General Mills committed Monday to expanding regenerative agriculture practices by 2030 on one million acres of land used to source its food ingredients.
The Golden Valley, Minn.-based food company, with facilities in Cedar Rapids, is starting with oats grown in the U.S. Northern Plains and southern provinces of Canada. It will partner with both organic and conventional farmers and suppliers of wheat, corn and sugar beets over the next decade.
The commitment includes at $500,000 grant to Kiss the Ground, a not-for-profit organization that conducts on-farm training programs for growers implementing the practices.
Regenerative agriculture is an umbrella terms for a suite of land management practices aimed at improving the health of the soil, which is seen as a way to combat climate change.
Healthy soil does a better job of storing carbon that otherwise would be in the atmosphere and is an increasingly popular topic among food and agriculture producers.
Much like organic farming, regenerative agriculture is believed to be a way to counter the negative environmental effects of agriculture.
For General Mills, it’s a food movement that makes sense for the long-term survival of the land it depends on and a way to hit many of its environmental goals, such as lowering greenhouse gas emissions in its supply chain.
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Estimates vary, but the global food system is believed to be responsible for about one-third of greenhouse gas emissions and 70 percent of global water consumption, General Mills said.
“We recognize that our biggest opportunity to drive positive impact for the planet we all share lies within our own supply chain, and by being a catalyst to bring people together to drive broader adoption of regenerative agriculture practices,” Jeff Harmening, CEO of General Mills, said in the announcement Monday.
Soil health advocates also argue their practices are better for farmers because it reduces their input costs — such as fuel burned for tillage and the need to apply as many chemicals — which can improve farm profitability while making their land more resilient to extreme weather.
“Our ultimate goal with regenerative agriculture is to drive outcomes, not necessarily to create another checklist for farmers to adhere to,” said Jerry Lynch, chief sustainability officer at General Mills.
“The outcomes we want to drive are healthier soil by building soil carbon matter, above ground biodiversity and building farmer resilience.”
The first round of educational academies will target the company’s North American growers of oats used in Cheerios, Annie’s, Cascadian Farm, Nature Valley and Blue Buffalo products, said Jon Nudi, president of North American Retail, in the announcement.
One of the perceived benefits of regenerative agriculture is that rather than being prescriptive, it is results-oriented.
If there’s measured improvement in the soil, the system is working.
The challenge, though, with this model is proving its effectiveness because types of soil and regions vary so much.
Five principles have been broadly shown to improve soil health:
l Minimize soil disturbance by reducing or eliminating tillage and chemical use
l Maximize crop diversity through longer or more crop rotations
l Keep the soil covered by not removing post-harvest material
l Maintain a living root in the soil all year
l Integrate livestock on the landscape.
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General Mills wants to see farmers integrate three of the five principles for their land to be counted in the one million acres.
Lynch didn’t provide an exact number of acres that General Mills depends on for its food supply, but said it was “several million.”
So, he said, “this (one million acres) will be a decent proportion of our North American supply.”
In the past four years, the company has invested more than $4 million to accelerate soil health adoption in North American agriculture.
It has partnered with the Nature Conservancy on a number of initiatives and formed a sourcing agreement with Gunsmoke Farms in South Dakota to help convert 34,000 acres of conventional farmland to certified organic acres by 2020 using regenerative agriculture practices.