As I’ve described elsewhere, there are multiple divergent meanings of “Regenerative Agriculture” in use today. Instead of subjectively applying any particular definition, I’ve chosen to start with a simple objective approach: Who is using the term?
While this may seem overly simplistic, it turns out that even using the term is a non-trivial step for most organizations. It implies, at least, that the decision-makers have explored the definitional landscape and decided that something about “regeneration” is important enough to publicly align with and proclaim.
I recognize that this is a lowest-common-denominator approach, and invites onto this map entities whose usage of the term I disagree with — even entities whose approach I believe will degrade and banalize the deeper meaning of the term. Over time I will add more layers of analysis to discern between the different lineages and levels of regenerative agriculture that are sourcing each entity’s usage.
When I co-organized the Carbon Farming Course: Workshops in Regenerative Agriculture in 2009 and 2012, only a few small groups of organizations were using the term “Regenerative Agriculture”. Through a combination of pathways, these groups have exponentially grown the number of entities and financial scale of the industry. Through the uptake by large CPG companies starting in 2016, it’s likely that the annual revenue to companies that are explicitly promoting regenerative agriculture is greater than $50 billion.
This is a Draft
Version 1.0 is a draft. There are very likely mistakes. Please help me correct them. If the “usage year” listed for your organization is incorrect, I will happily change it — please just send me a link to the date of a public record where you use the term “Regenerative Agriculture”. If your estimated financial scale is incorrect, please tell me (with as much precision as you’d like to be public) what it should be. Thank you!
Organizations are grouped in five categories:
Investment: Primarily investment managers and funds, though a few family offices are included.
Farm: Includes farms that develop and market their own products. See additional note about Farms below.
Service Organization: Educators, consultants, research organizations, agricultural equipment and product manufacturers, land managers not tied to a single farm, media producers, for-profit membership organizations, ecosystem platforms, and other types of organizations.
CPG: Consumer Packaged Goods manufacturers, primarily food and beverage, but including some health and beauty products. Retailers of Consumer Packaged Goods are included here, along with fashion and clothing manufacturers.
Non-Profit: A diversity of not-for-profit organizations, from education to research to events convening to advocacy.
There is significant overlap in the functional work of entities in the “Service Organization” and “Non-Profit” categories, with the primary division being the choice of legal organizational structure.
Strongly under-represented in Version 1.0 of the Map are farms. The number of farms that are beginning to use the term ‘regenerative’ is multiplying exponentially. Many farms that have been using the principles of Holistic Management, Biodynamics, Permaculture, or Organic Agriculture are now saying, “we have been regenerative for a long time.” Combine that with a flood of larger US and Australian farms that are growing conventionally while adopting some form of regenerative agriculture principles, and this is a challenging category to keep up with. This is compounded by the fact that a much smaller proportion of farms maintain up-to-date websites — which makes pinpointing the year they started using the term difficult.
In summary, the distinction that I’ve chosen for version 1.0 of the Map, “Explicitly using the term “regenerative agriculture” in public-facing communications” is hard to track for farms. And, I would like to do a better job in the next version of this map recording this quickly-changing farm. I’ll keep adding farms to the list, and welcome any contributions from the wider community.
Estimated Financial Scale
Organizations are loosely clumped into one of 4 financial scale categories, based primarily on publicly available information. For most entities on the map the estimated financial scale refers to annual revenue, with the exception of Investment organizations where it refers to Assets Under Management (AUM).
One current issue with the map is that the estimated financial scale grouping is based on relatively current information (from the last 1–5 years), and does necessarily accurately depict the financial scale of the organizations at the time when they started using the term “Regenerative Agriculture.” I welcome any suggestions on a graphically elegant way to depict this complexity.
Note about Earliest Usages
This first written record of the term “Regenerative Agriculture” was in 1979 by Medard Gabel (thanks to Luke Smith of Terra Genesis for research on this). Soon afterwards (in 1983), Robert Rodale of the Rodale Institute began using the term, and led the creation of the “Regenerative Agriculture Association” sometime in the 1980s. They published at least one book that I have seen (“Booker T. Whatley’s Handbook on How to Make $100,000 Farming 25 Acres”), and began promoting early ideas about regeneration alongside their work on organic farming.
Sometime After Robert Rodale’s unexpected death in 1990, the Rodale Institute dropped the term, focusing on promoting Organic Agriculture for more than 20 years. After the permaculture community and several other organizations (especially Darren Doherty of Regrarians, Terra Genesis International, Armonia LLC, and Biological Capital) started using “Regenerative Agriculture” between 2009–2013, the Rodale Institute reclaimed the term (2014) in a modified usage that they continue today: “Regenerative Organic”.
There are two primary pathways along which I plan to develop I plan develop this map.
Expansion. As noted, there are a lot of farms out there using the term that are not yet on this map. Additionally, this map is heavily United States-centric, and should definitely be expanded to better represent the work happening in South America, Europe, Africa, Asia, and Australia.
Depth. I will add layers of detail and complexity over time. I’ll start with characterizing the “Lineages” from which each entity is sourcing their use of “Regenerative Agriculture”. Next I will characterize the Level of Regenerative Agriculture that each entity is working from, through a combination of supported self-reporting and my subjective assessments. Then I will start to develop more detailed attributes for the different entities, including the agricultural practices, business models, and metrics utilized by each. Eventually these attributes will include locations, climate zones, and crops produced.
If you would like to contribute to the development of either pathway, please email me to discuss: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Will the exponential growth trend of the last decade continue? How many entities using the term “Regenerative Agriculture” will it take to reverse climate change? What would success look like for the growth of this industry?
At the UN Climate Action Summit in September, Emmanuel Faber, CEO of Danone, announced the launch of the One Planet Business for Biodiversity (OP2B) coalition, stating, “We thought we could engineer the life that we needed and kill the rest in the fields. The resulting monocropping consequences are standing right in front of us.”
Government and large-scale business decision-makers are coming to terms with two sides of a coin of ecological reality: Biodiversity has immense inherent value on our planet, AND the ongoing devastation of biodiversity will drastically decrease global human quality of life.
Biodiversity is a key factor in the earth’s provision of ecosystem services — including biomass production, nutrient and water cycling, and soil formation and retention — but the ongoing, mounting losses to biodiversity are not simply an environmental issue. The IPBES Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services states that “Current negative trends in biodiversity and ecosystems will undermine progress towards 80% of the Sustainable Development Goals, related to poverty, hunger, health, water, cities, climate, oceans and land.”
I can assure you: this article isn’t a fear-mongering account of the real-life implications of biodiversity loss. Rather, this is an invitation — for companies, growers, and consumers — to take stock of your current understandings of biodiversity and situate them in a more encompassing and holistic framework.
WHAT IS MISSING FROM THE CONVERSATION ABOUT BIODIVERSITY?
This level of global acknowledgment is a hopeful sign. However, it is critical to note two major limitations to how biodiversity is currently being approached.
Limitation #1: In the business community, “biodiversity” is often understood and recognized as “the diversity of agricultural crops used in our products.” From this lens, oats or lentils become “biodiverse” crops because they are less common agricultural commodities, even if they are still grown in industrial-scale chemical monocultures.
Limitation #2: In the academic community, a well-established categorization limits biodiversity to the confines of three levels: genetic diversity within a species, species diversity within a population, and ecosystem diversity within a region.
The academic approach offers more nuance than the business perspective. But in the context of increasing attention for biodiversity, there is an opportunity here: We can significantly enhance the impact of our strategies and actions by evolving the framework through which we work. The following eight-level understanding of biodiversity offers a new lens that can spark improved design and creativity towards positive global impact.
A NEW APPROACH: THE EIGHT-LEVEL BIODIVERSITY FRAMEWORK
Corporate decisions about product design, raw materials, farming practices, and sourcing standards have significant impacts on all levels of biodiversity, and potential outputs vary accordingly. While each level can be a source of innovation — for ingredients, flavors, chemical compounds, and even culinary creativity — companies must design for net-positive impacts on biodiversity or risk serious destabilization to their supply chains and the global stock of natural capital upon which all life depends.
This level accounts for the sum total of life and total variability of life forms on Earth. It’s where we identify endangered and threatened species and map biodiversity hotspots. At least 10,000 species are going extinct every year. Addressing the long-term consequences of biodiversity loss through the lens of this level is critical in fighting to work against species extinction for global health.
ECO REGION BIODIVERSITY
Here, we look at biodiversity across an entire region, taking into account the makeup of the land and the richness of species across it. Most rarefied and sought-after provisions, from a Bordeaux wine that can only come from Bordeaux, to a Parmiagianno Reggiano that can only come from Parma, these are the products of the unique eco-regions and cultural histories from which they are cultivated. When biodiversity is supported at this level, there is potential for great culinary creativity — new dishes, new products, new remixes of ancient foods — that can emerge from healthy ecological-cultural complexes.
LAND USE BIODIVERSITY
This level looks at land in terms of form and function: the types of land that can exist in a given watershed and the diversity in how those pieces of land are used. In a given watershed, does there exist land that is being maintained as an old-growth forest, converted into a tree crop farm, or developed into an urban garden? How do those landscapes integrate and interact? An ecosystem composed of diverse landscapes with different functions directly supports nutrition and food security.
Species biodiversity accounts for the differences within and between populations of species as well as the variety of species within a habitat or region. It is critical that we observe interactions among and between species to understand how anthropogenic actions are affecting an ecosystem. We’re currently in the midst of the sixth mass extinction of species, losing species at up to 1,000 times the natural rate of 1–5 species per year. 99% of threatened species are at risk of extinction from the effects of human activities. Continuing to address biodiversity at the species level can create intact ecosystems and the evolution of new crops through wild cultivation.
AGRICULTURAL BIODIVERSITY (AKA AGROBIODIVERSITY)
This is the level of diversity that most product manufacturers identify as the sum total of biodiversity. Promoting agricultural biodiversity is indeed important: while more than 6,000 plant species have been cultivated for food, only 9 species account for 66% of total crop production. Increasing agricultural biodiversity doesn’t just improve the variety of our diet, but enhances soil and water health, increases pest and disease resistance, and reduces the need for external inputs.
Brands are taking a step in the right direction. Lush Cosmetics is reintroducing native crops and reducing land conversion on smallholder farms in Guatemala, while integrating a breathtaking array of underutilized plants into its diverse products. Smaller brands like Kuli Kuli, Yolele, and Global Breadfruit are rapidly increasing market demand for lesser-known food crops. We know that seeking to achieve greater agricultural biodiversity can lend itself to the development of lesser-known flavors, textures, and scents.
However, the popular inclination to concentrate biodiversity efforts solely at the agricultural level can be limiting. Not only are companies who confine their scope to the agricultural level missing out on the positive impacts made possible only by addressing other levels, but they are ultimately foregoing innovation, creativity, and market differentiation in their products. There are clear benefits to both the brand and the planet.
Genetic diversity, the variety of genes within a species, is critical: high genetic diversity allows for species to maintain resilience against pests and pathogens and adapt to changing environments. Of the over 10,000 varieties of apples that have been ever cultivated, only 100 are now grown commercially in the US, and only 15 account for almost 90% of national production. Addressing genetic biodiversity can produce different varieties of crops, colors, and flavors, with different tastes, resistances, and nutrient profiles.
