At CIBO, we talk often about how regenerative agriculture can reduce and sequester greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs), making regenerative ag a strong weapon in the fight to reduce and reverse climate change. Regenerative ag is also a tool that can promote climate resilience in the food system.
In this post, we explain:
- What climate resilience means
- How sustainable ag can help
- How different players in the food system can promote regenerative ag
- How CIBO can support food system actors in their climate resilience programs
What is climate resilience?
Climate resilience refers to the planning, actions, and policies that organizations can implement now to mitigate the risks caused by climate change. The effects of climate change, unfortunately, are already taking place. While we do all we can to reduce GHG emissions and sequester GHGs to slow and reverse climate events, we can also be taking action to reduce and prevent damage caused by extreme weather.
One of the benefits of regenerative agriculture is that it promotes climate resilience in the food system at the same time that it helps to reduce GHG emissions and sequester them in the soil. In row crop farming, regenerative ag practices can include crop rotation, cover cropping, conservation tillage, and reduced nitrogen use. Together, these practices create climate-resilient crops and soils that better stand up to extreme weather. This protects our food, our ecosystems, and large sectors of our economy all at once.
How does regenerative agriculture play a role in food system climate resilience?
Regenerative ag practices help ensure food security in a changing climate by preventing erosion, slowing and preventing nitrogen leaching, protecting watersheds, replenishing soils, promoting soil biodiversity, and boosting the stability of fields that might flood in a wet year and fail to hold water and nutrients in a drought year. Regenerative ag does this by:
Building healthy soils
Reduced tillage and cover cropping increase the amount of organic matter in the soil. This improves water penetration and retention. The result is that during wet years, the soil helps to control flooding, while in drier years, the rain that does come is stored better. Healthily porous soil, also a result of regenerative practices, allows plant roots to go deeper into the ground when they need to for water and nutrients. All of this means that farmers can continue to grow nutritious food in seasons of sub-optimal weather conditions.
Limiting soil erosion from water and wind
As crop roots grow deeper into healthy soil, they hold it in place so that wind and water cannot cause as much erosion. Similarly, cover crops in between cash crop seasons, as well as minimal tilling in the fall, help to keep soil in place year-round. Therefore, even when climate change is causing strong storms and rain, farmers are able to maintain robust topsoils.
Improving growers’ ability to control pests and disease
Certain pests and diseases thrive as conditions become warmer and wetter, threatening crop health. As historically temperate areas of the world warm up because of climate change, they become more susceptible to these threats. Fortunately, regenerative agriculture can mitigate these risks as well. Crop rotation and biodiversity lead to stronger plants that can withstand disease, and they disrupt the proliferation of pests and unwanted bacteria or fungi.
How can different players in the food system ensure climate resilience through regenerative agriculture?
From farmers to consumers to those in between, there are opportunities for multiple actors within the food system to promote regenerative ag and the climate resilience that it leads to.
Farmers who implement regenerative practices, including low/no-tillage, cover cropping, and crop rotation, are increasing climate resilience within their own operations and throughout the web of our food system. Healthier soils, reduced pest proliferation, and reduced need for inputs mean that farmers are protecting their own profitability and continuity of operations, especially in growing seasons that see extreme weather conditions. They are also reducing risk for the entire food system that depends on their output.
Food businesses have an opportunity to promote climate resilience in their supply chains by incentivizing farmers for regenerative ag. They may choose to pay for practices like cover cropping and low/no-tillage, or they may pay a premium for ingredients that are verified sustainably or regeneratively grown. Paying farmers more for sustainably grown ingredients reduces risk for food brands, ingredient buyers, and food manufacturers in two ways:
- It provides multiple income streams for the farmers they depend on, increasing the likelihood that growers will remain financially sustainable and operational in changing conditions.
- It increases the likelihood that farmers will implement sustainable practices, making food supply chains safer from volatile weather.
Finance and Insurance
Like food businesses, financial and insurance organizations that serve farmers have an opportunity to build climate resilience into their business models as well as the system as a whole by incentivizing farmers for practices that reduce risk. Lower interest rates and insurance premiums for farmers implementing soil-healthy practices means that more of them will adopt these. In turn, insurers and financial institutions are reducing their own risk because clients in their portfolio will be inherently more operationally stable and less at risk of financial damage resulting from climate change. As companies in the financial and insurance sectors seek projects for investor-demanded ESG initiatives, support for regenerative ag is a win all around, benefiting people, the environment, and the bottom line.
A growing proportion of consumers care about where their food comes from. They want to support farmers and brands who do the right thing, and they are savvy about how their purchasing choices hurt or help climate change. In a 2020 consumer survey by the International Food Information Council, over 70% of respondents said that they were at least somewhat concerned about climate change, and over half of those indicated that their concerns sometimes impacted their food and beverage choices.
Meanwhile, the term “regenerative agriculture” is starting to enter the consumer lexicon, too. Whole Foods Market named regenerative ag its #1 food trend for 2020, complete with a list of brands to support in order to be part of the trend.
Consumer demand for climate- and soil-friendly products is already growing. Informed shoppers know that climate has an impact on health, safety, and quality of life. As they learn more about climate’s impact on the security of the food system, these same consumers will want to support food brands with supply chains that are verifiably climate-resilient.
How CIBO Can Help Your Organization Become More Climate-Resilient
CIBO helps organizations with ag in their supply chain quantify their environmental impact, build incentives for growers in their network to adopt regenerative ag, verify and report on if, when, and how those practices were implemented. CIBO is ideally suited to enterprises that have a strong desire to lean into the future of regenerative agriculture at scale — leading to climate resilience for themselves and throughout our food system.
Meet with CIBO to learn more about customized solutions for your business.