The food industry’s response to climate change as a whole has not matched the scale of the problem, but some natural product companies are leading the way. Here’s how three are investing in regenerative agriculture.
Lara Dickinson | Nov 18, 2016
This November, on a warm evening in downtown San Francisco, OSC2 gathered industry leaders to dig deeper into the regenerative agriculture movement. Agriculture is a key commitment area for the Climate Collaborative, a project of OSC2 and the Sustainable Food Trade Association. We featured a preview of an upcoming documentary and a panel with three food leaders who each are taking on unique roles to achieve critical impact:
- John Roulac, CEO of Nutiva—the “first-mover,” who helped first introduce the idea of regenerative agriculture to many of us within the industry.
- David Bronner, CEO of Dr Bronner’s—the “accelerator,” who is championing widespread adoption by implementing best practices and activating industry players and consumers alike.
- John Foraker, CEO of Annie’s Homegrown—the “scale doctor,” who is making this progressive practice a viable option for large-scale producers like General Mills.
While the panelists all have different approaches, they agreed that regenerative agriculture is a hopeful solution and it has the potential to scale and make a dramatic and positive impact on our agriculture and climate. Possibly the greatest inspiration was hearing Foraker speak about his belief in the potential for big companies to scale these solutions.
Roulac kicked off the talk by sharing how a major source of greenhouse gases is from agriculture. Our food is the source of the problem but also the greatest potential solution: “There are three carbon sinks: oceans, soil and atmosphere. Oceans and our atmosphere are absorbing too much carbon, and we need to put it back in the ground. Luckily, there is an app for this—regenerative agriculture.”
Roulac said he realized a few years ago that the organic food movement was not really talking about climate change. “We have got to get the word out about regenerative agriculture,” he said. “We have a short window. This is not business as usual. If you are interested in breathing, I suggest you get behind this regenerative campaign and also eat less industrial meat.”
Bronner expanded on this and clearly has read and intensely researched the science. “Soil is the largest land sink of carbon,” he explained, sharing how the Dr. Bronner’s team manages farming projects around the world with their sister companies in Sri Lanka and Ghana. They have been actively implementing regenerative practices, including cover cropping, minimal till and minimal chemical use, pastured livestock, and compost piles.
“The soil is a living miraculous membrane and we are just treating it like dirt,” he said. “There is a symbiosis with the plants breathing in carbon out of the air and giving it to the soil and that creates humus.” Bronner made it clear that modern industrial agriculture takes animals off the farm and tills out carbon.
“Soil is the largest land sink of carbon; that is where we can put this excess carbon,” he said. “We have to draw down, and regenerative agriculture is a major strategy. If we use these organic regenerative methods, within five to 10 years we can really sequester carbon.”
Foraker shared that what has kept him excited about continuing to lead Annie’s and join General Mills is the potential scale they can drive toward sea change solutions. He sees a real convergence in the big commitment Annie’s has to organics, the Epic Bar acquisition—learning about the benefits of ruminants and rotational grazing—and bringing that together for big impact with General Mills.
“If you have any question if we (General Mills) are on to these things, you should not have that question. This is critical for all of us and I do believe this has potential to scale with big companies,” he said. “We have to figure out the economics.”
Annie’s has doubled in size over the past two years, and Foraker sees it as “the economic engine that can pull impact. We can show farmers that they can make more money by doing the right thing. Annie’s and GM can help farmers get through to a regenerative model, and they will be there to buy the farmer’s product on the other side. If we can successfully do this, we can cause a huge shift, and this is our window of opportunity.”
All three agree that scale is key. One area Roulac pointed out is that organic is more limiting and possibly harder to do, but not necessarily all organic farmers are increasing soil activity. Regenerative agriculture can provide some baby steps to get us moving in the right direction.
The final piece we have to consider is investment financing. We discussed the challenge with this: banks and insurance companies do not understand organic and regenerative agriculture. And the majority of current farmers are in their 60s—they don’t want to change their course much. Dedicated brands need to get on board and support the farmers. There are newer investment groups emerging to support the next generation of farmers and regenerative agricultural practices.
The Climate Collaborative is a project of OSC2 and SFTA in partnership with New Hope Network. The mission is to work collaboratively on behalf of the natural products industry to catalyze bold action, amplify the voice of business and promote sound policy to reverse climate change.
In conducting research with leaders in the industry, it is clear that we agree we have five years or less to act, and the industry can and should be doing more. Yet our response has not matched the scale of the problem. The Climate Collaborative shapes the path for clear action and impact.
Companies can register for one or more of nine commitment areas related to our industry. Commitments range from agriculture to reforestation to supporting sound policy. Once a company registers, the Climate Collaborative offers a path to meaningful action along with resource partnership. Our goal is to secure 1,000 companies registering 3,000 commitments by 2020. The Climate Collaborative will launch at Natural Products Expo West 2017. To learn more log onto www.climatecollaborative.com.