The health of all living things — of the soil, the microbiome of animals, the leaves of trees — is indicated by and depends on its microbial composition. Healthy soil is resilient, teeming with bacteria, fungi, algae and protozoa, and is able to cycle nutrients and make them available to organisms. Some of the most treasured heritage foods in the world are a product of the unique sets of microbes that live within the soil in which it is grown. Innovation at the microbial level is directly responsible, for example, for the lactobacillus bulgaricus bacteria in sour beer and probiotic yogurt. Allowing for a diverse set of microbes to flourish in the soil can give way to creative fermentation and novel processing.
Brands are realizing the myriad of opportunities at the chemical level in creating new compounds, nutrients and bioactive functionals that can boost skin health, heart health, and digestion. Cultivating a diverse variety of grapes can produce a wider range of wines packed with different antioxidants, while developing diverse probiotics can maintain a healthy skin microbiome. A greater biodiversity of food can create a greater variety of chemical compounds, each with its own set of benefits for human and ecosystem health.
WHY SHOULD BRANDS PAY ATTENTION TO BIODIVERSITY?
Quite simply, because biodiversity loss benefits no one. Most current agricultural practices and the majority of the ingredients in our food are significant contributors to global biodiversity loss.
Take palm oil, for example. It thrives in the tropics, is largely grown as a monoculture, and is in approximately 50% of consumer products. Its production requires large-scale land conversion that not only increases greenhouse gas emissions, smoke-haze and water pollution, but also affects at least 405 species globally, 193 of which are critically endangered, endangered or vulnerable. Despite the attractiveness of short-term financial gain, no one profits from species going extinct.
Brands are beginning to understand the impending threat of biodiversity loss and realize the opportunity for greater market growth and differentiation in their products. The OP2B coalition, formed by 19 companies with combined total revenue of $500 billion, is pledging to diversify their product portfolios and initiate large-scale change across their brands. Emmanuel Faber of Danone promised: “Using the thousands of brands we have in our [OP2B] portfolio, we will create a demand for a variety of crops, of species, of traditional seeds that are forgotten today, that are dying.”
Measuring progress in biodiversity impact can be difficult, but incorporating it as a key performance indicator will prove to be transformative. Brands that utilize metrics for tracking biodiversity, then subsequently place an emphasis on improving their practices across multiple levels, will inevitably put into motion a multiplier effect of positive impact on sustainability.
We’re at an exciting crossroads. Choices are being made today that will impact our planet for generations. Companies must soon decide: Will they continue to turn a blind eye (or support gentle greenwashing) to the agriculture-driven damage to global biodiversity? Or will they adopt a more whole-systems viewpoint to create positive impacts on multiple levels of life?
Curated top stories in Regenerative Agriculture, Business, and Investing • ethansoloviev.com
Regenerative Alcohol, Carbon Negative Beef, and 1 trillion trees …
Want to hear the audio highlights of this month’s news? Listen to the Regeneration Newsroom Podcast, a joint venture with Investing in Regenerative Agriculture. Link
“Are we entering a new era of regeneration?” Not fast enough. Link
Interesting place for Regen Ag to show up: Chemical & Engineering News. Mostly the article touts standard conservation and sustainability approaches, but it does have a nice little chart of different corporate strategies – similar to the “Regenerative Agriculture Industry Map” that I am building. Link
$9 billlion Alcohol company touts “regenerative agriculture”, but makes no public commitment to get started until 2025. Pernod Ricard, owner of over 50 brands (including Absolut, Jameson, Chivas Regal, Malibu, Kahlúa, and Beefeater) is aligning their sustainability goals with the UN SDGs. While I have a hard time believing they’ll make it anywhere close to net-positive if all impacts are taken into account, it will be interesting to see what they can push forward in agriculture. Link and Link
New York Times – Wine, Carbon Sequestration, and Regenerative Agriculture – Link
See also ‘The Porto Protocol’, a collaborative including Toyota, Marks & Spencer, PwC, and 100+ others in the wine industry who are working on climate change – Link
Carbon-negative beef – This Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) by respected international firm Quantis shows that holistically managed grass-fed beef production can capture more carbon than it emits. Note that General Mills funded this study — we’re beginning to see real ripples of their investments in the field. Link
Bloomberg – On the other hand, “Most grass-fed beef labeled ‘product of U.S.A.’ is imported” – a fascinating article focusing on chicken giant Perdue and it’s ongoing acquisition of higher-end meat producers: Coleman Natural Foods (2011), Niman Ranch (2015), and now Panorama Meats (2019), America’s largest producer of grass-fed, certified organic beef. Link
Fewer than 1 in 4 have heard of regenerative agriculture, says a new consumer survey of 1,000 people in the US. The actual number is 22% – which to me sounds shockingly high! Perhaps more interesting is that 55% of those surveyed have not heard of it, but want to learn more. Link
GreenBiz – “The fight to define regenerative agriculture” – So far, thankfully, it’s not a fight. This article does a decent job juxtaposing Process vs. Outcome-based standards. I also think it’s fascinating that Rodale Institute is quoted saying, “A lot of people are using the word regenerative… It’s the new buzzword. There is a danger of it getting greenwashed.” Link
Fashionista – “The Next Wave of Sustainable Fashion is All About Regenerative Farming.” Good overview article with a balanced appraoch that covers most of what’s happening at the regen ag / fashion nexus. Link
El Pais – Great long-form article on regenerative agriculture and land restoration in Spain, combining philanthropic and investment capital to kick-start ecological entrepreneurship across more than 1 million hectares. Link
CNN – “The most effective way to tackle climate change? Plant 1 trillion trees” – Link
Two important and substantive articles on the edge between Regenerative Agriculture and Government Legislation:
“A Green New Deal must Prioritize Regenerative Agriculture”. This article is fascinating because it shows a very different trend from the middle-America Soil Profits approach… Link
“But the fact that farming has become a major source of emissions actually belies an important truth that sets agriculture apart from every other major economic sector: It has the natural potential to become a massive carbon sink, rather than a carbon emitter.”
Plus, businesses worth $2.5 trillion with 750,00 employees are advocating for a price on carbon: Link
FoodTank – General Mills’ Carla Vernon on Regenerative Agriculture. Expect more media and coverage as the $15 billion CPG giant continues its push into the space. Link
Great podcast on the Bioregional Agroforestry Suitability Analysis (BRASA), a new offering from Terra Genesis International – Link
From the Carbon Removal Newsroom at Nori, “General Mills issues grant for regenerative agriculture training”- Link
A Geological Perspective On Regenerative Agriculture with David Montgomery, interviewed by John Kempf – Link
“The ultimate agricultural practice” – I’ve heard great things about this year’s World Agroforestry Conference – here’s a sweet Q&A with the event organizers Link
1100 Hectare farm & “Regeneration Academy” in southern Spain, following the principles of Commonland. Looks like they’re just getting started, but someone’s got to be managing those 300 hectares of Almonds… Link
ICYMI – India’s President announces a National Agroforestry Policy – even though this is 5 years ago, don’t you think it’s a good time for other countries to follow suit? Link
Special Section – Global Agribusiness & Land
This comes from a more activist angle than I usually cover, but the issues of land rights and global land grabbing are important to track. This article is a summary of the new Report from the Oakland Institute. Link
From Brazil, where Amazon deforestation is being enabled by the new government. I found the ‘commodities’ section of this report illuminating — How many of these ingredients do you eat? How many are in your company’s supply system? Link
If you want a job in regenerative agriculture, you’ll need to learn the keys of integrative design. Probably the best way to do it is through the top-notch firm Regrarians, who are now offering a new set of hybrid in-person and online courses around the world – not to be missed. Link
Important: A new standard for putting carbon in the soil. The Soil Carbon Initiative is backed by Ben & Jerry’s (Unilever), Danone North America, and MegaFood, and have just released their draft standard for public feedback. Comments are due by May 5th. Link
(Note: If you weren’t at Expo, they’re doing a webinar to describe the standard – register here)
Newly released: A comprehensive global list of regenerative agriculture, forestry, and agroforestry investment funds. I worked with Gatherlab to build this list and a larger database connected to it. $200-400 million USD are invested by explicitly “regenerative” funds; the full list covers $24 billion invested by larger climate-change and forestry organizations. See anyone we missed? Email me. Link
AppleGate makes headlines last month for their “New Food Collective”. A few links:
Their press release, highlighting new products with 100% pasture-raised meat certified by the well-respected American Grassfed Association
Significantly, Applegate is committing to source 100% of their meat from Savory Land-to-Market Verified farms. Here’s their VP of impact & Mission discussing Ecological Outcome Verification in a great interview
Danone aims for carbon-neutral by 2050, takes a “one size does not fit all” approach to sustainability. Aims for “regenerative agriculture practices” – which ones? Link
US Soybean farmers touting “regenerative agriculture”… continued evidence of the rapid banalization of the term. Brought to you by the U.S. Soybean Export Council. Link
Muir Glen, stalwart organic tomato sauce producer (owned since 2000 by General Mills), lists “Regenerative Farming” as their top “principle”. Unclear what they mean, beyond a few basic practices that are already followed by most organic farmers… Link
From the “Soil Profits” lineage, here’s a free online class by the American Society of Agronomy – “Regenerative Agriculture: How to Work with Farmers to Improve Soil”. Interesting to note this is also sponsored by General Mills. Link
Forbes: The Caribbean has a “Dirty” Solution to Climate Change. Surprisingly good article quoting Terra Genesis International and the leader of Walkers Reserve, a 200-acre sand mine regeneration project in Barbados. Link
“Regenerative agriculture could save soil, water, and the climate. Here’s how the U.S. government actively discourages it.” Link
“Three Takeaways On the Nexus of Food Companies, Climate Change and Regenerative Agriculture” – A new post from the folks at the Regenerative Food Systems Investment Forum taking place this fall in Oakland CA. Nice summary of regenerative at the 2019 Natural Products Expo West earlier this month; also includes a number of statistics and quotes from my presentation on the market performance of the most regenerative food products. Link
From our Europe desk: Regenerative agriculture in Belgium. Link
Free 109-page report from the J. Walter Thompson Intelligence Innovation Group: “The New Sustainability: Regeneration”. There’s a lot in here, from Green AI to Regenerative Business. Worth a skim. Link
National Regenerative Agriculture Day, anyone? Link
This is from 2017, but worth a read as a manifesto/white-paper hybrid on carbon drawdown “Regenerate Earth” by Walter Jehne of Healthy Soil Australia. Link
Former Blue Apron CEO launches a new “regenerative agriculture” business called Cooks Venture. Here’s the press release and their website. I’ll admit I’m skeptical. Their “definition” of regenerative agriculture is weak. They tout scientific proof but don’t offer any. I definitely want to support the scaling up of regen ag, but I want it done with integrity instead of hype. Link
General Mills announces that they will “advance” regenerative agriculture on 1,000,000 acres by 2030. Here’s coverage from:
On a contrarian note, here’s an excellent article from AgFunder News calling into question the motives of large CPG moves on sustainability & regenerative ag. Link
And here’s another one from Grist. “Regenerative agriculture’: World-saving idea or food marketing ploy?” Link
Three top podcasts for this month:
Investing in Regenerative Agriculture: an interview on water & water cycles with Zach Weiss Link
Shift to perennialization in agriculture & culture – longer form interview of the Land Institute by Nori. Link
Tech accelerator seeking carbon drawdown – and other stories. From the new(ish) ‘Carbon Removal Newsroom’ (I wonder where they got the name;) Link
Terramera snags another $10mil investment. They claim “regenerative solutions”, but it looks like they’re firmly focused on conservation – they want to reduce synthetic chemicals in agriculture by 80%. Their two main products are broad-range biocides. Link
Financing Regenerative Agriculture – London April 2019. Jeremy Grantham @ GMO, Satya Tripathi @ United Nations, and Christian Didier @ Danone. If you go, I’d love to hear a summary for the next newsletter. Link
There are a lot of awesome events happening this year. I’m speaking at a few of them.
