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Regenerative ag: Why it matters to consumers and the grain industry

Adopting regenerative agriculture practices protects the environment and financially benefits the food supply chain.

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Baby Corn In Field Svetlozar Hristov
SvetlozarHristov | PIXABAY.com

More consumers are choosing sustainably sourced products, and companies like ADM – a human and animal nutrition company – are enrolling crops in regenerative agriculture programs to meet the growing demand, provide more food for the increasing population and help the environment at the same time.

“As the world grapples with challenges associated with a growing population and the strains it puts on our natural resources, there is an increasing need to enact widespread industry improvements to how food is grown and produced,” said Paul Scheetz, director of climate smart ag origination, ADM.

Principles of regenerative agriculture

So, what is regenerative agriculture, and how do feed and grain producers benefit from the adoption of regenerative practices?

“ADM defines regenerative agriculture as practices based on Indigenous ways of land management that are adaptive to local physical conditions and culture,” said Scheetz. “These approaches can help reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, increase soil carbon sequestration, improve water quality, promote biodiversity and enhance soil health.”

In other words, companies continue to produce food while simultaneously maintaining the health of the soil and the environment, which benefits the planet, and conserves the land producers need to continue operating.

And when it comes to approaching regenerative agriculture practices, Scheetz said ADM relies on the following five principles:

  1. Minimizing soil disturbance
  2. Maintaining living roots year-round
  3. Continuously covering bare soil
  4. Maximizing crop diversity, with an emphasis on crops, soil microbes and pollinators
  5. Responsibly managing inputs, including nutrients and pesticide

But regenerative agriculture is not new and is more common than some may realize. Dating back to ancient and Indigenous cultures, crop rotation is a regenerative practice that was implemented in the U.S. in the early 1900s to reverse the damage done to farmland by poor farming methods that led to catastrophic events such as the Dust Bowl.

How farmers adopt regenerative ag practices

Regenerative agriculture programs are not necessarily one size fits all.

The programs need to adjust to the environment that the crops are in, which is part of the strategy behind ADM’s re:generations program – an incentive program for farmers to adopt regenerative agriculture practices.

“Local farmers and producers are instrumental in building a more sustainable future and are key partners to our re:generations program,” said Scheetz. And, “because our program offers payment for specific practices or for outcomes, each enrolled farmer can participate in a way that makes the most sense for them.”

Farmers take the first step toward regenerative practices by enrolling in the program based on their state and crop type.

Some of these regenerative agriculture practices include:

Cover cropping: Growing plants that are beneficial to the soil alongside the crop or during rest periods.

Nutrient management: Using the right amount of fertilizer at the right times to prevent fertilizer runoff into the environment.

Conservation tillage: Tilling the land as little as possible to improve soil health by preventing erosion and improving water penetration as well as to reduce energy usage from tilling.

Maintain living roots: Leaving living roots in the ground cycles water and nutrients through the soil.

Animal integration: Allowing livestock to graze on farmland, providing manure which maintains the health of the soil with nutrients and fertilization, according to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

ADM has already partnered with 1,900 farmers, enrolling more than 1 million acres across the U.S. and Canada into regenerative agriculture programs, with the goal of enrolling 4 million acres by 2025.

“As stewards of the land, farmers strive to preserve their legacy for themselves, their livelihood and their families, and we work together to secure the future of the planet we share,” said Scheetz.

ADM, in partnership with Farmers Business Network, launched the Gradable digital farm management tool which allows farmers to measure the programs’ progress.

Benefits of regenerative ag

Adopting regenerative agriculture practices protects the environment and benefits food producers in terms of sales and long-term growth. This is mainly accomplished by appealing to the increasing number of climate-conscious shoppers and building trust and loyalty with consumers.

“More than 70% of U.S. consumers expect companies to sustainably source ingredients/products, and over 65% say they’re more likely to purchase products that are sustainably sourced,” said Scheetz, citing ADM’s Outside Voice survey.

“Manufacturers are gradually earning consumer trust, with research indicating that over the past two years, there’s been a 42% increase in global consumer trust in environmental claims made by brands,” he added.

Regenerative agriculture provides an opportunity for growth to the food industry as a whole with overall revenue from regenerative feed and grain projected to increase from US$8.7 billion in 2022 to US$32.29 billion by 2032.

ADM’s Outside Voice survey also found that producers that have started using regenerative agriculture are already seeing a competitive edge over other companies that are falling behind.

While sourcing grain grown using regenerative agriculture practices may seem costly, ADM and other regenerative advocates argue that the long-term financial and sustainability benefits are worth the investment. 

Some feed and grain companies that have joined ADM in adopting regenerative agriculture programs include processors such as Scoular and Columbia Grain International.

“All of our partners have a role to play,” said Scheetz, “and all come together with a conservation mindset and an understanding that this work benefits all stakeholders, our communities and the planet.”

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