We will advance regenerative agriculture practices on 1 million acres of farmland by 2030.
At General Mills, our business is rooted in the earth because we rely upon the output of Mother Nature and farming communities – oats, wheat, dairy, corn, sugar beets and a whole host of crops and livestock – to make food the world loves. Threats to agriculture, like extreme droughts and floods, impact our business and our ability to help feed a growing population. To drive growth and increase resilience, we need to move beyond just sustaining our planet, and use our scale to start regenerating it. If you are a farmer click here to learn more about how our plans relate to you.
We believe the most promising solutions start with healthy soil. Healthy soil has the ability to pull carbon out of the atmosphere (where in excess quantities it is a harmful greenhouse gas) and store it underground where it can restore nutrients and feed an array of biology and life. This is important because up to one-third of greenhouse gas emissions stem from the food system, an estimated 80% of which comes from agriculture.*
So, we are on a journey to make a meaningful difference through Regenerative Agriculture, which we define as agriculture that protects and intentionally enhances natural resources and farming communities. We believe that to generate positive impact at scale, all types of agriculture – organic and conventional – can be part of the solution.
In 2019, we publicly announced an ambitious commitment.
We estimate that one million acres is more than 20% of our North American sourcing footprint, roughly the size of the Grand Canyon!
Just as no two farmers are alike, no two farms are identical and regenerative agriculture isn’t a one-size fits all approach. However, there are common principles that when implemented in tandem, like integrating livestock and keeping a living root in the ground year-round, prompt and expedite desired outcomes.
Among its many benefits, regenerative agriculture principles can pull carbon from the air and store it underground to fuel a vast array of life. Also, keeping the soil protected from erosion under an armor of living plants and crop residue can help suppress pests by promoting natural competition to reduce the need for synthetic pesticides.
Regenerative Agriculture works best when the farming or ranching operation is viewed as an ecosystem. There are six core principles of regenerative agriculture that we use as the basis for our work:
We believe measuring outcomes is critical to ensure that regenerative agriculture practices lead to desirable outcomes. Our approach seeks to connect regenerative agriculture practices to real and measured outcomes across five key areas:
Farmer Economic Resilience
By restoring and enhancing natural ecosystem processes like water and nutrient cycling, pest predation and weed competition, regenerative agriculture improves ecosystem function and builds resilience over time. This supports productivity, while reducing reliance on inputs needed to combat system stressors like pests, nutrient deficiencies, and diseases.
Soil is a complex ecosystem that forms the base of the food chain for humans and all land animals. Soil also plays an essential role in balancing the earth’s ecosystem and our climate. Healthier soil can hold more water, increase resilience to floods and droughts, supply more nutrients to plants, and purify water.
Crops, animals and communities rely on clean water to flourish. Regenerative agriculture helps maximize water use efficiency in rain-fed and irrigated systems. In addition to water utilization, these same practices can reduce agriculture’s impact on water quality, helping to protect and restore clean water in nearby streams, rivers and lakes.
Diversity in plants, grazing animals, wildlife and insects helps to improve soil health and build resilience to pests and diseases in farm and ranch ecosystems.
Cow and Herd Well-Being
Health of the ecosystem is linked with the health of the cow. Regenerative agriculture includes rotational grazing and feeding cows a diverse mix of crops, both practices that support cow health. Healthier cows build resiliency back into the whole dairy ecosystem.
We have multiple workstreams underway to advance the use of these principles, including pilot programs, brand activation, land conversions, research and investments.
To begin advancing our one-million-acre Regenerative Agriculture commitment, we have partnered with Understanding Ag to activate pilots across three of our priority ingredient regions – the Northern Plains of North Dakota, Saskatchewan and Manitoba; the Southern Plains of Kansas; and Michigan. Each of these pilots provide farmers with practical tools to implement regenerative agriculture including one-on-one coaching and technical assistance for three years, customized plans for implementation in their operations, soil health testing, farmer networking communities, and biodiversity and economic assessments to demonstrate impact on outcomes over time. For more information about our Pilot Programs, click here.