Living Soil Symposium: March 28-31, Montreal. I’m on a panel Saturday, speaking about:
Quantitative data on regeneration: How are the most regenerative products performing in the marketplace?
Comparing and contrasting the new ‘regenerative’ standards and certifications that have popped up this year
How can we reconcile local food systems, transparency, and blockchain technology in an age of online shopping and eroding consumer trust?
Transform: Climate, Capital, Communities – Regenerative Agriculture, Investing, and more. From the folks who started SOCAP and built it into a behemoth. I’m hosting a panel Regen Ag Investing, plus a private gathering for investors. Link
Other save-the-dates for 2019:
Natural Products Expo East: September 11-14
SOCAP 2019: October 22-25
Regenerative Earth Summit: October 28-30
Regenerative Business Summit: November 12-14
Ethan Soloviev’s big-picture interpretation of this month’s news:
Companies are leading the move towards regenerative agriculture. Other food movements (e.g. organic, Biodynamic) have been pushed forward primarily by farmers and consumers. They grew more slowly, with grassroots organizing and farmer-led furor, slowly building alliances with small food companies and local retailers. Eventually larger companies began buying up smaller organic brands, using acquisitions to get ahead of consumer demand.
So far, the story is unfolding differently for regenerative agriculture. Starting in 2016, food companies have been more active than farmers in promoting regen ag. Consumers seem to be almost left in the dust, wondering, “WTF is this new term?!?” just as they were getting used to “organic.”
Not-for-profits have played a role in catching up consumers, especially Kiss the Ground, the Rodale Institute, and At the Epicenter. But their primary focus (and funding?) seems to be CPG companies, who are clearly (based on this month’s news) leading the way.
Companies doing the work that citizens and farmers have done in other movements leads to several interesting dynamics. One is the danger of marketing hype overpowering on-the-ground impact (highlighted in the Grist and AgFunder articles). Another is that product-creating businesses are investing big bucks to help “train” and “educate” farmers in the methods they want them to use. It remains to be seen if this approach will generate real improvement in soils, ecosystems, or farmer livelihoods – I am hopeful that it can, but wary of the many pitfalls on the path.
– Ethan Soloviev
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New map of global environmental degradation in a peer-reviewed journal – important up-to-date information for arguments about WHY regenerative agriculture is important – Link
30 for 100: Savory launches a new global campaign to transform landscapes. Link
The four E’s: “ethos, economy, elegance and empowerment”. It’s been curious not to hear much from Joel Salatin in the recent hype around regenerative agriculture. Glad to see he’s making the rounds in North Dakota and beyond –Link (P.S. Joel Salatin and I will both be speaking at the 2019 Living Soil Symposium in Montreal – this will be an awesome event!)
These small but steady mentions of regenerative agriculture are important: Tri-state Livestock News (Montana, Wyoming, and South Dakota) promotes the “Western Dakota Crops Day”, which focuses on “Regional agronomy research results, dealing with saline and sodic soils and the latest research on regenerative cropping systems…” Link
Glad to see Pipeline Foods getting Rabobank’s attention. Their notion of “regenerative” is from the ‘Soil Profits’ paradigm and is not particularly nuanced, but their work as a broker for organic commodities is great. Link
Land to Market™ takes another big step: first EOV™ (Ecological Outcomes Verification™) Wool goes to market in South Africa. I think this is important, and worth watching – what will the market say about ecologically net-positive practices?!? Link
Towards Regenerative (Luxury?!?) Fashion – Kering, who owns brands Gucci, Saint Laurent, Balenciaga, and others, is teaming up with the Savory Institute to develop supply chains for grass-fed Land to Market™-verified leather and other raw materials. With most Gucci purses costing more than $2,300 USD, it would be great for some of that margin to support regenerative agriculture. Here’s the Kering Press Release, and more coverage from Sustainable Brands.
2 million chickens a week: Great and nuanced coverage by Civil Eats on Costco’s move to vertically integrate poultry production – and “RegeNErate Nebraska’s” opposition and proposed alternatives. Link
Also from RegeNErate Nebraska, check out this Resource Guide. As I’ve commented elsewhere, I think the use of “regenerative” to describe many of these organizations is dubious – they are and have been doing great work, but adding the word “regenerative” does not change much. On the other hand, I greatly appreciate the Native American voices and perspectives in this document – more dialogue and cooperative development with indigenous communities could be mutually beneficial for people working towards regeneration.
“Regenerative agriculture is actually a native concept.” –Vincent Bass, Winnebago Vice Chairman
Too good to be true? Nextfuel promises to replace fossil fuels with… Elephant Grass. While it may capture carbon, the whole pitch is from the “extract value” paradigm – there is no shift evident to regenerative thinking. But interesting nonetheless – watch the video! Link
This month on Investing in Regenerative Agriculture, Koen van Seijen interviews Chuck de Liedekerke of Soil Capital. I disagree with how he defines “regenerative ag”, but he’s taking an interesting approach with larger-scale growers. Link
“An Underground Insurgency: Regenerative Agriculture & Human Transformation” – Interview with Charles Massy, author of the number one regenerative agriculture book in Australia, “Call of the Reed Warbler“. Link
David Bronner on Food Tank – apparently Dr. Bronner’s has donated $8 million to regenerative organic agriculture, perhaps through the Regenerative Organic Alliance… Link
Fascinating podcast from John Kempf that breaks the mold of his agronomy-focused offerings – this one explores 5 characteristics of exceptionally successful farm managers. Very interesting. Link
Why Certifications Don’t Work Are you considering one of the new “regenerative” certifications for your product or business? Read this first – a comprehensive dismantling of the underlying reasoning behind certifications. There’s a podcast too if you want to listen. Link
“Value Change in the Value Chain” – New guidance for corporations to track Scope 3 greenhouse gas emissions. Put out by the Gold Standard and Science-Based Targets Initiative, there’s just a few small companies who have signed on to try it out – Mars, Danone, Barry Callebaut, Ben & Jerry’s, Cargill, General Mills, L’Oréal, McDonald’s, PepsiCo and Target 😉 Link and here’s a Sustainable Brands article with a faster overview: Link
Part of the preceding release but worth it’s own note: Value Change /Gold Standard has realeased a 40-page document to help make decisions about how to design and quantify projects that aim to change Soil Organic Carbon (aka carbon farming, or as most people mis-label it, regenerative agriculture). Nothing ground-breaking, but organized with precision and clarity. Link
Forbes – “How Investing In Regenerative Agriculture Can Help Stem Climate Change Profitably” – (I’m not sure what “stem climate change’ means;) We’ve already covered the Ecosystem Service Valuation Report and the other key farm profitability study cited (NOT regenerative agriculture, despite their use of the term), but if you’re interested to learn more about the Farmland LP Business Model this is not a bad little video to watch. Link
Fast Company – Exclusive interview with Patagonia’s Yvon Chouinard. Urgency and action are front and center. Regenerative Agriculture is touted, but primarily related to a project in India growing cotton… this is a very very difficult crop to produce with a regenerative effect. Perhaps the folks running the project (Metawear / RESET) can provide more information? Link
If we have just 11 more harvests to transition the global agrifood system, this 2.8 million ha project in Fiji is not a bad example of how we can organize multi-sectoral financing for regenerating landscapes. Link
Government & Policy
US Farm bill passes with bipartisan support, miraculously containing a new program that will focus on soil health and soil carbon sequestration. Coming from an unlikely coalition of the NRDC, National Corn Growers Association, American Coalition for Ethanol, and Environmental Entrepreneurs, this provision is the best thing I’ve heard about a farm bill in more than a decade. Link
Punjab cabinet approves policies for… Regenerative Agriculture? Link
“How Regenerative Agriculture Could Be Key to the Green New Deal” – Brief high-level policy article, decent, though coming mostly from the ‘Rodale Organic’ lineage and missing the (mostly conventional, industrial, large-scale) farmers who are quickly growing a “regenerative agriculture” that works for them. Link
Here’s a great example of government getting out of the way and supporting citizens to craft their own food systems. And it’s a boon for small business. Will more lawmakers follow Maine’s example? Link
COP24 concludes with a lowest-common-denominator agreement, but an agreement nonetheless. Not a lot of agriculture-specific discussions that I saw covered, though these two side-events each brought their own angle on soil carbonization to “Speed up the cool down”: CGIAR Event and IFOAM / Biovision / Regeneration International / Shumei
Special Section on Blockchain
Report: Navigating Blockchain and Climate Action. Interesting report, a bit more restrained than most of what’s coming out of the blockchain community but highlighting some clear characteristics and opportunity areas. If you read the full report and have deeper analysis to share, let me know. Link
Industrial agriculture digital farm operations carbon market blockchain mashup – Nori (decentralized carbon markets on the blockchain) announces a new partnership with Granular (farm management software bought by DuPont in 2017). I’m very interested to see what comes from this, and which of Granular’s users will want tiptoe in the carbon markets. Link: “Turning Carbon Into a Cash Crop”
Excellent new video from Regen.Network: “The Balance Sheet for Earth”. Regen is a decentralized ledger technology designed to track positive changes to ecological systems. Link
“We’re reinventing the economics of agriculture by realigning short term economic gains with long-term ecological health” – Regen.Network CEO Gregory Landua
Ethan Soloviev’s big-picture interpretation of this month’s news:
Many of this month’s stories came to life for me at the Regenerative Earth Summit, where I spoke along with major brands like Patagonia, Kashi, Applegate, Eileen Fisher, and The North Face. To here my reflections from the event, you’ll have to listen my discussion with Koen van Seijen – available for free at the new Regeneration Newsroom Podcast!
– Ethan Soloviev
If you enjoyed this issue of Regeneration Newsroom, please forward this to a friend that would find the information valuable!
(Note: I’m writing a more complete and expanded version of this article, including graphics and structured analyses of these lineages. Sign up for my mailing list if you want to read the finished version.)
There are 5 primary intellectual and practical Lineages of people who are using the term”Regenerative Agriculture”.
Each Lineage has a different definition, farming philosophy, and approach to growing their community. In the last year, one of them is quickly (but quietly) out-growing the others.
Here are the Five Lineages of Regenerative Agriculture:
1. Rodale Organic
Basic organic agriculture practices promoted by Rodale since the 1970s, re-dubbed “Regenerative Organic” in recent years and requiring the tenets of organic agriculture as a baseline. The focus is soil. CPG brands have been strongly promoting this lineage, most notably through the Regenerative Organic Certification.
