumenta el capital biológico y social. “Permite incrementar la tasa de infiltración de agua de los campos, la biodiversidad, secuestrar carbono en suelo y favorecer las especies perennes”.

¿Cómo? Según la ER, durante mucho tiempo se creyó que había un conflicto entre producir más y cuidar la tierra. Al respecto, señalan que el MH rompió esa falsa antinomia y permitió aumentar la rentabilidad de los predios al mismo tiempo que se regenera la tierra.


Regenerative Products Just Might Save the Planet – and the Economy

With the help of science, we’ve come to understand our impact on the planet that is our home. With each item we produce, building we construct, forest we cut down, acre we plow, and journey we make — enabled by resources we derive from our planet’s prehistoric past — we do small amounts of harm to the fragile balance of nature that sustains life. As we’ve replicated our capabilities and developed our ability to scale, those tiny harms have multiplied to the point that the cumulative damage now threatens our planetary life-support system.

Efforts to address this situation have so far consisted of denial, modest efficiency improvements, recycling, and, in some cases, the substitution of products less harmful than their predecessors. But these well-intentioned actions are not nearly enough to stop, let alone reverse, the effects of global climate change. What we need is a way to rewind the ecological tape — a regenerative approach — and the leadership to make it happen.


Carbon Cowboys Versus CAFOs

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought many fragile industries to the breaking point and highlighted systemic problems in others, including the industrialized, centralized food system in the U.S. Major meat processing plants have emerged as hotspots for transmission of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

Prior to the Defense Production Act, which compels meat plants to stay open in order to protect the functioning of the U.S. meat and poultry supply chain, being invoked in April 2020, many were forced to shut down. As threats of meat shortages emerged, farmers were faced with the grim prospect of killing thousands of food animals just because they had nowhere to send them to be processed.

The system created to serve concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) has cracked during the pandemic, putting U.S. food supplies in jeopardy. Meanwhile, so-called “carbon cowboys” — those who have embraced an alternative method of food production that works with nature instead of against it — not only are surviving the upheaval but thriving, all while providing nutritious food to their communities.

‘Carbon Cowboys’ Persevere, Thrive During Pandemic

The dichotomy between CAFOs and carbon cowboys could not be more stark, with CAFOs that control the majority of U.S. meat and poultry largely reliant on a limited number of large processing plants. “The coronavirus is showing how food supply has become too centralized, especially for meat processing,” Peter Byck, an Arizona State University professor, told Fox News.

Byck directed a 10-part documentary titled “Carbon Cowboys,” following farmers who use regenerative grazing techniques, allowing them to largely avoid chemical pesticides, fertilizers and other pitfalls of industrial farming while building carbon-rich soil that increases crop health and livestock yields.

“We could use a lot more mid-level meat processing plants, all around the country. So, if one plant went down, there would be others to pick up the slack. It’s one of the reasons the farmers in the film are often making so much more money — because they’ve created their own supply chain and selling direct to customers,” Byck said.

Indeed, regenerative farmers who sell their products directly to consumers and rely on small processing plants are not facing the hardships that CAFOs are seeing. While meat from small, custom slaughterhouses is not permitted to be sold to grocery stores, schools or restaurants, it can be sold directly to customers who have purchased an entire animal prior to slaughter through a share program, as well as via local farmers markets.

Allen Williams, a sixth-generation farmer and chief ranching officer for Joyce Farms, is one of the carbon cowboys featured in the film. He cited a 400% to 1,200% increase in demand for regenerative producers, and though the film has been in the works for six years, the farmers it features stated they’re seeing a three- to 10fold increase in demand compared to last year, thanks to their ability to market directly to consumers.

Will Harris III, owner of White Oak Pastures in Bluffton, Georgia, also cited the need for smaller, decentralized processing facilities to free up the bottleneck that’s placing a hardship on so many farmers. By creating “at least one medium-sized plant in every state,” food that currently travels an average of 1,500 miles to get to consumers would only need to travel 100 or 200 miles. This, he says, is key to transforming the U.S. food system:

“We have to build out additional capacity. We need processing of the middle. We don’t need a lot more mom-and-pop processors. We need processing facilities with 100-500 per day capacity to start …

With more processors, more farms can transform and thus grow small businesses and the rural economy. These communities that are dead and boarded up will come to life and rural economies will surge. The country’s economy surges when small businesses and communities thrive.”