Northern Plains Oat Pilot
In March 2019, General Mills launched its first regenerative agriculture pilot with farmers in the Northern Plains across North Dakota, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. The 3-year pilot is comprised of 45 oat growers. Participating farmers have access to continuing education via the Soil Health Academy, technical support from an Understanding Ag coach, farmer-focused field days and a private Facebook group to encourage ongoing exchange of ideas and best practices.
Farms enrolled in the Regenerative Agriculture Oat Pilot
Southern Plains Wheat Pilot
In January 2020, General Mills launched a regenerative agriculture wheat pilot with farmers in the Southern Plains of Kansas’ Cheney Reservoir watershed which provides water to more than 400,000 Wichita residents. The company targeted this watershed in conjunction with the Kansas Department of Health and Environment to improve water quality as part of the statewide Watershed Restoration and Protection Strategy.
The 3-year pilot is comprised of 24 wheat growers in and around the 650,000-acre watershed where more than ninety-nine percent of the land is used for agricultural purposes. Participating farmers will have access to continuing education via the Soil Health Academy, technical support from an Understanding Ag coach, farmer-focused field days and a private Facebook group to encourage ongoing exchange of ideas and best practices. (link to more information)
Farms enrolled in the Regenerative Agriculture Wheat Pilot
Blue dots represent farms in the General Mills regenerative agriculture wheat pilot who are receiving 1-on-1 coaching (24 farms).
The green dots represent farms in the Soil Health Partnership program doing on-farm soil health experiments (15 farms).
Great Lakes Dairy Pilot
In June 2020, General Mills launched a regenerative agriculture dairy pilot with three dairy farms in Western Michigan. These dairies, all operating within 100 miles of the Reed City plant, produce fluid milk used in North American Yoplait® products.
Farmers in the 3-year pilot will receive one-on-one technical support and coaching to integrate regenerative practices into their field crop, herd and manure management. In addition, General Mills is helping to fund on-farm cover crop research as well as providing cover crop seed for over 800 acres in 2020. Soil health, biodiversity and economic analysis will be conducted on one field per farm over 3+ years to assess key outcomes associated with transitions to regenerative systems.
Additionally, General Mills is funding a team of leading researchers from Cornell University and the University of Wisconsin-Madison to model holistic impacts from change in farm management. This team is developing data-driven tools that will empower dairies to build resiliency in their business and dairy ecosystem.
Participating farmers will have access to continuing education via the Soil Health Academy, technical support from an Understanding Ag coach and farmer-focused field days.
Farmers enrolled in Regenerative Agriculture Dairy Pilot
The way we source ingredients is our biggest lever for positive impact. Our work in regenerative agriculture comes to life for consumers through our products. As we continue our journey to communicate and establish the importance of Regenerative Agriculture to consumers, on-pack real estate is a powerful way for us to introduce commitments, progress, and the farmers with whom we are partnering in this journey.
Our Annie’s identity-preserved Mac & Cheese and Limited Edition Bunny Grahams are examples of how we use real estate on pack to engage consumers and celebrate leading edge farmers who are using regenerative practices like diverse crop rotations, cover crops, and pollinator habitat.
Through its partnership with the Savory Institute, EPIC helped create the Land to Market Program to connect conscientious companies and consumers to progressive livestock producers making a positive impact on their land through regenerative practices. The Land to Market Program allows consumers to easily identify food that has been sourced from verified farms implementing practices that increase water, soil and climate health.
Food Should Taste Good
In December 2019, our Food Should Taste Good brand launched its first-ever Sustainability webpage to bring consumers on the journey of how the brand is supporting positive farming practices. The page highlights Food Should Taste Good’s commitment to sustainable farming practices by sourcing ingredients like flax, quinoa and sunflower seeds from farms that care about the earth. The brand also updated its packaging to provide better transparency about the ingredients.
In 2018, General Mills and Gunsmoke Farms LLC signed an agreement to convert 34,000 acres of conventional farmland to certified organic acreage by the end of 2020. Located west of Pierre, South Dakota, the farm will grow certified organic wheat and other crops as part of a diverse rotation to build healthy soil. Regenerative Agriculture practices will be deployed during the transition period including the planting of more than 3,000 acres of new pollinator habitat throughout the farm in partnership with the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation (Xerces Society). This type of long-term, direct contracting is unprecedented for General Mills and the industry. Agreements like these provide farmers and landowners a high level of security, which supports them in making a transition of this magnitude. When the transition to organic is complete in the summer of 2020, General Mills will use the wheat in varieties of Annie’s pasta products, including its signature Mac & Cheese.