This lineage seems to think that “regeneration” is a combination of 40-year-tested conversation farming practices – cover cropping, crop rotation, compost, low- or no-till. These are great practices for reducing erosion, inputs and (if practiced with great skill) beginning to increase soil carbon. However, I do not think there is any such thing as a “Regenerative Agriculture Practice” – only systemic outcomes can confirm that a regeneration is taking place.
Permaculture as a global movement loves the IDEA of regenerative agriculture, but for the most part fails to achieve significant levels of agricultural production. Along with a strong focus on small-scale design and unproven beliefs about reversing climate change, this lineage of Regenerative Agriculture tends towards ideals from the human potential movement, focusing on how to create “thriving” and “abundance” for all.
Regrarians, emerging from but transcending the scale and idealism of permaculture, has for decades integrated Holistic Management, Keyline, and ecological design processes at farm-scale around the world. In my opinion some of the best regenerative agriculture farm design comes from this lineage – they effectively integrate agroforestry, comprehensive water-planning, soil-building, and holistic livestock management while building farmer capacity and economic viability.
3. Holistic Management
Promoted by both the Savory Institute and Holistic Management International, focusing on a comprehensive decision-making framework designed for animal-centric ecosystem regeneration.
Over 50 years ago, the term ‘Regenerative’ was developed by Charles Krone to describe a radically different paradigm of approaching human and systems development. Guided by the Carol Sanford Institute, a small but effective community of practice including Regenesis, Terra Genesis International, Regen.Network and others has applied the paradigm to Business, Design, Planning, Education, and Agriculture.
Many people who begin their journey in the ‘Permaculture’ lineage mentioned above, find their way to here. The most complete explanation (so far!) of farming from the perspective of this lineage is freely available in the paper ‘Levels of Regenerative Agriculture‘.
5. Soil Profits / No-Till / NRCS
Typified and led by Ray Archuleta, Gabe Brown, and others, this lineage draws practices and inspiration from other Lineages but appeals strongly to conventional farmers by eschewing the dogmas of organic agriculture and focusing on bottom line profits through increased soil health.
This final Lineage is the one that I see quietly experiencing exponential growth – dominating the Regenerative Agriculture mentions in middle-America newspapers (which I track, somewhat obsessively, in the monthly Regeneration Newsroom) and actually being adopted by mainstream conventional farmers.
By bypassing prejudices against ‘organic’, and allowing farmers to still use synthetic inputs, this lineage is received openly enough to then show the economic arguments for decreasing inputs and improving soil through good crop rotation, no-till, and grazing practices.
The narrative that something as effective and sexy as “Regenerative Agriculture” is available to conventional farmers is a big deal. While I think this lineage misses opportunities through its incompleteness and dis-integrative approach, I believe it is incredibly important for the world to watch and support its growth and evolution.
My goal in writing up these lineages is to help discern and distinguish the different meanings and philosophies at play when someone says “Regenerative Agriculture”.
There is a significant “Regenerative Hype” sweeping into public consciousness, primarily through the natural products industry, but also pushed by recent climate change reports and global political dialogue.
More and more organizations, individuals, and businesses will start to claim that what they are doing is “regenerative”, without changing how they are thinking or even what they are doing. I think that understanding what lineage they are speaking from will help everyone to discuss, debate, and further develop the actual effects of work in this realm – there is great potential in Regenerative Agriculture, and we are not anywhere close to achieving it.
Epic: First product with ecologically regenerative meat hits the market. As I covered last month, Savory Institute has been hard at work for 2 years prototyping it’s Land-to-Market™ verification program in close collaboration with hand-selected brands. Now you can taste the results. Link
“Turning around 4 disastrous years with regenerative agriculture” – Dakota Farmer. Have I mentioned how important it is that folks are reading this in the Dakota Farmer? Link
Trio of stories on regenerative agriculture in Australia:
1. The Guardian continues its excellent coverage on regenerative agriculture, this time focusing on the potential for Australia. Interesting focus on education and removing vested interests from the industry. “If we don’t go to regenerative agriculture, we will continue to mine soils, particularly of carbon. This is the great loss and it is not being admitted. If you continue to mine carbon, you are shot” Link
2. Restore the Soil, Prosper the Nation. Big-thinking policy paper from the former governor general of Australia. Link
3. Soils for Life Case Study: “Returns in excess of 8% on capital invested per year” on 8900 hectares. Very interesting investment & land acquisition model with a real focus on profit & impact. Link
To round these out, see the recent review paper “Conservation and Regenerative versus Intensive Agriculture” from Future Directions International. While overall the positive and research-directed tone is welcome, the author confuses regenerative and conservation agriculture, citing the paper I covered in August with terrible methodology for defining “regenerative”. Worth a quick skim, though nothing revolutionary here. Link
Very Important: This is the future of carbon measurement. Instead of expensive & slow soil testing, simple reflectometers measure soil carbon based on how dark a soil is. Eventually these will embedded in IoT sensors for real-time data streams. Several outfits are working on this, I like the tone and open source hardware approach of Quick Carbon. Link.
Supermarkets, microorganism trade systems, and super-high-phenolic olive oil. All from… Cyprus? Link and here’s the farm itself Link
This young australian farmer won an award for no-till grain growing, inspired by regen ag principles. Link
Australia: The State of Global Food Security and Implications for Rural Communities. Nice tight summary of the global food security landscape with good references. Link
Apparently, the big General Mills / Gunsmoke project will train young farmers and… robots? Link
Ecosia, the search engine that plants trees every time you search, shares its thinking on regenerative agriculture. Basic, but good. Link
From Andre Leu and the good folks at Regeneration International: “Reversing Climate Change through Regenerative Agriculture.” Good general article, summarizes climate change logic and makes some rather remarkable claims of what soil carbon sequestration can achieve. Main tools listed are composting and grazing; I think de-emphasizing agroforestry like this is a mistake. Link [photo available]
Candidate running with regenerative agriculture as part of their platform. Small-scale politics, but expect to see more of this. Link
Cute little Forbes/Quora mashup: how regenerative agriculture can improve meat. Link
Great in-depth article on the first new perennial starch crop – Kernza. High Plains Journal article highlights some of the real challenges with scaling up supply, especially in the face of skyrocketing demand (which I discuss at length on this podcast). Link
“So what is regenerative agriculture? Though he can easily illustrate the practices and goals, Peterson is reticent “to try to define regenerative agriculture because it’s a way of thinking that is creative, expansive, holistic, open and alive,” he says. “I’m afraid that once we think we have it defined, it will be limited or compartmentalized.”
In contrast, from Alberta, here’s an article on a 2,000-acre farmer who gives a (common) mis-definition of Regen Ag that does not actually describe regeneration: “We’re trying to practise what we would call regenerative agriculture — trying to build a profitable, resilient system that’s maintaining a good level of production while reducing the amount of inputs we’re relying on.” Reducing inputs does not equal regenerative. That said, there are some tactical intercropping gems in here. Link
I love the fiery political commentary coming out of Australia. “The froth and bubble buffoonery of political opportunity… suggests that the National Drought Summit will be largely a waste of time and result in…” Regenerative agriculture?!? Link
Third General Assembly of Regeneration International happened in India. Doesn’t sound like a lot happened? And the organization’s newly clarified mission is to promote organic agriculture? Link
I think the nascent inclusion of regeneratively produced ingredients into health & beauty products is incredibly important. See short interview with the folks at Kaibae over at Beauty Independent – Link
Videos & Podcasts
“A Regenerative Secret” – New mini-film by Kiss the Ground, focused on the science and practice of regenerative grazing on Joyce Farms. Awesome drone shots of rotating cattle, those alone make this excellent 8 minutes worth watching. [screenshot]
What do Baobab, Seaweed, and Cacay have in common? Check out Lost Crops – The Documentary. In just 14 minutes you can see beautiful and important footage from Ghana to Colombia touching the community economic empowerment potential of regenerative agriculture and mariculture. Link
Cute but strange video from Patagonia Provisions. I find it a bit heavy-handed and fear-driven despite the regenerative agriculture message and digitized watercolor. This video is not going to get any large-scale farmers I know to change their practices. What do you think? Link
This farmer’s got 23 more inches of topsoil than his neighbor. From John Kempf, an interview with Gabe Brown. Link
“The Next Frontier in Regenerative Agriculture & the Power of Stories” – Poultry-centric pioneer and Ashoka Fellow Reginaldo Haslett-Marroquin offers great insights on his Regenerative Agriculture work. Link
AFR100: The African Forest Landscape Restoration Initiative aims to bring 100 million hectares of land in Africa into restoration by 2030. Excellent project. Link
California indigenous groups’ revive their fire and agroforestry traditions, upending years of ill-conceived management practices. Yurok and Karuk peoples are collaborating with California and US Forest Service to restore 5,700 square kilometers. Great article. Link
Sweet little Forbes interview with Reginaldo Haslett-Marroquin, 2018 Ashoka Fellow and creator of the “Tree-Range™” regenerative farming model. Link
Agroforestry gaining traction among mainstream timberland investors. First of its kind Report from leading forest products advisor RISI. Link
Free book from the World Agroforestry Centre on Climate Smart Landscapes. 445 Pages of multifunctional agroforestry in practice. Great academic resource with some fascinating practical details from around the world. Link
Business & Policy
First in the US Carbon Fee – $15 per metric ton of carbon emitted, increasing by $2 per year. Could raise $2.3 billion for clean energy investment and other carbon-reduction measures. – Link
Corporate Carbon: This Australian organization has developed over 100 projects focusing on building soil organic matter. Though it looks like a journal article, this is an interview with the founder – fascinating. Link
This Bangalore-based business just won a Goldman Sachs and Fortune Global Women Leaders Award for making a turning a farming video game into real life. Link
Important Event: The Regenerative Earth Summit is in less than 3 weeks. Leading businesses like Patagonia, North Face, Danone, Epic, Kashi, Lotus Foods come together with the the worlds 5th-largest commodities trader (Bunge), indigenous leader Winona LaDuke, regenerative ag pioneers (Fibershed, Savory Institute, Rodale Institute) and many more! I’ll be speaking on the panel “Growing Traceability and Transparency”. I look forward to seeing you there! Link
Ethan Soloviev’s big-picture interpretation of this month’s news:
As Koen van Seijen and I discuss in our audio highlights, the key trend to watch this month is the role of media in shaping public perception of regenerative agriculture.
With the quickly-growing number of consumer products making “regenerative” claims (see Epic’s product this month, North Face’s last month), more and more people will be looking or bite-sized information in the form of Youtube videos and Text/Image Memes.
Kiss the Ground is at the forefront of this media wave, consistently releasing high-quality and easy-to-digest documentary- and explainer-type videos.
But expect to see larger players with their own particular interests getting into the media game as well. See for example this meme produced (apparently) by General Mills earlier this year… look familiar?
The vast majority of General Mills’ products still come from farms that look like the one on the left. And “protect soil” comes from the Conservative agriculture paradigm, but is masquerading here as regenerative (I’ll write more about the distinctions in an upcoming paper).
Don’t get me wrong – I am overjoyed that General Mills (and soon, I predict) other large agriculture players are beginning to shift their paradigm towards regeneration. I just hope they can help uphold and evolve the integrity of a truly regenerative agriculture, instead of degrading it in their bid to profit from this year’s regenerative hype.
– Ethan Soloviev
Questions? Comments? Leave it below or send me an email – email@example.com
1. Farmer Del Ficke has an emotional story of personal trauma and regeneration that fed his family farm transformation. His awareness of culture is more nuanced and engaged than most I’ve heard about.
