Building a regenerative agricultural system

Farming and technology are more than climate change solutions

Sustainability and regenerative ag are terms typically tied to the soil. But leaders at the World Agri-Tech Innovation Summit are focusing on building a holistic regenerative system: from deploying capital and securing financial resiliency for stakeholders to ensuring the next generations will want to return to the family farm.

Panelists discussing this topic include:

  • Robyn O’Brien, Co-Founder of rePlant Capital
  • Kevin O’Donnell, Global Director Sourcing & Operations Sustainability at General Mills
  • Karsten Neuffer, Global Chief Commercial Officer of Indigo Ag
  • Marion Meyer, Chief Strategy & Innovation Officer at BayWa
  • Stefan Furnsinn SVP President Digital Farming at Yara

Future of Farming

“We have inherited systems that don't work in the 21st century,” says Robyn O’Brien, co-founder of rePlant Capital, a financial services firm investing in scalable climate solutions. “We have knowledge that we didn't have 10 years ago, and we're aware of the capacity of the soil in a new and vibrant way, which brings enormous opportunity to the industry.”

Opportunity and collaboration remain the key words amongst panelists.

Stefan Furnsinn comments on the impact of a demanding food system. “Ultimately it boils down to 500 million farmers delivering food to all of us. If we're not careful, we add constraints and we already know how demanding the lives of farmers are.”

Furnsinn continues by saying the opportunity lies in turning the food system around and rewarding farmers for delivering against the high demands in a sustainable fashion.

Karsten Neuffer, Global Chief Commercial Officer of Indigo Ag, is passionate about working with farmers around the world to grow a good crop in an environmentally stable way. Neuffer recognizes that to meet consumer and climate demands, companies like Indigo Ag must step in.

“We have the opportunity to help farmers achieve all these objectives at the same time, which are often seen as conflicting with each other,” Neuffer says. “Growing high quality and high quantity crop while being environmentally sustainable is the future of farming.”

Indigo Ag is developing new business models like Indigo Carbon, which was launched more than a year ago. “Indigo Carbon focuses on the additional carbon opportunity where we believe farmers can play a key role in contributing positively to revert some of climate change by actually sequestering carbon back into the soil,” Neuffer explains.

Indigo Carbon helps farmers identify necessary practice changes that drawdown some carbon back into the soil. The company works with famers to register, verify, and sell carbon credits to interested buyers. “In this way, farmers can benefit from getting an additional source of income into their farming operation,” Neuffer says. “Of course, this is a very complex undertaking and requires a broad collaboration to make it all happen.”

Challenges remaining in the carbon markets include scalability, consistent and scientifically verified definition of soil-sequestered carbon credits, and acceptance in voluntary and compliance markets.

Harnessing Technology

The future of farming, according to the panelists, also means leaving the one-size-fits-all, top-down approach of farming that has left many economically compromised.

Marion Meyer, Chief Strategy & Innovation Officer at BayWa says, “There is no one answer on the complex question of how farming can positively impact climate change.”

Meyer explains the variety of strategies available are due to advances in technology.

“We know more about the soil now than ever because we can pull data out of the soil with satellite imagery, drones, and sensors,” Meyer says. “We have to strengthen these efforts but look for a combination of technology and crop management practices.”

One of the opportunities with technology is personalizing the management practices to a granular level. Considering soil as a database takes into account soil type, rainfall amounts, crop varieties, nutrient needs, etc.

“To give the right insights, we need to look at a lot of data and analyze the multitude of factors that influence profitability, yield, and other factors for farmers,” Furnsinn says. “The equation is getting more demanding, and therefore our ability to deal with this information is critical, which is what technology can deliver.”

“Farmers are the heroes in this story,” Kevin O’Donnell, Global Director Sourcing & Operations Sustainability at General Mills, says. “At the end of the day, it comes down to the farmers who are open to new approaches and solutions.”

Last year, General Mills set a commitment to advance regenerative agriculture on one million acres of farmland by 2030. O’Donnell says that is just the tip of the iceberg for the company.

“Improving soil health is the cornerstone for regenerative agriculture. We define it as a holistic, principles-based approach to farming and ranching that seeks to intentionally strengthen and enhance ecosystems and community resiliency,” O’Donnell explains.

Regenerative agriculture should be less about ticking a box on a checklist and more about measurable outcomes that make a difference to the farmer and society.

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