Meat Prices May Rise as Plants’ Poor Conditions Spread Virus

Tyson, JBS USA, Smithfield Foods and Cargill Inc. control the majority of U.S. meat and poultry, processing it in a handful of centralized mega-processing plants. The plants are notorious for their poor working conditions even under ordinary circumstances, but in the midst of a pandemic, the elbow-to-elbow spacing and fast line speeds have made the low-paying job even more hazardous.

It’s unknown just how many COVID-19 infections have occurred among the more than 500,000 workers employed by the approximately 7,600 slaughter and processing facilities in North America, but internationally it’s suggested that more than 10,000 meat workers have been infected while at least 30 have died as a result. The cases aren’t confined to inside the processing plants but, rather, are spreading to the community.

An analysis by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) found that counties with meatpacking plants, or within a 15-mile radius, reported 373 COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents, which is close to double the U.S. average of 199 cases per 100,000.

To slow the spread of infection, some plants have slowed production to adhere to social distancing measures, while others have installed barriers between workers and in common areas. Other processing plants are ramping up efforts to automate the process, accelerating plans that have been in the works since long before the pandemic.

“You are going to see a bifurcation where the larger, more profitable facilities are going to move toward a vastly more automated meat processing facility,” Decker Walker, an agribusiness expert at Boston Consulting Group, told the Longview News-Journal. “Incentives for automation have never been higher.” Ultimately, consumers will pay for the changes being implemented throughout the industry.

Sanchoy Das, a professor at the New Jersey Institute of Technology, predicted that reduced capacity at processing plants, along with the distribution of protective equipment, could drive up conventional chicken prices by 25% to 30%, adding, “The 99-cents per pound chicken could be in short supply very quickly.”

Is Big Meat Really Cheap?

The increase in meat prices, as well as the increased demand for higher priced niche meats like heritage pork and grass fed beef, is also highlighting a socioeconomic divide in the U.S. While some grocery outlets are running out of supplies of low-priced CAFO meat, demand has ramped up for specialty meat products, for those who have the income to support it.

However, as the processing facilities spread disease and necessitate shutdowns, we’re now seeing the high price that is ultimately paid for the convenience of cheap meat, whereas regenerative farming, while often producing a higher-priced product, remains able to supply food to local communities, without the environmental destruction and disease outbreaks caused by industrial agriculture. As Bloomberg reported:

“The virus has had limited impact on the output of specialty meats for some of the same reasons those products are more expensive. The plants aren’t run on huge economies-of-scale, where hundreds of workers are jammed into elbow-to-elbow working conditions processing thousands of animals each day.

Instead, livestock are raised on organic feed and pastures and then processed in relatively tiny plants or local butcher shops. It’s small-scale production, which means social distancing is easier and companies can more readily enforce sanitary precautions. Even if one plant goes down, it only accounts for a small fraction of supply, and the larger chain isn’t broken.”

Meanwhile, prices for specialty meat are holding steady while conventional meat prices have risen sharply in recent months. The price for conventional ground chuck, for instance, increased by 57% compared to a year ago, according to USDA data.

Ultimately, if demand for grass fed meat increases, and processing facilities are available to distribute it, it can become more accessible for all. And, it’s important to remember that real costs come with Big Ag’s “cheap meat.” The Organic Consumers Association (OCA), in fact, has sued pork giant Smithfield Foods for claiming its products are the safest U.S. pork products.

“Consumers are unlikely to know that the USDA has notified Smithfield slaughter plants on multiple occasions that their pork was more likely to be contaminated with salmonella than similar products in slaughter plants of the same size,” said Ronnie Cummins, OCA co-founder and director.