2. The story is emblematic of the “new” face of Regenerative Agriculture, the one that is growing the most quickly with large-scale farmers across the heartland of the United States and farming country in Australia. I’ll write more about this in my final note at the end.
Very important: Detailed overview of Savory Institute’s Land to Market™ program, the first outcomes-based regenerative ag standard. I think this is the best standard available and the one I recommend supporting. Link
Australian Farmers Driving Up Profits Through Regenerative Agriculture. “While debt has crippled many farmers over the past 12 years, NSW grazier Martin Royds increased his farm’s profits 230 per cent…” Link
Taking natural and organic cosmetic ingredients to the next level – “The ingredients that sustain and enhance people’s lives should also sustain and enhance their planetary home”. Great 3-article series on tropical regenerative agriculture at Finca Luna Nueva in Costa Rica – videos interviews included. Part 1, Part 2, Part 3
Towards Regenerative Fashion: “The North Face Adds Products Made Through Regenerative Agriculture.” I appreciate the clarity that North Face is using to describe the line of Fibershed-sourced wool: They’re still doing a full LCA, but they know the sheep & grazing capture carbon. Link
In case you missed it: The White House’s Deep Decarbonization Plan for the United States, which includes Carbon Farming and Agroforestry. Published 2016… I wonder if anyone in the current White House has read this;) Link
“The Future of Flavor” is regenerative agriculture. I completely agree. Link
“Sustainability isn’t enough” says Minnesota Ranching family. Aiming towards regeneration with no-till, cover crops, and grazing. Also see (despite the reporter’s grimace;) a pretty good video on the same farm on AgWeek TV (skip to 23:14) Link
Regenerative agriculture gets a nod (albeit a strange one sandwiched between techno-fantasies;) in Fast Company: “It’s the year 2038–here’s how we’ll eat 20 years in the future” – Link
Regeneration Canada launches new website, starts planning for 2019 Soil Summit. Link
Conflicting perspectives on drought in Australia – One farmer describes what regenerative grazing and tree planting have done for her land. Link
New book exploring path to regenerative agriculture – I’m looking forward to reading this! Link
Singer-songwriter Jason Mraz practices… regenerative agriculture?!? Link
From the Guardian: “If you want to save the world, veganism isn’t the answer”. While the biodiversity and economic results noted in this piece are impressive, I can only imagine what would happen if the farm used Holistic rotational grazing instead of extensive permanent paddocks. Link
Most people continue to use term “regenerative agriculture” to describe these 3 basic tenets of organic farming. Interesting little video. Link
Verizon Indycars and agriculture? “It will be an organic regenerative farm right outside the raceway gates.” Link
Short and interesting definition of Regen Ag from Modern Farmer, along with a bunch of short and interesting definitions of other ag terms. Link
“We’ve encountered active hostility from conventional farmers; but the regenerative techniques and science are coming out of both the organic and the conventional sectors. This is a huge opportunity to start bridging that gap.” Nice interview on soil, and the potential for transforming agriculture. Link
Regenerative agriculture is gaining momentum in Australia. A state Agriculture and Food Minister officially launched a Regenerative Farmers Network, saying “What I see very much from the farmers in the regenerative space is they’re not out there preaching to other people about what they should do, they are leading by example.” (Plus some harsh zings at Biodynamics;) Link
Tickling Trump’s ear – a fascinating editorial in a small-town USA newspaper tackles national politics, international trade wars, and (!) the promise of regenerative agriculture. Fascinating to see how far and wide the meme is spreading! Link
The Garden at the End of the World – Patagonia’s new piece promoting Regenerative Organic Agriculture in name, though mainly a sweet little story of a biointensive garden in Patagonia, Chile. Link
(Top podcast this month) Investing in Regenerative Agriculture – Follow-up on a story from last month Koen van Seijen interviews Satya Tropathi, chair of the board of the Sustainable India Finance Facility, a partnership between the United Nations Environment Programme, World Agroforestry Centre and BNP Paribas. Link
GreenBiz talks to Regen Network CEO Gregory Landua about blockchain and regenerative ag (skip ahead to 29:30 to hear this segment). They’ll be pitching at VERGE 2018. – Link
Exploring the connection between Organic and Regenerative Agriculture – Supplyside West Podcast with Jeff Moyer of the Rodale Institute – Link
Kiss the Ground on Food Startups Podcast – how to reverse climate change! Link
Innovation Forum: Mars, Nestlé, Unilever, Olam, Coca-Cola, and L’Oreal – At least on paper, these companies are beginning to explore regenerative agriculture and agroforestry – as they should be. Any deeper investigation I’ve done have indicated that their aspirations are far beyond their effects, but perhaps things are changing. Many will be speaking at the “Sustainable Landscapes Conference 2018” – Link
Enhancing cacao production through regenerative agriculture. Great to have agroforestry & regenerative agroforestry integrated around a cacao cash-crop. Link
Regenerative Investing & Business
Impact investing plants seeds of growth for small-scale farmers – some decent coverage from the Financial Times, more on ag-tech but with a regenerative farming mention for SLM Partners. Link
Nearly 400 investors with $32 trillion in assets step up action on climate change – Link and Link. Good start.
1/8 of Global Market Cap Now Committed to Science-Based Targets. An international collaboration between CDP, the United Nations, World Resources Institute and WWF independently assesses and verifies company emission reduction targets. Eventually, this group could even assess the positive carbon-sequestering activities that companies will integrate into their systems of supply. Link
With new $35m equity investment, California Olive Ranch says it’s looking towards Regenerative Agriculture. Olive trees do indeed have carbon-sequestering potential, but given the long-term drought situation and the predilection of California olive producers to plant massive monocultures (see photo;) it seems like a stretch. But I’d love to be proven wrong! Link
A new proposal from the editor of ImpactAlpha: Rename ‘Generation Z’ to the “reGeneration”. Plus 6 investment trends to watch – Link
Dear Paul Hawken, I disagree: Regeneration is not “all about meeting current human needs.” Regeneration is much more than that, focusing on the potential of whole living systems. Aiming for people get to some minimum set of needs met is not enough. Nevertheless, I’m excited to see the next book:) Link to Interview
Management & Governance: Do you know how Holacracy is different from Regenerative Business? Link
Ethan Soloviev’s big-picture interpretation of this month’s news:
There are 5 primary intellectual and practical Lineages of people who are using the term “Regenerative Agriculture”. Each Lineage has a different definition, farming philosophy, and approach to growing their community. In the last year, one of them is quickly (but quietly) out-growing the others. I’ll write about these in more detail in another post soon, but here are the Five Lineages of Regenerative Agriculture:
1. Rodale Organic – Basic organic agriculture practices promoted by Rodale since the 1970s, re-dubbed “Regenerative Organic” in recent years and requiring the tenets of organic agriculture as a baseline. The focus is soil. CPG brands have been strongly promoting this lineage, most notably through the Regen Organic Certification.
2. Permaculture/Regrarians – Permaculture as a global movement loves the IDEA of regenerative agriculture, but for the most part fails to achieve significant levels of agricultural production. Regrarians, emerging from permaculture, has for decades integrated Holistic Management, Keyline, and ecological design processes at farm-scale around the world.
3. Holistic Management – promoted by both the Savory Institute and Holistic Management International, focusing on a comprehensive decision-making framework designed for animal-centric ecosystem regeneration. Last month Savory released their Land to Market Ecological Outcome Verification system, with backing of some significant food brands.
4. Regenerative Paradigm – over 50 years ago, the term ‘Regenerative’ was developed by Charles Krone to describe a radically different paradigm of approaching human and systems development. Guided by the Carol Sanford Institute, a small but effective community of practice including Regenesis, Terra Genesis International, and others has applied the paradigm to Business, Design, Planning, Education, and Agriculture.
5. Soil Profits / No-Till / NRCS – Typified and led by Ray Archuleta, Gabe Brown, and others, this lineage draws practices and inspiration from other Lineages but appeals strongly to conventional farmers by eschewing the dogmas of organic agriculture and focusing on bottom line profits through increased soil health.
This final Lineage is the one that I see quietly experiencing exponential growth – dominating the Regen Ag mentions of middle-America newspapers and actually being adopted by mainstream conventional farmers.
By bypassing prejudices against ‘organic’, and allowing farmers to still use synthetic inputs, this lineage is received openly enough to then show the economic arguments for decreasing inputs and improving soil through good crop rotation, no-till, and grazing practices
The narrative that something as effective and sexy as “Regenerative Agriculture” is available to conventional farmers is a big deal. While I think this lineage misses opportunities through its incompleteness and dis-integrative approach, I believe it is incredibly important for the world to watch and support its growth and evolution.
– Ethan Soloviev
P.S. If you’re interested in some in-person learning, I recommend the upcoming Regenerative Earth Summit – I’ll be speaking there along folks from Patagonia, North Face, Eileen Fisher, Savory Institute, Fair Trade USA, Rodale Institute, and the American Sustainable Business Council. I hope to see you there!
If you enjoyed this issue of Regeneration Newsroom, please forward this to a friend that would find the information valuable!
Ever thought about starting a business or building a career in regenerative agriculture? Prepare to get creative—and to get some dirt under your fingernails.
Ethan Soloviev is a founding team member of Terra Genesis, an international regenerative design consultancy. He helps create resilient and profitable businesses by redesigning supply chains to make them regenerative.
How did Soloviev find his way to his current career? Let’s just say that the guy who in his early 20s traveled the world to study apples, didn’t exactly follow a linear career track.
In this interview with Regeneration International, Soloviev covers several topics related to regenerative agriculture, including what types of experiences you might want to get under your belt if you’re contemplating a career in the fast-growing field of regenerative food, farming, and natural products.
This interview has been edited for brevity and readability.
Regeneration International (RI): Tell us about yourself.
Ethan Soloviev (ES): I’m a designer at Terra Genesis International. We grow the field of regenerative supply by working with companies around the world to transform supply chains into networks of resource production. I am also the EVP of Research at HowGood, which rates the sustainability of food, personal care products and cleaning products. We’re working to change the overall direction of the marketplace, and also to empower consumers to purchase and choose the best products that they can.
RI: How did you build your career in regenerative supply networks, agriculture and design?
ES: It’s been 15 years now. I did a degree in biology and afterwards I traveled around the world studying apples. I visited some amazing places—Sweden, Kazakhstan, Japan, New Zealand, Chile, Central America—and I got to see a global picture of how apples are grown. That really woke me up to agriculture and the damage that monoculture chemical industrial agriculture systems around the world are doing. That led me to permaculture. I took a Permaculture Design Course (PDC) and started a permaculture business back in 2005. I grew that business (AppleSeed Permaculture LLC) for a decade. It’s still one of the largest Permaculture Design businesses in the northeast of North America.
We started doing small-scale edible landscapes and eventually built up to larger design work, doing 300-1200-acre farms. I learned a lot about farm design and startup. People would often say, “It’s great to create food forests and ponds and biointensive vegetable gardens but it’ll take time, investment and energy to get this going—can it really make a return?” So we started running the numbers. We schooled ourselves very quickly in agronomics, and built a series of enterprise budgets to check if an enterprise was going to be economically viable. We found that a lot of the brilliant ideas of permaculture need to be checked against the economic reality of whatever place you’re working in to see if there’s something that can be sustained beyond the initial excitement.
