The global foodmaker has joined forces with Regrow Ag to cultivate resilience throughout its agricultural supply chain — and encourages other food companies to follow suit.
The agricultural landscape has undergone a significant transformation over the years — with small, local farms often giving way to industrial megafarms, thanks to developments in modern-day machinery and fertilizers, and a focus on monocultural farming. However, the prioritization of quick growth and mass production has contributed to climate change — in 2021, the UN FAO estimated the food and agriculture value chain contributes 31 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions (GhGs).
The industry is increasingly aware of the need to rein in its footprint; and some industry leaders are stepping up and utilizing climate-smart technologies to shift to regenerative practices — which will help safeguard their produce, reduce their emissions, and restore the surrounding ecosystems. The growing regenerative-ag movement is essential to ensuring our ability to feed a growing population in a climate-changing world; but this work needs sophisticated monitoring that enables stakeholders to see changing agriculture practices and their environmental impacts at scale.
Growing the regenerative ag movement
Food giant General Mills is one major player embracing and accelerating regenerative agriculture — driven by the belief it can help restore farm ecosystems while reducing GhG emissions and building greater climate resilience.
“Over the last five years, we have been on a journey in our regenerative-agriculture work, which is underpinned by two key strategies,” General Mills’ Director of Regenerative Agriculture, Jay Watson, explained to Sustainable Brands®. “One is to invest in the farmer-led movement to help farmers be successful in their understanding and implementation of regenerative principles and management systems; the second is to measure the outcomes and impact at field, farm and landscape scale.”
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The six regenerative principles informed by partners and supported by General Mills are:
understanding the context of each farm and ranch
minimizing soil disturbance
maximizing plant diversity
keeping the soil covered
maintaining living roots year-round, and
These principles differentiate the company’s regenerative approach as they allow farmers to make context-based decisions that can drive resilience across farms, ecosystems and communities.
“Investments that we’re seeing companies make are mainly to protect their supply chain in a very volatile, kinetically impacted environment,” Regrow Ag CEO and co-founder Anastasia Volkova, PhD. tells SB. “Given that so many purchased goods are true commodities in agriculture that are otherwise not protected, it’s gratifying to see how companies are aligning their thinking internally — to not just invest in regenerative because it's good for emissions or farm profitability; but really to have a stable, climate-resilient supply chain.
“For all these brands that have emissions-reduction goals, they need to have better visibility into what and where their impacts are; and we're giving them the visibility that they’ve never had before.” Volkova added. “We don’t have long — there are only seven harvests between now and 2030 — so, I hope that by enabling the industry [through Regrow’s platform], we can accelerate the transition that we all need.”
The value of collaboration and technology
Regrow’s Sustainable Insights software — part of its Agriculture Resilience platform — helps companies plan investments to lower scope 3 GhG emissions, monitor trends in regenerative-practice adoption, and quantify the impact. The platform is powered by data collected through an Operational Tillage Information System (OpTIS), which uses satellite imagery and the DeNitrification-DeComposition soil-carbon model — the only scientific model that has been granted generalized approval by the Climate Action Reserve under its Soil Enrichment Protocol.
General Mills is leveraging Regrow’s science-based tech to gain clarity and visibility into its ag-based scope 3 GhG emissions. The platform enables General Mills to monitor agricultural practices and environmental impacts across 150 million acres of farmland in North America, which represents General Mills’ estimated priority supply sheds — the regions where the company sources its key ingredients including wheat, oat and dairy. Within the total acreage being monitored, General Mills sources its ingredients from roughly three million acres of farmland each year.
Regrow’s platform is one important tool enabling General Mills to make progress on its climate commitments to reduce GhG emissions by 30 percent by 2030 and reach net zero by 2050. Further advancing regenerative agriculture is one of many ways the company believes it can progress towards this goal.
“Regrow gives us the capability to better plan and update our emissions baseline, which is a key component of the investment,” Watson says. “Most companies today are using static, generic emissions factors that are based on regional and sometimes global life cycle assessments. Regrow’s Sustainability Insights gives us the opportunity to develop emissions factors that are specific to a particular crop in a particular place, which helps us shape our investments and our strategies.”
General Mills seeks to align agri-food stakeholders, from farm to fork, on the critical mission of advancing regenerative practices to ensure a thriving future for both people and the planet. Regrow’s platform enables the company to share and promote insightful data that can spur increased shared investment and in turn more farmer adoption.
“Many of our customers, consumers and suppliers are also interested in the outcomes of regenerative agriculture; so, it is really important for us to openly share our leadership insights from the last five years and invite other food industry players to join the regenerative movement,” Watson asserts. “We see our role as an accelerator and convener. Through strategic investments in key partners, we are demonstrating what success can look like for farmers, companies — and most importantly the ecosystems we all depend on. Now, we continue to invite others in — illuminating for them the promise of regenerative agriculture and inviting co-investment to drive scale.”