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The Definitive Guide To Regenerative Agriculture

Building a Sustainable World From the Ground Up

 

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Anne Fairfield-sonn

Addressing a Global Climate Challenge

The world population is expected to reach 9.9 billion by 2050, according to the United Nations1. The large population increase means that there will be major changes in meeting the demand for agricultural production while mitigating and adapting to climate change. Agriculture’s role in contributing to greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) is widely known but poorly understood. Since 1900, global carbon emissions have steadily increased, with agriculture, deforestation, and other land-use changes being the second-largest contributors2. Unless the industry’s impact on climate change is addressed, the impact of carbon emissions will continue to increase.

Agriculture is one of the most chemical- and resource-intensive industries globally, which has direct and indirect effects on the environment. The unconsolidated nature of agriculture and the fact that it employs roughly 1 billion people3 means that a mass consensus for change must be achieved. Responsible management of land and resources is imperative for growing operations of every size and scale in order to minimize the impact to natural environments. The industry also faces the need to balance adjustments to prevent climate change and address biodiversity, food security, and the livelihood of farmers and farming communities.

Farmers represent the future of sustainable agriculture in the US. A growing number of food producers, companies, scientists, academics, conservation organizations and government bodies are promoting, incentivizing and trying new, sustainable farming practices. As a result, there is growing support for a shift to farming practices that make regenerative agriculture more productive and resilient while also helping to mitigate – possibly even reverse – climate change by drawing down CO2 from the atmosphere and reducing GHG emissions from farming practices.

That is where regenerative farming comes in. Farming is a complex operation, often requiring years and significant investments to realize the benefits of regenerative agriculture practice changes fully. Investments include the time to learn and incorporate new practices, money to fund new equipment, fuel, and seeds, and tribal knowledge handed down from prior generations of growers.

That’s why businesses and their growers need to identify and access appropriate resources to help further their sustainability journeys.

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What is Regenerative Agriculture?

Learn more on our Regenerative Agriculture Guided Learning Pathway

Regenerative agriculture is not a prescribed set of farming practices. Rather, it is an approach to farming incorporating regionally and crop-sensitive practices that focus on rebuilding and restoring the soil through:

  1. Rebuilding topsoil and building soil fertility and health
  2. Improving water retention and decreasing nutrient runoff
  3. Increasing biodiversity, ecosystem health and resiliency
  4. Carbon sequestration by capturing and storing atmospheric carbon dioxide

The Origins of Regenerative Agriculture

Regenerative agriculture is not just the latest name or label for sustainable farming.

Agricultural sustainability traditions vary. At their core, they rest on the principle that we must meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Under a sustainable mindset, long-term stewardship of natural and human resources is equally important to short-term economic gain. Stewardship of human resources includes consideration of social responsibilities such as working and living conditions of laborers, the needs of rural and traditionally disadvantaged communities, and consumer health and safety both in the present and the future. Stewardship of land and natural resources involves maintaining or enhancing the quality of these resources and using them in ways that will not prevent them from being used for the future, but not necessarily focusing on improving them now or later4.

Sustainable agriculture practices are primarily focused on efficiency without damage. Sustainability seeks to do less harm to the environment while still meeting society’s food and farming needs. Sustainable agriculture reduces and sometimes even avoids hazardous pesticides and fertilizers. These practices result in farmers producing safer crops for consumers, while decreasing the energy required to produce the necessary yields.

However, sustainable agriculture is fundamentally a fractured rather than a holistic approach. At its core, sustainability seeks affordable continuation rather than restoration. To be clear, it is a good approach5, but an incomplete one. Cheap continuation can pull in some practices that are intrinsically good for the soil. But its objective is not the recovery and restoration of the soil.