RI: Right, the big question in the regeneration movement right now is “how do we scale regenerative agriculture?”
ES: It’s interesting, I go back and forth about whether “scaling” regenerative agriculture is the right thing to do. Part of me really wants to do it and wants to do it as fast as possible. It’s early and we’re heading towards the birth of a new industry. The supply of regenerative goods and massive landscape restoration that regenerative agriculture enables can produce multiple forms of profit. So it is exciting to think, “How fast can we scale this?”
However, another part of me has a different perspective. Regenerative agriculture is not a machine. We’re actually seeking to regenerate whole living systems. All of the language in the startup and venture capital communities is derived from a mechanical paradigm, where “scaling” means adding more machines to do more of the same work. Humans, and landscapes, are not machines. So I don’t think “scaling” is the appropriate metaphor for regenerative agriculture.
At the same time, I think now is a moment when we can and should work to quickly grow the community. How can we reconcile the two perspectives?
RI: What are the biggest gaps in knowledge in the movement right now that young people looking to get into the industry could fill?
ES: The biggest gap is investable enterprise —enterprises that have proven business models that actually capture carbon in the soil, increase biodiversity and generate financial capital returns. Proven business models and experienced teams will be required to metabolize the slow money and venture capital that is out there looking for a place to land.
Most of what I see in the regenerative movement is big ideas and excitement but not a lot of reality about how to pull off those ideas. That’s another big gap. There are many things that we can do to create enterprises worth investing in. Whether we’ll see exponential or linear or logarithmic growth, I’m not sure, but I do believe that working with the current system ofaccepting investment capital is going to be the fastest route to move forward and set the foundation for the real birth of a new industry.
The movement needs people who have depth of knowledge in what they’re doing. We need people who have experience running and growing businesses, or who want to go and get that experience. Even more, we need people who can do the farming. People who can actually get out there and run a holistic management livestock operation with multiple species on multiple pieces of land, who can successfully repair the land and grow food. We also need people with experience growing nut trees and fruit trees—perennial crops have already proven to be profitable, and they are our best bet for rapid global carbon sequestration. Then we need to integrate the two, bring together livestock operations and perennial tree crops—that’s where the fun really starts.
RI: For people who don’t have that in-depth knowledge or experience, where should they start?
ES: People would do well to hone in on what they’re really excited about. If it’s nut crops, great! Go for that. If it’s animals, great! Go for that. If a number of people can get depth in these functional farming enterprises and collaborate with other people who have gone and acquired the business skills along the way, that will lead to the creation of new enterprises. We could call this integrative depth. We’re really going to need teams of people working together to move regenerative agriculture forward.
I think we need about 1000 companies to really take this on. The restraint and challenge with that right now is that there are only about 10 businesses that have even said that they want regenerative supply systems. Those companies are great. Some of them are large and moving in this direction quickly. But they aren’t enough.
The 1000 companies need to be a combination of 1) existing companies who agree to pick up and take on regenerative agriculture, transform their supply systems into regenerative supply, and 2) new ventures with totally fresh perspectives, drawing from fresh investment sources.
RI: What is TGI doing to get those other 990 companies on board? And how does that relate to developing your client base?
ES: Terra Genesis focuses primarily on the natural products industry—food, consumer packaged goods and cosmetics. The exciting thing for our clients is there’s actually a real business case for regenerative agriculture. We carry out risk assessments where we look at a company’s supply chain, which includes all of the ingredients in their portfolio whether it’s 5 or 500. Then we ask, “What are the risks right now?” “What are the opportunities?”
A lot of times the opportunities come from where a company is purchasing from of the commodities marketplace, whether it’s cocoa butter or citric acid or almonds. We hone in on those and look for ways to go directly to producers who are really pushing the edge on regenerative practices. By cutting out the multiple middle-people that are implicit in the commodity supply chain you can get prices that are similar or even better, while simultaneously offering real living and cultural capital profits on the ground for farmers. There are actual cost saving potentials in doing this inside a supply chain! And then we help our clients leverage the story of doing this.
Businesses that take a step in this direction, especially now, they get to be leaders. They’re early adopters and they will fully shine at the top. Patagonia, Nutiva, Lush Cosmetics and Epic are all talking about regenerative agriculture. They have real leadership in the marketplace.
Fortunately there’s a lot of room in a lot of different categories for businesses to step up and head towards regenerative agriculture.
RI: Which categories have the most potential right now?
ES: Cosmetics. Cleaning products. Sunscreen. Clothing. In food, there are so many opportunities! I don’t think there’s a potato chip company that is doing regenerative agriculture yet. How about an ice cream company? Tea. Soda. Almonds. Any kind of fruit. Olive oil. Salt. Bread. Beer. In any category brands are always looking for ways to position themselves as #1 (that’s one of the immutable laws of marketing). I think regenerative agriculture is a powerful tactic for this—it almost creates a new category for brands to step into and lead.
RI: What are your top favourite design courses that you recommend, to help people build the right skills to work in this industry?
ES: If you’re new to this realm, take a Permaculture Design Certification (PDC). You can do that while working your job that you don’t really like, at a bank or at a software company or wherever. The reason I say that is that while it is useful to grow and build skills in certain practices, what’s more useful if you want a career in regeneration is to evolve your paradigm. To do this, you have to disrupt your current paradigm. The PDC will do that. PDCs are an emersion in ecosystem thinking and whole systems design. Go get the certification. It’s a great start.
The next level of depth I recommend is taking a REX course from Regrarians, which is really the best training in regenerative agriculture that’s out there. In the past our team has run Carbon Farming Courses, and we’ll be re-starting some carbon farming education later this year. Also excellent would be any trainings in holistic management, from Savory Institute, or Holistic Management International. They’re different, but both are good.
RI: After taking some of these training courses, what next?
ES: Go work on a farm. You need to actually work, and then ideally manage a perennial agriculture or an agroforestry or a livestock-based system. If you’ve got a great idea and are trying to go out there and pitch people on it and get venture capital to fund an idea, unless you have proven experience and a proven business model, it’s not really going to work.
Go get some experience! Dig in. Spend a year or two on the farming side of things actually farming and producing food or fiber. You could also explore growing crops for the personal care industry. There’s something very interesting about growing for personal care: the margins are much better than they are in food. And for single ingredients (e.g. essential oils or nut butters), if you’ve got a really good story, then you can gain leadership and sales.
L’Oreal has a plan to be carbon negative by 2020. It’s one of the five largest personal care companies in the world. They’re going to need to be purchasing fair trade regenerative agriculture products in order to achieve that goal. But there’s not enough supply for that anywhere on the planet. Maybe 1/1000th of it currently exists. So get to work!
RI: What about supply chain management courses or MBAs to complement on-the-ground experience?
ES: I’m a big fan of on-the-job learning and training. There’s one masters degree I highly recommend, from Gaia University. It’s a global action learning system that encourages people to be working at their jobs while learning and getting accredited while they do it. You could for example do an online supply chain optimization course while working for a personal care or food products company, and get credit for it.
As for an MBA, while I’m not 100 percent sure, I’m going to go ahead and say, “yes.” We need some people who are excited about regenerative agriculture to go get an MBA and report back on how useful it’s been. As we discussed earlier, I think there’s a danger in getting addicted to the “scale or die” mechanical model so popular in current business. It looks nothing like how natural systems actually work. Make sure to take your PDC as you do your MBA. Or volunteer on a local organic farm every weekend to keep it real. If there’s anybody who’s got an MBA who wants to play in this realm, let’s go for it, I’d love to talk to them and hear their experiences. I haven’t seen MBA graduates turn into leaders of regenerative enterprises or regenerative agriculture systems (yet). But I would love to!
There’s an upswell of venture capital seeking to invest in regenerative enterprises but I don’t think there’s enough farm businesses that are ready. I think this asymmetry of demand and supply has emerged partially because it’s easier to invest money than it is to farm. Overall, I think the abundance of capital is a good thing. I see it as an activating force in this whole situation. For example, Renewal Funds, Cienega Capital, Cycleffect are doing excellent work to grow the field. There’s also a handful of family offices that are investing in some of the few regenerative agriculture enterprises that are ready for investment. So there are examples to learn from and work from… but still a ways to go.
RI: What kind of resources people should prioritize studying?
ES: Dirt and trees. Chickens and cows. Spend time in forests. Follow the closest stream to the top of the watershed. Those are really the best “resources.”
Online resources are great for quickly getting content and gaining intellectual capital, but what’s more important is taking the intellectual capital and grounding it into experiential capital. I stopped going to organic farming conferences four years ago because I realized I had gathered more intellectual capital than I had put into use. When I can really and truly say that I’ve put everything I’ve learned into practice, then I’ll go back for more.
That said, there is a difference between gathering informational content and growing your ability to vision, design and execute. There is always room for growth in these realms—especially if we are aiming to regenerate whole living systems. To work here, you need to engage in a community of practice. Ideally, it’s one that can disrupt your current paradigm and help you evolve a new one. And then disrupt your paradigm again.
RI: What “communities of practice” do you recommend?
ES: There are two communities of practice that are effective in this realm. The one I’m closely linked to is the Carol Sanford Institute and the Regenerative Business Summit. Carol Sanford is an incredible mentor and guide and she’s been working in this realm for four decades. Her lineage coined the term “regenerative” more than 40 years ago and put it to work inside companies like Procter & Gamble, Colgate Palmolive and Clorox. She’s now working with companies like Google on whole-systems paradigm shifts. Her school is amazing. Joining is by invitation only. You’ve got to make a real human connection with someone who is in the school. Being part of the school is not easy. It’s disruptive, intellectually confronting and definitely not a “comfortable” experience. That said, I would be happy to talk with anyone who wants to learn more.
There is also a simpler path. If you are the leader of a business and you want your company to be one of the 1000 that will move the world, then you can apply to come to the Regenerative Business Summit. It happens every year, in the fall, in Seattle. It’s an amazing event to get a sense of what a new paradigm of work looks like, and feels like. If you want an effective path towards regenerative business, this is a good place to start.
The other group that I recommend is Regenesis. They offer a series called “The Regenerative Practitioner,” which leads to connection with an international community of practice that’s putting the regenerative paradigm to work. It’s more focused on design, architecture and development but there’s great learning you can get there that can be applied to regenerative agriculture.
If you want to head into business, check out the Carol Sanford Institute and Carol Sanford’s books, especially for case studies. The Responsible Entrepreneur and the Responsible Business actually should be called the Regenerative Entrepreneur and the Regenerative Business but the publishing company (many years ago) basically thought that nobody would know what the word means… so they’re called “Responsible” but they’re really about regeneration. They’re the best books out there on the subject.
RI: I remember being introduced to Regenesis in Mexico City last year. They ask you to commit to attend several workshops, at least four.
ES: It’s an amazing group, definitely worth attending—but as I said, not necessarily “easy.” It’s important to commit over time, because regeneration takes a while to get going. It takes some time to disrupt your paradigm so that you can step into a new one. It takes some disturbance in a landscape for a the soil to start holding water and growing trees and really regenerating. Just going to a one-off workshop, you may get some inspiration. Reading a bunch of things on the internet, you may get some cool ideas. But committing to a school of practice that’s actively working on regeneration is a whole different world.
