We understand that every farmer approaches his/her operation differently to account for unique characteristics and challenges, be it climate, soil type, topography, crop history, markets, labor, or equipment. Using that context, farmers can then assess which principles, or combination of principles, are best suited for their operation.
Understand Context - No two farms or ranches are the same, and the regenerative agriculture principles should be implemented based on the environmental, economic and cultural context of each unique operation.
Minimize soil disturbance – Soil is very porous, like a sponge, and tilling soil weakens its structure. It collapses on itself, hardens, and over time loses its ability to absorb water or allow roots to grow. Reducing or eliminating tillage, along with limiting other disturbances like overgrazing and over-application of nutrients and pesticides, can reverse this process.
Maximize plant diversity – Many problems that farmers and ranchers have to deal with – such as pests, diseases and poor nutrient cycling – can be traced to a lack of diversity in the agricultural system. Including a broader range of plants and animals in the system decreases pest and disease pressure, while also supporting biodiversity and improving the health of the soil.
Keep the soil covered – Keeping the soil covered with living plants and crop residue protects it from wind, sun, hard rain, and other elements that erode it and damage the organisms living in the soil.
Maintain living roots year-round – Green, living plants are the foundation of the soil ecosystem. While most crops only grow for a few months out of the year, growing plants continually throughout the year retains nutrients and increases the supply of food to the living things in the soil, which leads to carbon sequestration, cleaner water and improved soil function.
Integrate livestock – Integrating grazing livestock on crop land benefits plants and soil in numerous ways. Natural pruning inspires new plant growth, natural fertilizer invites helpful insects to aerate the soil and spread organic matter, and livestock movement increases nutrient cycling by trampling crop residue.understand that every farmer approaches his/her operation differently to account for unique characteristics and challenges, be it climate, soil type, topography, crop history, markets, labor, or equipment. Using that context, farmers can then assess which principles, or combination of principles, are best suited for their operation.
Measuring the Impact of Regenerative Agriculture
We are studying changes in soil health, biodiversity, and farm economics from 51 farms across the Northern Plains of North Dakota and Canada. Of those 51 farms, 45 are receiving regenerative agriculture coaching and are implementing regenerative management plans developed with their coach. Six remaining farms, two per region, will serve as conventional control farms that will be used for comparison against the regenerative farms over time. We have developed a similar design for the 24 farmers in the Kansas Regenerative Ag pilot. The following chart lays out the measurement specifics, partners and sampling frequency. A water quality measurement protocol will also be developed in 2020.
We don’t believe in templates or plug-n-play when it comes to agriculture – what works for one farmer, in one region, with a specific crop, doesn’t typically translate to another region. We know that no two farms or farmers are alike, which is why we developed our pilot program to be customized for each participant.Pictured below: Ray Archuleta, partner in Understanding Ag, demonstrates soil structure at a recent Soil Health Academy event.
Our pilot programs are comprised of:
- Multi-day workshops to provide education on the principles of regenerative agriculture, with 300 farms representing over 500,000 acres in attendance in year one. Pictured below: Understanding Ag consultant, Shane New, presents insights at Soil Health Academy training in central Kansas.
- One-on-one technical support for 45 farmers across North Dakota and Canada in our oat supply shed to transition to regenerative agricultural systems equating to approximately 50,000 acres. Personalized coaching equates to approximately one day on farm each month.
- One-on-one technical support and coaching for 24 farmers in central Kansas to transition to regenerative agricultural system equating to approximately 17,000 acres. Personalized coaching equates to approximately one day on farm each month.
- One-on-one technical support and coaching for 3 dairies in western Michigan to integrate regenerative practices into their field crop, herd and manure management.
- These 3 dairies produce ~16% of the raw milk used in North American Yoplait® products. General Mills is providing cover crop seed for over 800 acres in 2020. Soil health, biodiversity and economic analysis on one field per farm over 3+ years to assess key outcomes associated with transitions to regenerative systems.
- Collective research about the links between farm management, soil health, water management, and different forms of biodiversity.
Regenerative Agriculture Self-Assessment Tool
As part of our approach to understand on-farm impact, we launched the General Mills Regenerative Agriculture Self-Assessment, a tool to help farmers understand how their practices align with the recognized principles of regenerative agriculture.
The self-assessment was developed in collaboration with farmers, scientists, practitioners, and a diverse group of employees across General Mills family. Following the launch of Version 1.0 in 2018, we spent 15 months piloting the inaugural version in our own supply chain while collecting feedback from farmers, scientists and other stakeholders. We hosted farmer feedback roundtables across the U.S. to engage 140 farmers who helped hone the content of the assessment so it can be useful to a variety of farmers representing diverse agricultural systems.
Version 2.0 of the General Mills Regenerative Agriculture Self-Assessment is a user-friendly tool for farmers -- inclusive of small and large, organic and conventional, crop and livestock, domestic and international systems -- to understand alignment between their agricultural practices and the principles of regenerative agriculture. The tool is also designed to help companies with agricultural supply chains gain visibility to farm-level practices. You can read more about the tool here.
Ecosystem Services Market Consortium
Since early 2018, General Mills has collaborated with external partners to design an ecosystem services market for agriculture to recognize and reward farmers and ranchers for their environmental services to society, such as soil health systems. General Mills is a founding member of the member-based Ecosystem Services Market Consortium (ESMC), which was established in May 2019.
ESMC is working with General Mills, Kansas Department of Health & Environment (KDHE) and consultants from Understanding Ag to work with participating Kansas pilot producers to identify and implement changes to their farming practices that will improve soil health to store more carbon in agricultural soils. They will also collect information needed to quantify and verify the environmental assets generated from the practice changes.
From there, ESMC will quantify the impacts and verify them independently, to generate certified credits based on actual impacts to ecosystem services attained. The certified impacts allow the benefits to be assigned to another organization’s sustainability obligations. General Mills will utilize greenhouse gas improvements in their sustainability reporting, while the KDHE will identify buyers who seek certified water quality benefits that participating farmers achieve.
The average age of farmers in the U.S. is 59 years old, and young farmers are facing unprecedented challenges to creating viable careers in agriculture. We recognize the need to help cultivate the next generation by providing resources, supporting farmer advocacy, and bringing young farmers together to ensure that they have a chance to succeed.there, ESMC will quantify the impacts and verify them independently, to generate certified credits based on actual impacts to ecosystem services attained.
National Young Farmers Coalition & Stone Barns Center for Food & Agriculture
While many of our regenerative agriculture initiatives focus on agricultural systems within our supply chain, we know that sometimes there are needs and organizations beyond our supply chain that warrant our support. We are passionate about the Stone Barns Center for Food & Agriculture’s Regenerative Farming Fellowship. Through this 6-month program, General Mills is supporting “next generation” organic and conventional farmers producing row crops, grains, oilseed and/or integrated livestock in the country’s midsection who are working on a transition to regenerative practices.
The Young Farmers Fellowship will create a peer cohort that supports participants’ development as both practitioners and ambassadors of regenerative farming. As a key component of the program, the fellows will receive advocacy training from the National Young Farmers Coalition to prepare them to take a leadership role in engaging with state and federal farm policy. The National Young Farmers Coalition is a leader in engaging young farmers around public policy to support the future of agriculture.
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