In the last Regenerative Food and Agriculture Summit, over 200 top leaders from all aspects of the food chain gathered to discuss the opportunities and challenges of the future for the entire food supply chain.
Regenerative agriculture can be described as “a way of being, thinking, understanding who we are,” says Reginaldo Haslett Marroquin, Co-Founder and CEO of Tree Range Farms. Haslett-Marroquin advised participants to accept “innate intelligence” and “ancestral knowledge” to reverse the harm done by the practices of extractive agriculture over the past 50 years. He also emphasized that farmers should be part of the solution to build a sustainable future.
Studies that Sonya Hoo presented as Director of Operations and Partner with Boston Consulting Group show regenerative systems can result in a 120 percent increase in profit for farmers. Despite these encouraging findings, however, many farmers are worried about financial losses in the first three years after implementation. Of the 100 farmers surveyed in Hoo’s research, 45 percent mentioned the potential loss of yield and the high upfront costs for seeds and equipment as their primary concerns when transitioning from conventional agriculture to regenerative methods.
Small-scale farmers seeking to adopt regenerative agricultural practices frequently need help implementing them. Candance Clark, Sustainable Food Resource Specialist at Tuskegee University, explains that her work aims to increase the obstacles Black farmers in America confront. Tuskegee Cooperative Extension helps producers in Tuskegee Cooperative Extension assist farmers in the Black Belt region of Alabama. They offer the necessary resources to improve healthy soil and provide food for traditionally marginalized communities. Clark insists that policy changes that enhance access to resources for smaller marginalized farmers are essential for achieving equitable, regenerative food systems.
According to Erica Campbell, Policy Director of Kiss the Ground’s Regenerate America Coalition, technical assistance is vital. She outlines possibilities to offer this assistance via and through the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Regenerate America advocates on behalf of the more than 100 Farm Bill priorities that advance rural communities and accelerate research and infrastructure development for projects to regenerative agriculture.
In advance of Farm Bill discussions, the USDA recently financed 40 distinct projects across the United States through the Partnerships for Climate-Smart Commodities Grant, amounting to US$3.1 billion in grants. The projects are focused on sustainable, climate-smart methods like covering cropping and no-till and sustainable forest management. Collaborations involve more than 100 universities, eleven historically black universities and colleges, and 20 tribal communities.
Sean Babington, USDA Senior Advisor to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, says that the USDA is currently working on signing agreements with awardees. The USDA anticipates additional revenues across 25 million acres of forests and farmlands. Babington explicitly emphasizes that monitoring, measuring, and reporting these climate-friendly methods will be an essential result of these initiatives.
Speakers also explain that a private company can collaborate with farmers. Brands such as Simple Mills are “disrupting the CPG space” by “bringing farmers to the table in the development process” in making their snacks, According to Christina Skonberg, Head of Sustainability and Mission at Simple Mills. Skonberg believes that the biggest obstacle in food companies when adapting sustainable models is the “fear of taking risks” and the reluctance to “reframe the metrics of success” by considering social and human capital similar to financial prosperity.
Alongside involving farmers in the choice-making, “consumer buy-in” is essential to promoting regenerative farming, according to Jess Newman, Senior Director of Agriculture and Sustainability at McCain Foods. Newman says McCain has been engaging younger consumers via gamification and Roblox to help educate people about the advantages of regenerative farming.
Although speakers emphasized accelerating regenerative agriculture’s progress in the world food supply, workers’ and labor rights were not part of the debate. “We support new and beginning farmer programs in our platform,” Campbell states, “but immigration is really important and we have to work on that issue as a country.”
Droughts worldwide have risen by 30 percent or more since 2000, one of the biggest challenges to agriculture and causing billions of dollars of global economic losses, as per the report from the U.N. Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD). However, applying sustainable practices for managing land, including cover crops and reducing tillage, and enhanced irrigation methods, will allow farmers to regain control of their farms, rejuvenate the soil, and lessen the impact of drought.