Regeneration System

The Conventional – Sustainable – Regenerative Quadrant. Bill Reed (2007)

Conversely, regenerative agriculture is an approach to farming that focuses on sustaining soils and the environment, and improving and restoring them. By implementing practices that help restore and revitalize soils, healthier, climate-resilient yields are produced, healthy soils and biodiversity are recovered, and ecosystems— including humans— are made healthier. The regenerative approach to farming works with natural systems to repair the landscape, soil structure, ecosystem biodiversity and climate for the sake of long-term productivity and sustainability. Regenerative agriculture brings together multiple climate-resilient and sustainable agriculture methods to achieve the goal of restoring land health.

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Why is Regenerative Agriculture Important?

At the intersection of sustainability, conservationism and climate action, regenerative agriculture presents a solution that elevates and advances the goals of each of these agricultural paradigms. Regenerative agriculture mitigates climate change, creates more productive soil and supports the next generation of farmers. Regenerative agriculture presents new and more profitable opportunities for farmers to work with nature to support the health and productivity of their farm.

Regenerative agriculture encourages farmers to invest resources into restoring their most valuable asset, their land. While transitioning a farm to regenerative practices takes considerable planning and time, it provides farmers with the tools to plan for long-term success and mitigate future threats to their livelihoods.

Support for regenerative agriculture is echoing throughout the global agriculture industry. Food companies like General Mills12, Nestle13, and Pepsi14 are pledging and committing resources to make their supply chains more sustainable. The attention from household names is pushing suppliers to adopt more regenerative practices.

Consumers, too, are paying attention to the supply chains behind their goods and services. Two in three consumers in the United States, U.K. and China said that companies should invest in sustainability15

Making purchases that support regenerative practices offers consumers a new opportunity to play an active role in tackling climate change. As individuals’ concerns about climate change deepen, regenerative products are well poised to become the next big thing to take over grocery store shelves.

For brands, regenerative sourcing presents an opportunity to define themselves as leaders in the space and to address the ever-increasing consumer demand for sustainable products. The companies that commit to regenerative early on will undoubtedly find success in their business as demand continues to grow.

Who is Interested in Regenerative Agriculture?

In recent times, interest in and awareness of regenerative agriculture has exploded. As evidenced in web search term popularity, the concept of regenerative agriculture has far outpaced “conventional agriculture.”

Who is Interested in Regenerative Agriculture 1

GoogleTrends – trends.google.com search term comparison 2004-2022, accessed April 2022.

Regenerative agriculture is even now poised to overtake other, much more established concepts like sustainable and organic agriculture.

Who is Interested in Regenerative Agriculture 2

GoogleTrends – trends.google.com search term comparison 2004-2022, accessed April 2022. 

“Regenerative agriculture” first overtook “sustainable agriculture” as a search term in June 2021, and now tracks closely while rising. Concurrently, sustainable agriculture, as a search term, is trending down since 2004.

Who is Interested in Regenerative Agriculture 3

GoogleTrends – trends.google.com search term comparison 2004-2022, accessed April 2022. Regeneration surpasses organic in June 2019.

Taking search term prevalence as a proxy for general awareness of and interest in these concepts, it is clear that regenerative agriculture is an important and growing concept, especially in relation to addressing global climate change.

 

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Top 5 Benefits of Regenerative Agriculture

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How Regenerative Agriculture Creates Carbon Credits 

Regenerative agriculture goes beyond yields and profitability. While these are arguably the most immediate measures for farmers year to year, new sources of value, revenue and accounting are emerging. Of course, we mean carbon credits, insets and offsets.

When it comes to reducing carbon emissions, organizations can go about it in two ways – carbon offsets or carbon insets. Carbon offsets are the purchase of carbon credits to offset the production of a good while carbon insetting helps enterprises build sustainable activities directly into their supply chain.

Sustainability has been spreading to supply chain management. Enterprises are prioritizing how to create products that not only sell well but also have a lower impact on the environment. To help change how products are manufactured from the bottom up, organizations are looking for new ways to build carbon insetting into their supply chains.

Five Qualities of Carbon Offsets

Carbon offsets enable organizations and individuals to reduce their carbon footprint. When purchasing carbon offsets, it’s important to ensure the offsets have environmental integrity. There are five criteria for carbon offsets that are recognized by all climate bodies and are outlined by the World Resources Institute (WRI)28.

