General Mills committed Monday to expanding regenerative-agriculture practices by 2030 on 1 million acres of land used to source its food ingredients.
The Golden Valley-based food company is starting with oats grown in the U.S. Northern Plains and southern provinces of Canada and will partner with both organic and conventional farmers and suppliers of wheat, corn and sugar beets over the next decade.
The commitment includes a $650,000 grant to Kiss the Ground, a nonprofit organization that conducts on-farm training programs for growers implementing the practices.
Regenerative agriculture is an umbrella term 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 would otherwise 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, like lowering greenhouse gas emissions in its supply chain. 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, chief executive of General Mills, said in the announcement Monday.
Soil-health advocates argue their practices are better for farmers because it reduces input costs — like fuel burned for tillage and the need to apply as many chemicals — which can improve farm profitability while making 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, Jon Nudi, president of North American Retail, said.
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 with this model is proving its effectiveness because types of soil and regions vary so much.
Five principles have been shown to improve soil health: minimizing soil disturbance by reducing or eliminating tillage and chemical use, maximizing crop diversity through longer or more crop rotations, keeping the soil covered by not removing post-harvest material, maintaining a living root in the soil all year and integrating livestock on the landscape.
General Mills wants to see farmers integrate three of the five principles for their land to be counted in the 1 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, “this [1 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 LLC in South Dakota to help convert 34,000 acres of conventional farmland to certified organic acres by 2020 using regenerative practices.