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General Mills Aims to Drive Regenerative Agriculture on 1 Million Acres by 2030

GM’s sustainability officer says training, programs will boost soil health and economic resilience.

One of the nation’s largest food companies has pledged to “advance regenerative agricultural practices” on 1 million acres of farmland by 2030.

General Mills – whose brand portfolio includes staples such as Cheerios cereals, Blue Buffalo dogfood, Annie’s natural homegrown foods, and Yoplait yogurt plus nearly 100 other products, on Monday said it will partner with organic and conventional farmers, suppliers, and farm advisers in key growing regions to “drive the adoption of regenerative agriculture practices.”

These practices are proven to help farmers improve overall their bottom line, says Jerry Lynch, chief sustainability officer at the Minneapolis company. 

“Practitioners who have done this the longest point to the fact that in extreme years, their farms will do better than those who do not,” Lynch told Successful Farming in a phone interview Monday. “After some transition time, depending on their location and cropping system, farmers are saving a lot of money because they’re using fewer inputs.” 

And, those farmers who adopt regenerative practices are improving water quality, reducing soil erosion, sequestering more carbon and generating a smaller carbon footprint, while saving money at the same time, Lynch adds. 

General Mills is working with farmers and advisers to provide technical assistance on how to adopt regenerative agriculture practices. For instance, interested farmers can participate in two-day Soil Health Academy training programs, hosted by Understanding Ag. Longtime soil health advocates Ray Archuleta, Gabe Brown, and David Brandt are providing input into these academies.

“We have been feeding families for over 150 years and we need a strong planet to enable us to feed families for the next 150 years,” said Jeff Harmening, chairman and chief executive officer of General Mills in a statement. “We recognize that our biggest opportunity to drive positive impact for the planet we all share lies within our own supply chain, and by being a catalyst to bring people together to drive broader adoption of regenerative agriculture practices.”

“The trend is increased demand and coupled with a dwindling natural resource supply, and the pressure facing farming communities, we are concerned with that,” Lynch adds. “The farming community and Mother Nature provide the ingredients for what we aim to sell.” 

General Mills aims to source 100% of its top 10 priority ingredients by 2020. By the end of its 2017 fiscal year, it had accomplished that goal with palm oil and fiber packaging. Other key agricultural commodities in its top 10 priority ingredients include U.S. raw fluid milk, sugar beets, corn and wheat, plus oats, cocoa, sugarcane, and vanilla. 

The global food system accounts for roughly one third of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and 70% of water consumption, the company claims.

Regenerative agriculture practices focus on pulling carbon from the air and storing it in the soil in an effort to help the land be more resilient to extreme weather events. General Mills will partner with key suppliers to drive adoption across key ingredients including oats, wheat, corn, dairy feed, and sugar beets. 

“Our first on-farm training and education academies will focus on North American growers where we source high-quality oats for Cheerios, Annie’s, Cascadian Farm, Nature Valley, and Blue Buffalo,” says Jon Nudi, president of North American retail for General Mills.

General Mills is granting $650,000 to nonprofit organization Kiss the Ground to support farmer training and coaching through Soil Health Academies where growers will learn how to increase farm profitability, build resiliency into the land, and decrease input costs using soil health practices.

“Investing in soil health and regenerating our soils has numerous benefits including water infiltration, reduced pest pressure, resilience to unpredictable weather, and reducing greenhouse gasses,” added Lauren Tucker, executive director of Kiss the Ground. “We have an opportunity to not just sustain our natural resources, but to restore them for generations to come.”

Today’s announcement builds upon the company’s commitment to improve soil health and to reduce its absolute GHG emissions by 28% across its full value chain by 2025. General Mills reported it is nearly halfway to that goal, with its GHG emissions footprint down 13% in 2018 compared to 2010. Last year, General Mills announced an agreement with Gunsmoke Farms in South Dakota to transition 34,000 acres of conventional farmland to certified organic acreage wheat and other organic rotational crops. The farm will grow wheat to make Annie’s pasta products.

General Mills also drives awareness of regenerative agriculture with consumers through its brands. For example, in 2018, Annie’s launched two limited-edition products with ingredients grown using regenerative practices, and this year will offer two additional regenerative agriculture products: Macaroni & Classic Cheddar and Shells & White Cheddar. Cascadian Farm, in partnership with The Land Institute, is working to commercialize organic Kernza, a perennial grain whose 10-foot-long roots are able to capture carbon and water, while preventing soil erosion. And EPIC Provisions is helping connect mission-based companies to progressive livestock producers using regenerative practices. Its Sweet & Spicy Sriracha Beef Bites product was the first consumer packaged product to feature the Savory Institute Land to Market Ecological Verification Outcome seal, which measures outcomes vs. practices.

Healthy soil is the foundation for regenerative agriculture and since 2015, the company has invested more than $4 million to advance soil health initiatives. Previous and ongoing examples of General Mills’ work include:

  • Development of The Soil Health Roadmap in partnership with The Nature Conservancy, which outlines key steps to achieve widespread adoption of soil health systems on more than 50% of U.S. cropland by 2025. These efforts could deliver $50 billion in societal benefits annually.
  • Development of a Regenerative Agriculture Self-Assessment tool to help farmers understand how their practices influence soil health, biodiversity, and economic resilience.

General Mills announced a net profit of $2.131 billion in 2018, up 28.57% from 2017. 

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