The five criteria for carbon offsets are:

Real

Offsets must represent one ton of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions that are reduced or sequestered as a result of an activity taken for that purpose. Regenerative agriculture practices qualify.
Permanent

Carbon offsets are considered permanent if they are not reversible. Avoided one-time emissions, such as a reduction in use of tractor fuel, are considered permanent. For carbon sequestration, the carbon added to the soil must remain there for 100 years to be considered permanent.

Additional

Additionality means that the carbon offsets were generated by activities that would not have occurred without a carbon marketplace as an incentive. Additionality guarantees that the purchaser of carbon offsets is making a real difference in the world by making the purchase.

Verifiable

Emission reductions and sequestration must be monitored and verified. CIBO monitors and verifies the practices of farmers enrolled in its carbon offset program.
Enforceable

Enforceable carbon offsets must be tracked and logged so that ownership is verifiable and an offset may only be sold once. CIBO provides enforceable carbon management by third-party verification with VERRA.

 

 

How CIBO Makes Regenerative Agriculture Profitable

CIBO helps companies follow through on their carbon commitments by creating a first-of-its-kind, voluntary carbon marketplace for direct access to insetting and offsetting carbon credits generated by farmers. 

CIBO connects stakeholders with the regenerative potential of land in their supply chains. The platform makes it easy to see how sustainable farming practices impact the environment and helps companies incentivize growers through generation of carbon credits and other means. By building sustainable practices into a supply chain, organizations are able to economically and environmentally align for a positive environmental impact. 

Each company is different and has different needs. That’s why CIBO works with organizations to customize their program to meet individual customer sustainability goals. The flexibility of the technology allows customization for portfolios, growers, and the ability to scale. 

Supply chain transparency is a daunting task, complicated by a vast number of suppliers, plants, distributors, and products. Gaining the ability to track each seed from the ground to the grocery store opens up doors to new opportunities for sustainable promotion. More transparency into the practices of growers helps transparency-conscious food companies more easily provide information about their grower network. The new layer of transparency delivers confidence to consumers and real impact around climate change in regenerative agriculture and in the food industry. 

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Key Features and Benefits of CIBO Enterprise

The CIBO Program Engine is integrated directly into CIBO Enterprise. This enables businesses to create and manage their grower incentive programs for carbon credit generation, Scope 3 emissions reduction, and corporate sustainability.

CIBO Enterprise with the CIBO Programs Engine streamlines the recruitment and enrollment process for private and sponsored grower incentive programs.

CIBO Enterprise with the all-new CIBO Programs Engine now combines grower enrollment and program management with award-winning, scaled MVR capabilities. Now any business can engage, monitor, verify, and report on program outcomes.

Benefits:

  • Meet ESG Goals: Through the integrated CIBO Program engine, create incentive programs to reduce Scope 3 emissions, meet sustainability goals, and/or generate carbon credits
  • Streamline Grower Recruitment and Enrollment: Leverage CIBO’s convenient workflows and scaled data to recruit and enroll growers into your programs
  • Easily Monitor Sustainbility Programs: Scaled modeling, verification and reporting allows you to:
    • Quantify current carbon footprint
    • Estimate impact of incentive programs
    • Verify practices at scale
    • Export key data for sustainability reporting

Key Features and Benefits of CIBO Grower

CIBO Grower helps land owners and operators discover, enroll in, and stack incentive programs for sustainable and regenerative farming practices.

To land owners asking, “how do i get paid for regenerative farming?” the process is simple. Through a fast and easy online process, growers are automatically matched with incentives and programs for which they may qualify. CIBO Grower then streamlines and accelerates enrollment.

Incentives include pay-for-practice programs, carbon insetting programs, carbon offset and carbon credit programs, as well as private recruitment, incentive and government programs.

