Consumers are increasingly demanding healthier, organic, and more sustainably produced foods. As a result, food companies and farmers are responding with initiatives to build soil health and reduce the use of chemical pesticides and fertilizers.

By vast

Published: December 25, 2017

Category: Regenerative Agriculture, The Organic & Non-GMO Report Newsletter

Consumer preferences are driving far-reaching shifts in the way food is produced—and large companies like Cargill and General Mills are responding to remain profitable, according to a new report by the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

Nearly three-fourths of consumers are seeking cleaner, environmentally friendly products when they choose to shop at Whole Foods and farmers’ markets, rather than relying on decades-old grocery staples like Rice Krispies or Pillsbury cake mixes. Minnesota-based Cargill is having to look at animal welfare, fair wages, and farming impacts—while recognizing that local farmers are an important factor in the strategic rethinking of their products.

Cargill’s David MacLennn sees the issue as “the challenge of our time for the food and agriculture industries…you need..companies, governments, and local farmers to come along with you.”

The “billion dollar question,” says Kent Solberg of the Sustainable Farming Association, is whether the companies can make big enough changes, quickly. Agronomists are admitting that the conventional agricultural system creates sustainability problems—erosion, mono-cropping, pesticides, and unhealthy soils.

Jack Weber, a 34-year-old military vet, has plunged into regenerative farming practices, bucking the trend of his family farm. After conventional growing brought low yields and erosion, Weber shifted to cover crops, rotations, and livestock to enhance his soil bacteria and water-absorption potential. After his third year, his yields had improved 150%, and he now sells soybeans, corn, wheat and small grains to Cargill, General Mills, and CHS, a Minnesota farm cooperative. He doesn’t receive profit for his soil improvement efforts; hopefully, that will come as growers gain distinction from their peers who don’t use regenerative farming.

Grant Breitkreutz, of Redwood Falls, has been using three-crop rotation which helps “till” his acres, while saving money spent on fertilizers; he no longer needs to plant GMO crops because his plants are strong enough to ward off weeds and pests.

“We don’t need to spray for soybean aphids because we have so many natural predators,” Breitkreutz said. “Same thing in our corn. We don’t get corn borer.” He’s also witnessing more diversity in wildlife.

Regenerative farming has its challenges: social ostracizing, for one, and the need for assistance to weather the transition period as the soil heals. The Land Steward Program and USDA’s National Resource Conservation Services encourage farmer education. General Mills has launched a sustainability initiative focused on soil resilience—the Soil Health Roadmap aims for a 50 percent uptake in soil-friendly practices by 2025.

Source: Minneapolis Star-Tribune,