“Failure to report these notifications to consumers is one thing. But claiming that its products are the ‘safest’ possible pork products in the U.S. is a blatant misrepresentation of the brand’s actual safety record,” Cummins said. “The current heightened consumer concern about safety in the meat industry is all the more reason to hold Smithfield accountable for false safety claims.”

The conditions in which cheap meat is raised and processed are the same that have been found to contribute to antibiotic-resistant disease as well as the emergence of diseases that may be transmitted from animals to humans, a high cost for all of humanity.

Food System Is Changing, Is Reform Coming?

The pandemic started with Americans hoarding food and has triggered a newfound, or perhaps old-fashioned, trend to cook more meals at home. The return to home-cooked meals has been a boon to meal kit companies, which have cashed in on Americans’ desire to eat at home and have their groceries delivered while they’re at it.

Meal-kit delivery service Blue Apron noted a 27% increase in demand in late March and early April 2020, while online food retailer Thrive Market cited two distinct waves of increased demand — the first for certain products like toilet paper and hand sanitizer and the second from those seeking to replicate their normal grocery shopping online. Many of these changes are likely to remain even post-pandemic.

“People are more confident in the kitchen than they used to be before, and more than half of them intend to cook at home more than they did before Covid-19, even as things start to settle down,” Blue Apron’s chief executive Linda Findley Kozlowski told The New York Times. Still, as Americans’ desire for fresh, safe and readily accessible food has peaked, many small farmers are struggling.

With restaurants and farmers markets closed, small farmers have lost steady customers. Many have pivoted and have begun supplying produce boxes directly to consumers, but such changes are labor intensive and farmers may not be able to keep up with the demand. In a survey of small farmers, between 30% and 40% predicted they could be bankrupt by the end of 2020.

Representative Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, is among those calling for reform and suggesting that the pandemic is providing a unique opportunity for change:

“As the owner of a small farm, I’m frequently amazed at how little Washington understands the work that goes into putting food on our plates, but coronavirus has made it impossible to ignore the labor of grocery store employees, farmers, processors and food producers. Our nation is collectively acknowledging what’s always been true: Those who grow, sell and serve our food are essential workers, and we should treat them as such.”

In addition to calling for an essential workers’ bill of rights that would provide benefits to essential workers in the food system, and expanding access to locally produced food for food banks and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program beneficiaries, a key part of the change should be making locally raised livestock processing more widely available.

Under current government regulations, the USDA, not individual states, has control over how meat is processed, and small farmers must send animals to be processed at a USDA-inspected slaughterhouse, which may be hundreds of miles away. The state of Maine, for instance, has only one USDA poultry plant in the state.

The PRIME Act Is More Important Than Ever

The Processing Revival and Intrastate Meat Exemption (PRIME) Act would allow farmers to sell meat processed at smaller slaughtering facilities and allow states to set their own meat processing standards. Because small slaughterhouses do not have an inspector on staff — a requirement that only large facilities can easily fulfill — they’re banned from selling their meat. The PRIME Act would lift this regulation without sacrificing safety.

“The PRIME Act would change federal regulations to make it easier to process meat locally, helping small farmers stay afloat during this economic crisis while simultaneously keeping food on our plates,” Pingree said. “This bill would shift more safety oversight to states, some of which already have equally rigorous inspection practices, and break down barriers for small farms looking to sell their product.”

The solution to food reform is not, as some lab-grown meat companies would like you to believe, to create a fake meat industry without animals — that is big technology’s ultraprocessed dream.

Replacing farms and livestock with chemistry labs is not the “environmentally friendly” alternative envisioned by biotech startups and its chemists. The long-term answer actually lies in the transition to sustainable, regenerative, chemical-free farming practices, and making the sustainably-grown foods produced by small farmers accessible to all.

Reposted with permission from Mercola

Manejo holístico. Recuperación y regeneración de pastizales en una zona difícil

El paisaje de muchos campos del centro de Río Negro es bastante monótono: tierras áridas con monte arbustivo de bajo valor forrajero, hacienda en pastoreo continuo desde hace muchos años y una muy reducida carga animal: normalmente se requieren 300 hectáreas para sostener diez vacas de cría, que generan bajo porcentaje de preñez y destete.