Benefits:

  • Prequalify land and understand the potential return: Rapidly understand which programs you’re eligible for and the estimated regenerative land payments and incentives
  • Discover program options: Navigate incentive programs to find the best fit for your operations, with minimal commitment
  • Simplified program enrollment: Leverage CIBO’s convenient workflows and scaled data to make enrollment as painless as possible

Conclusion 

At CIBO, we believe everyone can help create a climate-resilient future. Regenerative agriculture is a key part of the solution to adopting sustainable farm management that also provides long-term productivity and profitability. The growing shift in farming practices is helping to make agriculture more productive and resilient while also helping to mitigate – possibly even reverse – climate change by drawing down CO2 from the atmosphere and reducing GHG emissions from farming practices.

CIBO helps both organizations and farmers to environmentally and economically align their choices in agriculture production. By incentivizing farmers to implement more sustainable practices, organizations can also benefit by offsetting their overall carbon footprint. Landowners and operators are now able to easily navigate discovering, enrolling in, and stacking incentive programs for sustainable and regenerative farming practices. At CIBO, we believe in helping every business and grower connect with the land in a new way. That’s why we’ve developed technologies that help farmers reap the benefits of improving the environment for all of us. Regenerative agriculture is here to help protect and improve the earth for future generations.

End Notes

  1. Hub, IISD’s SDG Knowledge. “World Population to Reach 9.9 Billion by 2050 | News | SDG Knowledge Hub | IISD.” IISD, 6 Aug. 2020, sdg.iisd.org/news/world-population-to-reach-9-9-billion-by-2050/.
  2. IPCC. “AR5 Climate Change 2014: Mitigation of Climate Change — IPCC.” Ipcc.ch, IPCC, 2014, www.ipcc.ch/report/ar5/wg3/.
  3. “Map of the Month: How Many People Work in Agriculture? – Resource Watch.” Resource Watch, 30 May 2019, blog.resourcewatch.org/2019/05/30/map-of-the-month-how-many-people-work-in-agriculture/.
  4. Shearer, Christian. “Lineages of Regenerative Agriculture: An Overview.” Regen Network Development, 6 May 2019, medium.com/regen-network/lineages-of-regenerative-agriculture-an-overview-e4f5ea8378b5. Accessed 23 May 2022.
  5. Bill Reed (2007) Shifting from ‘sustainability’ to regeneration, Building Research & Information, 35:6, 674-680, DOI: 10.1080/09613210701475753
  6. “Impact of Tillage and Crop Rotation Systems on Soil Carbon Sequestration”, Mahdi Al-Kaisi, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, PM 1871, Reviewed and Reprinted September 2008, PDF Link https://store.extension.iastate.edu/Product/Impact-of-Tillage-Crop-Rotation-Systems-on-Soil-Carbon-Sequestration-PDF
  7. Krietsch, Leigh. “Industrial Ammonia Production Emits More CO2 than Any Other Chemical-Making Reaction. Chemists Want to Change That.” Chemical & Engineering News, American Chemical Society, 15 June 2019, cen.acs.org/environment/green-chemistry/Industrial-ammonia-production-emits-CO2/97/i24.
  8. “Fertilizer and Climate Change”, 2021, Karthish Manthiram, Elizabeth Gribkoff, MIT Environmental Solutions Initiative. Link: https://climate.mit.edu/explainers/fertilizer-and-climate-change
  9. “Cover Crops for Climate Change Adaptation and Mitigation”, Feb 25, 2022, Bertrand, Roberts, Walker. https://www.eesi.org/articles/view/cover-crops-for-climate-change-adaptation-and-mitigation