RI: One of the feasible ways to scale up or help the movement grow is to help others replicate frameworks that are working. Is TGI thinking of doing that, of helping other people do what you’re doing?
ES: TGI is definitely growing and adding new clients and team members rapidly. If you want to come engage, let us know. Formal education to train other consultants to do what we do doesn’t really make sense yet. I could see that potentially happening in the future. If anyone is interested in learning how TGI is working with clients, contact us and we’ll look for an opportunity where there’s space to play. Anybody can always come work with us if they bring a client.
I want to push back against the idea of “replicating” as a goal. This stems from that same perspective of a mechanical paradigm. TGI doesn’t do the same work with any client, ever. Every business is a unique business that has its own essence that we reveal. Nobody else has it. And if a company can use that, grasp it and work with it, then they become non-displaceable in the marketplace. There is a process that we use that has internal coherency from one client to the next, but it isn’t “replication”. Part of regenerating whole living systems is that, like real natural systems, you never do the same thing twice.
RI: It’s really skills for facilitating businesses through a process.
ES: Yes, but no. Do you know what the root word of facilitate is?
RI: Facil. To make easy.
ES: We don’t always make it easy for our clients. Making it easy isn’t always the right thing to do. Of course we have to “facilitate” from time to time, but our main work is more in what we call “resourcing.” Resourcing is supporting businesses and executives to re-source themselves: To become the source of their own fresh thinking. This is not based on trends in the marketplace or customer surveys. Using whole living systems frameworks, they develop their own image of what’s emerging in the world and how to head in that direction. That is not an easy process. People don’t like doing it.
Most businesses aren’t willing to do the hard work it takes to be regenerative.
When TGI works with a company we ask them to commit for three to five years. It takes that long to break out of old ruts and really disrupt and innovative. Like the personal growth and development we discussed before, it requires commitment over time.
RI: Any closing words you’d like to add?
ES: You originally asked “how do you find a career in regenerative agriculture?” You can’t. They don’t exist. You have to go make them. And that means you’re either, 1) growing an integrative depth of experience in particular area that you have connection to and real commitment for and then start your own company, or 2) figuring out how to contribute value to an existing business that is heading in that direction.
RI: Anything else?
ES: Let me just make a quick note about NGOs and nonprofits. They’re great, there are lots of them and there are more NGOs talking and thinking about regeneration than there are businesses currently—for example Kiss the Ground, The Carbon Underground, Carbon Drawdown, Savory Institute, Soil Carbon Coalition, Green America, Biodiversity for a Livable Climate, International Living Future Institute, Holistic Management International, Regenerative Agriculture Foundation, Rodale and of course Regeneration International. All these organizations are doing excellent work and we partner with them wherever appropriate. That said, TGI has the belief that business is the most effective route through which large systemic world changes can occur. Therefore, we focus on business.
So… go get that integrative depth! Join a company that’s headed in this direction or start your own.
The key is not to focus on the “practices” of regenerative agriculture, but instead to disrupt, shift and evolve your paradigm and continue to do that in an ongoing way. If we have enough people doing it and taking their own unique paths to do it, then we can head towards the 1000 companies we need focused on regenerative agriculture.
When we do that we’ll be well on our way to birthing a new industry, and that’s really what I think is the bigger direction here for anyone interested in having a career in regenerative agriculture. We have to think big and beyond what’s currently there and work together, intensively, quickly to make it real.
Here’s a short & sweet primer on carbon farming, mislabeled as regenerative agriculture:) Larger and larger venues picking up on the concept, exploring it with great interest and low rigor. – [Link]
Succinct introduction to regenerative agriculture in ‘The Conscious Carnivore Guide’ from the New Food Economy. – Link
There’s slow but steady news of small farms aiming for regenerative agriculture trickling into mainstream press: Like here from western Canada, here from southern Minnesota USA, and here from North Carolina USA.
This industrial greenhouse operation growing growing mostly non-organic with chemicals claims they will go regenerative… I’ll believe it when I see it! – Link and Link
Ben Dobson and the good folks at Hudson Carbon offer a new write-up (kind of like their extended definition) of regenerative agriculture. Includes some interesting ecosystem-derived insights. The group’s practical on-the-ground work and scale are outstanding, though I think their mostly-soil focus misses the deeper layers of Regenerative Agriculture that are possible. – Link
You can now grow monoculture corn, till, spray pesticides, not be organic, not necessarily increase soil carbon, and still be a “Regenerative Farm”. Amazing how fast the watering-down is proceeding. – Link
Aside from the flagrant mis-use and banalization of “regenerative”, the results from this peer-reviewed article are awesome and encouraging! Turns out basic conservation ag practices increase farm profits and have some positive effect on biodiversity. – Link
Some quotes from the article [brackets are my addition]:
“Pests were 10-fold more abundant in insecticide treated corn fields than on insecticide-free [so-called] regenerative farms,”
“[So-called] Regenerative fields had 29% lower grain production but 78% higher profits over traditional corn production systems”
“Profit was positively correlated with the particulate organic matter of the soil, not yield”
“Simply applying individual regenerative practices within the current production model will not likely produce the documented results.”
Are 20 million acres of land really going to transition to regenerative agriculture? Here’s a UN project scaled with massive government support and an innovative public/private financing system. World Agroforestry Centre involvement; key will be “placing farmers at the forefront of knowledge creation and dissemination.” – Link
(Top podcast this month) Investing in Regenerative Agriculture – My friend Koen van Seijen interviews up-and-coming organic grains powerhouse Pipeline Foods. I recommend listening to his whole series. – Link
Rodale Institute scientists explain their case for regenerative ag. Rodale’s perspective is mostly focused on tried-and-true organic farming practices that produce small increases in soil carbon – there’s a lot more that can be done if trees are added to the mix through agroforestry. – Link
Ecosystem Diversity Prevents Insect Pressure with John Kempf. – Link
A Cattle Farmer & Consultant jam on regenerative ag. – Link
World Bank leads an effort to promote agroforestry for major commodity crops (Corn, Soy, Palm Oil), also explores crops that should be grown in agroforestry systems (Cocoa, Coffee, Shea). – Link
Food Tank interviews Wood Turner of Ag Capital, who have recently adopted the term “Regenerative Agriculture” without any apparent change in their large-scale monoculture operations. The perennial nature of their crops (Hazels, blueberries, citrus) does indeed make them more likely to have a net-positive impact — but as far as I can tell they haven’t documented it, or done anything deeper than using a new word. Nevertheless, this is a good read. – Link
3 Trillion committed to invest in “companies that factor climate risks into their strategies”. While at first glance this might seem great, it will not lead directly to regenerative agriculture or even much change from business as usual – many global petroleum companies put a lot of focus on upcoming climate risks… – Link
Wide Open Ag raises $5m (AUD) in IPO on ASX exchange. Company claims to be doing “diversified, regenerative agriculture”. They use the “4 Returns” Framework developed by the Commonlands Foundation. – Link
$15m Raise – Midwestern Bio-Ag is a stalwart in good organic agriculture practices, products, and support. They’re partnering with General Mills (including a multi-million dollar investment) on the Gunsmoke Farms project, which while touted as “regenerative.” Looks like it will basically be organic. – Link
Six Lessons from Investor Survey As land-grabbing continues and local communities fight back, it is imperative for investors to consider land rights when making agricultural or natural resource investments. USAID surveys the field and presents 6 key findings. (They’re kind of obvious :/ but it’s a good start.) – Link
Related, and more interesting: Indigenous peoples manage or own more than 25% of earth’s land?!? Thank goodness. – Link
Sail Cargo – Here’s a far-out investment opportunity from the past, for the future. Carbon-negative sail-trade of regenerative agroforestry product. I recommend going through the investor booklet. – Link
Leadership is not about motivating or inspiring people. Wait, what? – Link
This business has been rocking it for a while. Great article on Dr. Bronner’s regenerative agriculture work – Link
Herbal infused drink-maker REBBL raises $20 million to continue growing – Link
Competition for regeneration – Still a long ways to go until a functional business sprouts here, but the initial numbers sound good… Link
Ethan Soloviev’s big-picture interpretation of this month’s news:
“Regenerative” Agriculture has within the last 6 months exploded beyond it’s previous audience and advocates, who were primarily in the permaculture and holistic management communities. With its quick expansion has come immediate watering-down, with most people now thinking that regenerative agriculture just a few basic conservation agriculture practices. (I beg to differ – see this white paper for details.) Even non-organic farms practicing tillage, using insecticides, and not certified organic can be “regenerative” – without regard for whether or not they are actually regenerating anything.
Following General Mills’ lead, other Ag & Food business conglomerates will also announce “regenerative” initiatives. I predict that Bayer-Monsanto and others will start promoting “Regenerative” agriculture within 24 months.
What does this mean? The greenwashing will continue to grow in scale and brazenness. The farmers and entrepreneurs working towards deeper levels of regenerative agriculture will continue their work with integrity, but it will be harder for them to stand out and differentiate their offerings. Certifications like the “Regenerative Organic Standard” won’t do much to help, because their checklist-format criteria can’t account for the unique brilliance of individual farms and farmers.
I hope I’m wrong. Stay tuned in the coming months to find out.
– Ethan Soloviev
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I asked 20,000 people for the first 3 videos they would show someone to introduce them to regenerative agriculture. Here’s what they said…
Out of a total of 35 videos recommend, 6 rose to the top. I grouped them into two categories: “Start Here” (~20 minutes or less) and “Go Deeper” (Usually 1 hour or more).
If you want to add your vote (or recommend another video!), check out the “Methodology” section below for a link to the public spreadsheet and original posts.
Videos 20 minutes or less in length
1. How to green the world’s deserts and reverse climate change
2. Life in Syntropy
3. Greening the Desert
These top videos on regenerative agriculture have been viewed (according to YouTube, and TED) about 7.5 million times. That’s about 0.1% of earth’s population (and if you’re like me, many of those views are repeats;). How could we invite more people to engage with regenerative agriculture?!?
Here are the top videos that are more than an hour long
1. Inhabit: A Permaculture Perspective
2. Tomorrow (Demain)
3. Treating the Farm as an Ecosystem
The full set of videos clearly highlight the three primary lineages of regenerative agriculture that are active in the world today: Permaculture, Holistic Management, and (Rodale)-Organic. I’ll write another post soon that covers these in detail.
Of the 36 videos, all (except for 1) are in English. Where’s the regenerative agriculture documentation in Mandarin? Arabic? Spanish? Hindi? Russian?
These videos overwhelming feature men. Where are the feature-length inspirational portrayals of regenerative agriculture leaders like Precious Phiri, Doniga Markegaard, and Daniela Ibarra-Howell? What can the regenerative agriculture community do to support and make visible the incredible work women are doing in this space?
This weekend I gifted a fellow farmer a chestnut tree. As I was driving I was thinking,
“What is this tree worth, really?”
So I did the math. A chestnut tree starts yielding nuts at around 10 years old. (They may produce sooner, but I’ll be conservative here.) Some chestnut trees can live to more than a 100 years old. Again I’ll be conservative and say that this tree will produce 50 years of crops.
Once in production, a chestnut orchard will yield 1,000 – 2,000 pounds per acre per year. Let’s assume the low end at 1,000 pounds. Now, how many chestnut trees are in an acre? With the spacing I use in my plantings on various landowners’ properties, I start with ~50 trees per acre.
