General Mills is launching a pilot program that will help transition Kansas wheat farms from conventional to regenerative farming. The three-year pilot taking place around the Cheney Reservoir watershed will support 24 farmers learning how to use regenerative farming to improve soil health and increase revenue.
“It’s really important that we invest in the long-term sustainability of farmers and of the natural resources on which the whole food system depends,” says Steve Rosenzweig, a soil scientist at General Mills involved in the company’s regenerative agriculture initiatives. “Regenerative agriculture can really address the… negative trends in soil health, biodiversity, and the pressures on the farm economy that threaten the long-term security of the food system.”
Participating farmers will learn and adopt General Mills’s six pillars of regenerative farming: reduce disturbance, maximize diversity, keep a living root in the ground year-round, keep the soil covered, integrate livestock, and understanding context. The pillar “understanding context” was recently added, according to Rosenzweig, and focuses on applying the other five pillars based on an individual farm’s needs. The company’s investment in regenerative farming is driven by a desire to support “healthy ecosystems, sustainable climate, healthy watersheds, and thriving farmers,” Rosenzweig tells Food Tank.
For the pilot program, General Mills partnered with regenerative agriculture consultants from Understanding Ag and its Soil Health Academy, an initiative that teaches farmers how to build soil health and use it to their economic advantage. The academy’s coaches include local regenerative farmers who will walk pilot farmers one-on-one through developing regenerative farming plans appropriate for their farms. The coaches will also help the pilot participants with social networking and building a community of regenerative farmers.
“One thing we hear all the time from regenerative farmers is that they… feel like they’re the only ones in their communities doing this,” Rosenzweig tells Food Tank. “A lot of farmers have lost friends because they’re completely changing the way they farm and that can be ostracizing in a farming community.”
General Mills believes helping their pilot participants feel like they are moving down this path together will help them learn more from one another. “Farmers learn best from other farmers that share the same climatic and economic conditions,” says Rosenzweig.
The program also aims to incentivize farmers to participate in ecosystem services such as carbon sequestration, greenhouse gas reduction, water quality improvements, and water quantity reduction. Agriculture is about 50 percent of General Mills’s greenhouse gas footprint, according to Rosenzweig.
Pilot participants will partake in an ecosystems services market that will pay them for activities that reduce greenhouse gas emissions and contribute to healthier soil and waterways. General Mills believes that providing ecosystem services is also a financial imperative for farmers. “As you restore your ecosystem, you can maintain productivity while reducing your reliance on external inputs” resulting in fewer expenses and increased profit, Rosenzweig tells Food Tank.
General Mills hopes to encourage farmers to transition 1 million acres of land to regenerative farming by 2030 as a result of the market-based incentives, the community of regenerative farmers, and the local knowledge base their pilot program aims to achieve.
General Mills plays a role as funder and “enabler,” convening the right partners to contribute to regenerative agriculture’s widespread success, according to Rosenzweig. The program is a “pilot for the whole food system to… figure out what it takes for all these different food system players to come together to enable regenerative ag adoption,” says Rosenzweig.