We know that more than 99 percent of our food starts from the soil, which is why soil health is at the core of regenerative agriculture. Our regenerative agriculture commitment is the product of many long-term partnerships and investments in soil health initiatives. To date, we have invested more than $5.5 million to advance soil health on U.S. agricultural lands. Some of our recent soil health initiatives include (this is a representative list):
- The Regenerative Agriculture pilots, in addition to advancing the adoption of regenerative agriculture principles, also represent a significant investment in the advancing the science of regenerative agriculture. The research in the pilots is designed to study the effects of systems-level changes in agricultural management on soil carbon sequestration and soil health, insect biodiversity and ecosystem services, bird biodiversity, water quality, and farmer profitability.
- In 2016, in partnership with The Nature Conservancy (TNC), we published ReThink Soil: A Roadmap to Soil Health, which makes the business case for investing in sustainable soil health practices to achieve unprecedented economic benefits for U.S. farmers and businesses, as well as significant conservation outcomes for generations to come. Our 3-year, $2 million commitment to TNC, the Soil Health Institute and the Soil Health Partnership was used to develop tools and resources spanning science, economy and policy priorities to help farmers, landowners and supply chain leaders achieve widespread adoption of soil health practices on more than 50 percent of U.S. cropland by 2025.
- We funded a Quantis life-cycle assessment on fourth generation rancher Will Harris’ White Oak Pastures in Bluffton, Georgia. The study evaluated the carbon footprint of regenerative grazing on the operation and found that WOP’s system effectively captures soil carbon, offsetting a majority of the emissions related to beef production on that farm.
- We granted $735,000 to the National Wheat Foundation who is using the Soil Health Partnership model to support soil health research and educational outreach in key regions of wheat production.
- We advanced the commercialization of Kernza, a perennial grain with deep roots that shows promise in increasing soil health, carbon sequestration, water infiltration and biodiversity, through a $1 million grant to the University of Minnesota’s Forever Green Initiative and The Land Institute.
- Cascadian Farm is partnering with Grain Millers, the largest organic oat supplier in the U.S., to promote continuous improvement within organic farming in the United States. They’ve committed $125,000 through 2022 to conduct soil testing, host field days, share best practices and help remove hurdles to advancing the organic movement.
- General Mills granted $260,000 to the University of Manitoba to establish long-term crop rotation and cover crop research trials throughout the Canadian Prairies, and to conduct a 5-year study on the effects of cover crops on greenhouse gas emissions from agricultural soils.
The work we have undertaken to advance regenerative agriculture is made possible through a committed and collective effort of thought leaders and experts across the industry. The company we keep and are honored to partner with to bring this important work to life include:
| Applied Ecological Services
|| Paterson Grain, ADM and Foremost Farms
| Climate Collaborative
|| Savory Institute
| Cornell University
|| Stone Barns Center for Food & Agriculture
| Ecdysis Foundation
| Soil Health Academy
| Ecosystem Services Market Consortium
| Soil Health Institute
| Field to Market
| Soil Health Partnership
| Forever Green Initiative
| South Dakota State University
| Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research
| The Land Institute
| Grain Millers
| The Nature Conservancy
| Kiss the Ground
| Understanding Ag
| Midwest BioAg
| University of Manitoba
| National Young Farmers Coalition
| University of Minnesota
| University of Wisconsin - Madison
| Organic Farming Research Foundation
| White Oak Pastures
| Organic Trade Association GRO Technical Assistance
|| Xerces Society
Regenerative Agriculture Self-Assessment Tool
How we grow our food can positively impact climate change infographic
Most recent regenerative agriculture News Releases
Most recent regenerative agriculture Taste of General Mills Blog posts
‘Our Food Choices Matter’ short film
2020 Global Responsibility Report (Interactive)
2020 Global Report Summary (PDF)
2020 Global Responsibility Report (PDF)