That means that over it’s lifetime, each tree will average about 20 pounds of chestnuts per year. Over 50 years of crops, that means each tree will yield 1,000 pounds of chestnuts.
Now, the price of chestnuts varies greatly. Small conventionally produced nuts can go for $5 per pound at retail, while fresh local organic chestnuts can sell for upwards of $16.50 per pound. Nuts.com has a 1 pound bag of dried chestnuts at $13.99 and 1 pound fresh at $9.99; on Amazon you can buy 5.25 pounds of organic chestnuts for $44.99, which works out to ~$8.5 per pound.
I am small farmer with abundant local markets, so I’ll assume a mid-range price of $10.00 per pound. That means, over the 50 years of nuts produced…
This one chestnut tree will generate $10,000 of revenue.
If there’s a glut of local organic chestnuts, I can imagine the price dropping a bit. If I decide to sell wholesale, getting $5.00 per pound is not unreasonable. And it’s not at all hard to imagine selling local organic chestnuts around the holidays for $15.00 per pound. $15,000 of revenue per tree sounds pretty good to me!
In a few years I’ll be able to line out the cost side of this equation, though the maintenance of chestnut trees is pretty darn minimal compared to most tree crops. Basically I just mow (or graze) the orchard, prune in the winter, and harvest. That’s a LOT less work than our permaculture apple orchard, or almost any of the other crops we grow.
Needless to say, I am excited about chestnut trees. I’m planting a them on 5 farms throughout the Hudson Valley, and landowners keep emailing asking if I can plant on their land too. Let’s get a few thousand acres into chestnuts in the next few years, and generate some fresh income for farmers and rural communities. How long until NY has a million dollar chestnut economy? If you ask me, not long.
Gary Paul Nabhan invited me to keynote the annual Food & Finance Forum in Arizona. I took the opportunity to juxtapose different Levels of Regenerative Agriculture with the most-used financing strategies currently available. The result? See for yourself below:
As I say around half an hour in, send me an email if you want to read the full Levels of Regenerative Agriculture white paper.
Here’s a little preview of the 5 paths to financing agriculture that I discuss in the talk. More details starting around 33:30 in the talk.
The Q&A starts at 57:26 – some great questions from the audience. I discuss the problems of ranking & rating systems, how to face the concentration of wealth and power in the hands of a few, and why we can’t just “go back” to ancient sustainable agriculture.
Got more questions on this talk? Let me know in the comments below.
‘Define’ literally means, “bring to an end.’ It comes from the Latin verb, definire, composed of de- ‘completely’ + finire ‘to bound, limit,’ from finis, ‘boundary, end.’ This is the opposite of regeneration.
Confining the subject to a single “ending or limit’ would be antithetical to the processes that our discipline seeks to bring into agriculture.
Insisting on a single definition would put a wall around our agricultural landscapes, separating them from the natural world.
Instead of defining Regenerative Agriculture, I would like to offer you a lens through which to explore and evolve your understanding. You can see this lens as a prism: each time light passes through it you can see new colors, new patterns, and new ways to approach the subject.
This prism takes the shape of a continuum.
On one end is “degenerative” – those processes, practices and protocols that decrease the health and wellbeing of a place, person or entity. Ecological and social degradation results from fragmentation, over-simplification, homogeneity, and destructive reactivity. There is a loss of possibility, opportunity, and individual agency.
On the other end of the continuum is “regenerative.” Here the vitality of a farm, a community, or a watershed is on-goingly developed and enhanced. The capacity and capability of the place or entity evolves, growing its complexity, interconnectedness, and ability to express its uniqueness into the world. New potential emerges that has never been seen before.
This continuum can be used to explore any system, from an individual farm to an international industry. Here we will explore it’s application to agriculture. Just as a prism spreads wavelengths of light, the regenerative continuum can be expanded to focus on different aspects of agriculture. Note that this is not “separating” different “parts” of agriculture, but rather seeing into the living whole process in order to discern aspects of how it works and its effects on the world.
I created this initial diagram in 2011 while doing some local volunteer work with the Rondout Valley Growers Association. It emerged from discussions with local farmers, sparked by the question, “What will it look like on the farm of the future?”
The diagram shows a continuum of practices and characteristics of farming, from industrial chemical conventional systems to holistically managed carbon farming polycultures. This is the first rendering I had seen that could be called a “Regenerative Agriculture Continuum.”
But this diagram didn’t just pop out of a single conversation. Part of the purpose of this article is to daylight, acknowledge, and credit the sources that have inspired the Regenerative Agriculture Continuum’s development. Just like the “Books that changed my life” series, I want to show how my thinking has changed over time and invite you to evolve yours.
The first time I saw a ‘continuum’ of any sort was in a 2005 Northeast Organic Farming Association presentation by Dave Jacke, co-author of the the excellent two-volume Edible Forest Gardens. He showed what he called the “Nature-Agriculture Continuum”, which highlights the differences between conventional agriculture systems and untended “natural” systems.
Jacke sites “Farming in Nature’s Image” by Judy Soule and Jon Piper as the source of this concept and the specific characteristics described. Seeing this continuum was eye-opening for me, especially because it explained and distilled the experiences I had in the wild apple forests of Kazakhstan.
One interesting corollary that Dave Jacke explained in his talk is that ‘organic agriculture’ seeks to start on the left side of the continuum and over its practices back towards the right. Permaculture (and some agroforestry) on the other hand, begins on the “nature” side of the continuum and works to move the food production aspect back towards “agriculture”. This insight was undoubtedly a seed of my later work expanding the continuum… but at that point, I hadn’t even heard the word “regenerative”.
In 2009, I saw a talk by Bill Reed of Regenesis. Coming from the realm of green building and architecture, infused with permaculture thinking and the work of Pamela Mang and the rest of the Regenesis Group, Bill presented this Trajectory of Ecological Design:
This was transformative for me. I saw that the “sustainable” ideal that I had adopted for years was simply not sufficient. Sustainability was only the edge of degeneration – barely stopping from doing bad!
Bill shared a metaphor from Zen and the Art of Archery: “If you aim directly at the bullseye on the target, you will inevitably fall short. Instead, you must aim at a spot 200 feet past and through the bullseye. Then you’ll have a better chance of hitting your target.”
Working towards “sustainability” was no longer enough – we would inevitably fall short and be in a slightly less bad version of the current degenerative situation. It became essential for me to aim for regeneration, hoping and working to pass through sustainability along the way.
Around this time we changed the tagline of our consulting business AppleSeed Permaculture to “Regenerative Design and Development.” I asked Bill how I could get involved with the work of Regenesis and he said “We’d be happy to work with you. All you need to do is bring in a client that we can engage together.” It wasn’t until many years later that the offer came to fruition.
In the meantime, working with family farms and new agriculture enterprises in New York’s Hudson Valley, I took the idea of a “Degenerative to Regenerative Continuum” and specified it to agriculture. The concept evolved over many years doing permaculture design around the world, from the mango groves of northern Thailand to the mountain orchards of Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan.
At Terra Genesis International Gregory Landua and I applied the continuum to specific agricultural commodities, laying out the farming practices from degenerative to regenerative for crops like apples, cacao, almonds, honey, jojoba, and cattle. More crops are being explored each year.
The continuum continues to develop. Looking back at the earliest version pictured above, the mistakes and lack of understanding are obvious –especially on the regenerative end of the continuum. I had experienced so few farms that were actually working towards regeneration, and was not farming myself at the time.
Most people have not seen, felt, and tasted the potential of regenerative agriculture. While this is a challenge, it is also an exciting opportunity: As the global Regenerative Agriculture community continues to develop, the ‘regenerative’ end of the continuum will get more specific, beautifully complex, and evolutionary. In fact, we may even leave the continuum altogether.
Where did you first see a regenerative continuum? How has it shaped your journey? Let us know in the comments below.
The term Regenerative Agriculture is cropping up allovertheplace. The annals of the internet are growing almost daily with articles, blog posts, tags, and tweets about farmers, corporations, and foundations shifting their attention toward the new hot thing: Regenerative Agriculture.
It is wonderful to see such a broad-scale conversation happening about agriculture, ecosystem health, and soil carbon. Unfortunately, in all the buzz, many of the definitions of Regenerative Agriculture that have emerged do not live up to its full potential.
Most focus solely on soil carbon, ignoring biodiversity, water cycles, and human wellbeing. And while soil fertility and carbon sequestration are hugely important to our planet’s capacity to grow food, they are the tip of the iceberg as far as what Regenerative Agriculture can mean and do for us.
Regenerative Agriculture is a system of farming principles and practices that increases biodiversity, enriches soils, improves water cycles, and enhances ecosystem services.
Regenerative Agriculture aims to capture carbon in soil and aboveground biomass, reversing current global trends of atmospheric accumulation. At the same time, it offers increased yields, resilience to climate instability, and higher health and vitality for farming communities.
The system draws from decades of scientific and applied research by the global communities of organic farming, agroecology, Holistic Management, agroforestry, and permaculture.
All Regenerative Agriculture Practices are guided by Principles, which are uniquely applied to each specific climate and bioregion:
From these four emerge a diversity of Practices, which have been most extensively defined and studied for the first Principle. This definition presents these most-explored Regenerative Agriculture Practices, leaving space to articulate Practices for the other Principles in the future.
Some of the Regenerative Agriculture Practices that can progressively improve whole agroecosystems are No-Till Farming, Organic Annual Cropping, Compost & Compost Tea, Biochar & Terra Preta, Pasture Cropping, Managed Grazing (HM, Savory HM, AMP, MIG), Animal Integration, Aquaculture, Perennial Crops, Silvopasture, Agroforestry. (Here’s Sheldon Frith’s list for some diversity.)
Regenerative Agriculture develops out of the living system of connection between humans and their ecosystem through agriculture. Like living systems, Regenerative Agriculture will evolve and grow.
This definition is a starting point: We welcome a global conversation to continue developing and improving it so we can effectively reverse climate change and regenerate the planet.
What are your thoughts on Regenerative Agriculture? What will happen if the “definition” only includes soil carbon? What’s the most important action you can take to grow adoption of Regenerative Agriculture in the world?
I gave this talk as part of the “Biodiversity for a Livable Climate” kick-off conference at Tufts University in Boston, MA. We were preparing for the upcoming Carbon Farming Course, and the talk starts with some good basic Carbon Farming and Carbon Sequestration theory.
All of the “Tools for Regenerative Agriculture” described are extremely relevant – if even 5% of farmers globally would adopt these practices there would be a massive change in agricultural livelihoods and carbon sequestered.
However, I’ve since come to realize that just teaching a set of “practices” is not sufficient.
Practices are chosen through principles, and principles emerge from paradigms. Evolving our personal paradigms, and supporting others to evolve theirs, will produce a much greater effect than simply describing, or even demonstrating, “practices”.
I’ve been working more recently with fellow farmers on understanding, “What are the paradigms of agriculture?” and “What paradigm am I currently thinking through?”
The ‘Levels of Agriculture’ workshop I gave recently at the Young Farmers Conference aimed in this direction. The ‘Levels of Regenerative Agriculture‘ white paper is a deeper dive into the regenerative realm.
Enjoy the video and let me know what’s relevant for you!