Esta realidad es consecuencia de las escasas precipitaciones -220 mm de promedio anual- y del sobrepastoreo con ovinos durante muchos años, que diezmó las especies forrajeras valiosas, provocó desertificación y dejó principalmente jarilla y chañares, dos especies rechazadas por la hacienda.

Sin embargo, en medio de ese desierto aparecen oasis. Es el caso del campo “Doña Rosa”, de Gustavo Urcera, quien maneja una empresa que cortó amarras con la situación tradicional y se animó a avanzar con una nueva carta de navegación -el manejo holístico de pastizales- que le permitió aumentar la carga animal en más de un ciento por ciento.


Regenerative Agriculture Could Save the Planet. Why Doesn’t Everyone Know About It?

Food giant General Mills recently announced that the company is set to partner with farmers to advance regenerative agriculture practices on one million acres of farmland by 2030. The company committed to the idea after researching information about Will Harris’ cattle ranch in Georgia. His ranch, White Oak Pastures, uses targeted agricultural methods that have turned the land into a carbon sink, absorbing the majority of emissions caused by the beef production.

The Climate Reality Project explains that “regenerative agriculture is a system of farming principles and practices that seeks to rehabilitate and enhance the entire ecosystem of the farm by placing a heavy premium on soil health with attention also paid to water management, fertilizer use, and more. It is a method of farming that improves the resources it uses, rather than destroying or depleting them.”

In North Dakota, rancher and farmer Gabe Brown has helped lead this agricultural movement.


Sustainable Agroecosystems: Cropping Using Regenerative Agricultural Principles

Over the last century, intensive farming practices have had significant negative consequences for the soil and surrounding ecosystems. By disrupting the natural function of these habitats, the valuable ecosystem services they provide are compromised and are the source of the multitude of environmental issues we face as a society. Natural systems make up a complex web of interconnecting functions, with nothing operating at full health if parts of the system are damaged. Thus, we must consider these systems as a whole, examining not only how each component functions, but how they all fit together and interact in the bigger picture.

Agricultural production practices need to be guided by policies that ensure regenerative cropping and grazing management protocols to ensure long-term sustainability and ecological resilience of agroecosystems. It is not sufficient to aim at sustainability alone as we have substantially degraded our agroecosystems with negative consequences over substantial areas of the world. We need to regenerate the soil and ecosystem function.


How Farming Can Save Our Lakes and Rivers

Veganism, which is a completely plant-based diet, is on the rise, by some studies as much as 600% since 2014. Six-percent of Americans now identify as vegan. Some vegans even extend the practice to their clothing, eschewing not only leather and fur, but also cosmetics and accessories that do not meet “cruelty-free” standards.

One of the top reasons people give for going completely animal-free in their diet is the environment. Vegan activists point to the fact that one pound of hamburger requires 1,799 gallons of water not only for the cow itself, but for the grain and corn it eats. Added to that is the pollution created not only from animal waste (this can be extremely significant in large feedlot operations for poultry, hogs and beef) but the pesticides, fungicides and herbicides used to grow the food the animal eats.

Increasingly vegans point out that meat production “contributes to land and water degradation, biodiversity loss, acid rain, coral reef bleaching and deforestation.


Covid-19 Exposes Urgent Need for Regeneration, Resilience in Agriculture

When food companies want to set and meet sustainability targets, they must think about their supply chains — where the food comes from, how it was produced and the route it took to get to reach processing facilities and grocery store shelves.

It’s a rewarding but challenging feat. That’s because for decades, the industrial agricultural system has glorified largely extractive practices, rather than the regenerative ones that have been regaining traction and favor among sustainable food systems advocates.

That was the subject of a recent GreenBiz Group webcast, during which panelists shared insights about an essential question: How can we evolve our food supply system to eliminate the practices we don’t want and get more of those that we do?

“I think for decades we’ve had great examples of smaller-scale responsible sustainable agriculture and as demand from consumers has just skyrocketed for sustainable food, we need mechanisms to scale,” said Jamie Barsimantov, co-founder and COO at SupplyShift, during the webcast.