Businesses inevitably need to shift toward more sustainable practices. This is especially important in the agricultural sector, as it’s one of the biggest emitters of CO2. Regenerative agriculture is one way large businesses are making a change.

Large-scale corporations in the food industry are beginning to adopt and understand regenerative agriculture practices. Though far from achieving sustainable development goals, mass food producer Cargill has committed to using regenerative agriculture practices on 100% of its U.S. soybean supply.

Likewise, Nestlé announced that it would buy only sustainably sourced palm oil by 2023.

As food producers make the shift, large institutional investors are also starting to increase support for companies that prioritize sustainable farming practices, for example, permaculture or agroforestry techniques.

There is a clear trend toward better agriculture, but will it be enough to protect, maintain, and scale global food systems? Will these seemingly narrow commitments make a wide difference? Let’s find out.

Dig deeper → 3 min

What Is Regenerative Agriculture?

Regenerative agriculture is a broad term that encompasses many different practices, from continuous no-till farming to agroecology. These methods can effectively improve soil health and regenerate degraded ecosystems while creating a stabilized food system.

However, regenerative agriculture alone won’t solve all of our food system’s problems. For example, some experts argue that it doesn’t address the root causes of biodiversity loss or climate change as deeply as it should.

Nevertheless, there are many good reasons why large-scale food companies would choose to invest in sustainable models like regenerative agriculture. These practices tend to produce similar or higher yields than conventional farming while reducing required inputs such as fertilizer use or water consumption.

Regenerative agriculture also offers other benefits like improved soil health – which safeguards against erosion and retains n utrients – and increased biodiversity.

Why Companies Are Moving to Regenerative Agriculture

From its beginning as a niche movement to its current status as a common-sense idea, regenerative agriculture is moving steadily into the mainstream. In fact, many in the farming world say it’s the only way to secure the long-term future of our food system.

So far, innovators like Driscoll’s and Whole Foods Market have committed themselves to building a more sustainable food system by supporting smallholder farmers, reducing carbon emissions, and protecting local ecosystems.

These companies have embraced regenerative agriculture because they see them as a more profitable alternative to conventional farming – and are working on expanding their supply chains with these methods.

Though regenerative agriculture is not new, it’s not a panacea for industrial agriculture. It’s important to understand that regenerative agriculture doesn’t replace other forms of activism or support for a sustainable food system.

While it can allow land to heal and become more productive over time, healing takes decades. Even then, part of the land will never fully recover.

Regenerative Agriculture’s Disadvantages

Regenerative agriculture is a good step in the right direction. However, it’s not enough. The disadvantages below should make us consider how we can create a better food system in the future.

1. Shifting Consumer Behavior

Most consumers value sustainable food offerings. To inform shoppers about where their food comes from, labels touting sustainability allow them to see where the food was produced. This will enable them to make more informed choices about what they buy at the grocery store.

Unfortunately, food labels aren’t enough to shift consumer interest and behavior, as sustainable options often carry a higher price tag. Setting reasonable prices and satisfying performance expectations could be the solutions to help consumers switch to more sustainable options.

2. Farmers Have Difficulty Switching to Regenerative Practices

Farmers are the foundation of creating a more sustainable food system. Farmers want to see the land thrive because it is their livelihood. However, they operate on thin margins most of the time.

Though regenerative farming could help rebuild the soil’s organic matter and remove CO2 from the air, switching to these practices takes time and money.

To practice regenerative farming effectively, farmers must acquire new knowledge and skills. Furthermore, adopting these practices requires more money, and they would need proof that it’s a worthwhile investment.

Food companies committed to regenerative agriculture could solve this by supporting farmers and providing incentives. These incentives could involve facilitating access to financing and technical support and connecting farmers to carbon credit markets.

3. Markets Often Don’t Support Sustainable Food Systems

Our food system is designed for scale and efficiency and focuses on commodities that meet certain standards. Companies rely on farmers to produce those commodities consistently and in large volumes.

However, sustainability isn’t always factored into our food systems. Transitioning from a food system with maximized yields and efficiency to one that rewards out-of-the-box thinking and collaboration is a tall order right now.

More companies must invest in sustainable food systems by prioritizing support through public-private partnerships. This will then further build a resilient food system in the market.

Regenerative Agriculture Isn’t an All-in-One Remedy

While it’s exciting to see large corporations and investors putting money into sustainable farming practices, it’s worth noting that advocates and farmers shouldn’t see these developments as the only option.

Regenerative agriculture isn’t the only solution to the food system – we need systemic change in multiple areas. These include labor rights, local food economies, food sovereignty, and environmental racism.

The best way to ensure regenerative agriculture is implemented across the board is by making sure farmers are paid fairly for their work. This means creating jobs with livable wages that don’t rely on exploitative practices like subcontracted workers paid below minimum wage or undocumented immigrants working under dangerous conditions.

Regenerative agriculture is one piece of a bigger puzzle that must include the following:

  • Removing subsidies for industrial practices.
  • Promoting social justice in agriculture.
  • Holding companies accountable for their impact on climate change and air pollution.
  • Focusing on equitable land access for smallholder farmers and more.

Building a Sustainable Food System for a Brighter Future

There’s no doubt that regenerative agriculture is an important part of building a sustainable food system. However, it will take more than this movement to change the food system. Regeneration isn’t only about sustainability – it’s also about justice, equity, and health.

To truly address these issues, we must work with all stakeholders – including farmers and consumers – to move to a more equitable and just future for our food system.

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