  10. Lorenzo Marini et al 2020 Environ. Res. Lett. 15 124011, https://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/abc651#erlabc651s4
  11. “Diverse crop rotations shown to increase yields, improve soil health and lower GHGs”, 2021, Agriculture Canada https://agriculture.canada.ca/en/news-agriculture-and-agri-food-canada/scientific-achievements-agriculture/diverse-crop-rotations-shown-increase-yields-improve-soil-health-and-lower-ghgs
  12. “Regenerative Agriculture 2020.” Www.generalmills.com, www.generalmills.com/Responsibility/Sustainability/Regenerative-agriculture.
  13. Nestlé’s Net Roadmap. 2021. https://www.nestle.com/sites/default/files/2020-12/nestle-net-zero-roadmap-en.pdf
  14. Pepsico.co.uk, 2022, www.pepsico.co.uk/news/stories/we-pledge-to-scale-our-regenerative-farming-practices-across-7-million-acres-by-2030. Accessed 23 May 2022.
  15. “Top Trends Driving the Global Food Industry.” Www.foodbusinessnews.net, www.foodbusinessnews.net/articles/13554-top-trends-driving-the-global-food-industry.
  16. “Paris Agreement.” Climate Action – European Commission, 23 Nov. 2016, ec.europa.eu/clima/policies/international/negotiations/paris_en#:~:text=The%20Paris%20Agreement%20sets%20out.
  17. Gilbert, Natasha. “One-Third of Our Greenhouse Gas Emissions Come from Agriculture.” Nature, 31 Oct. 2012, www.nature.com/news/one-third-of-our-greenhouse-gas-emissions-come-from-agriculture-1.11708, 10.1038/nature.2012.11708.
  18. LaCanne, Claire E., and Jonathan G. Lundgren. “Regenerative Agriculture: Merging Farming and Natural Resource Conservation Profitably.” PeerJ, vol. 6, 26 Feb. 2018, p. e4428, 10.7717/peerj.4428.
  19. “Farmer Case Studies Show the Economic Value of Soil Health Practices – Center for Regenerative Agriculture and Resilient Systems.” Www.csuchico.edu, www.csuchico.edu/regenerativeagriculture/blog/aft-case-studies.shtml. Accessed 23 May 2022.
  20. Milinchuk, Artem. “Council Post: Is Regenerative Agriculture Profitable?” Forbes, www.forbes.com/sites/forbesfinancecouncil/2020/01/30/is-regenerative-agriculture-profitable/?sh=12855377cdf2. Accessed 23 May 2022.
  21. LaCanne, Claire E, and Jonathan G Lundgren. “Regenerative agriculture: merging farming and natural resource conservation profitably.” PeerJ vol. 6 e4428. 26 Feb. 2018, doi:10.7717/peerj.4428https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5831153/
  22. de Ponti, Tomek, et al. “The Crop Yield Gap between Organic and Conventional Agriculture.” Agricultural Systems, vol. 108, Apr. 2012, pp. 1–9, www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0308521X1100182X, 10.1016/j.agsy.2011.12.004. Accessed 7 Mar. 2019.
  23. Vasilikiotis, Christos. “Can organic farming “Feed the World”.” https://www.researchgate.net/publication/228599516_Can_organic_farming_Feed_the_World
  24. “Farming Systems Trial – Rodale Institute.” Rodale Institute, 2018, rodaleinstitute.org/science/farming-systems-trial/.
  25. Ersek, Kaitlyn. “Top 5 Benefits of Regenerative Agriculture [INFOGRAPHIC].” Holganix.com, 2018, www.holganix.com/blog/top-5-benefits-of-regenerative-agriculture-infographic.
  26. Can Regenerative Agriculture Replace Conventional Farming? – EIT Food.” Www.eitfood.eu, www.eitfood.eu/blog/can-regenerative-agriculture-replace-conventional-farming. Accessed 23 May 2022.
  27. LaCanne, Claire E., and Jonathan G. Lundgren. “Regenerative Agriculture: Merging Farming and Natural Resource Conservation Profitably.” PeerJ, vol. 6, 26 Feb. 2018, p. e4428, 10.7717/peerj.4428. Accessed 17 Oct. 2019.
  28. Goodward, Jenna, and Alexia Kelly. “Bottom Line on Offsets.” Www.wri.org, 8 Jan. 2010, www.wri.org/research/bottom-line-offsets.
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