Widespread adoption of large-scale conventional agricultural production over the last century -- including single crop production, heavy use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, and intense tillage -- has contributed to substantial greenhouse gas emissions as well as a decline in soil health, water quality, and biodiversity. At today’s rate of soil degradation, some scientists predict the world’s topsoil could be destroyed within 60 years.
In contrast to conventional production, regenerative agriculture is a holistic system of practices and principles that seek to improve, not degrade natural resources. Some of the most common practices to achieve this outcome include cover cropping, minimal tillage, long crop rotations, intercropping, rotational grazing, and incorporation of animals. Regenerative agriculture could play a key role in solving the climate crisis, offering a possible avenue to sequester carbon while securing food and water supplies. To unlock these benefits, widespread investment is needed to catalyze the development of regenerative agriculture markets at scale.
This year, the Regenerative Agriculture Initiative (RAI) conducted a landscape analysis of ongoing efforts to accelerate regenerative markets in the United States. Informed by interviews with more than 60 leaders in the field, including farmers, investors, food companies, nonprofits, and regulators, the team uncovered four main barriers to the widespread adoption of regenerative agriculture: insufficient farmer training programs, the cost of farmland, nascent markets for regenerative products, and the current crop insurance system. A year-long process of research and analysis has yielded a four-part article series to address each key barrier.
Students interested in agriculture have an exciting opportunity to build on a successful first year by exploring research questions important to them and connecting with innovative practitioners. CBEY invites returning students to propose new project ideas to pursue in the coming year.
Learn more about how to submit your proposal by July 17, 2020 here.
A special thank you to Steve Wood of The Nature Conservancy and David LeZaks of The Croatan Institute for advising on this project.
In addition, we would like to acknowledge all of the stakeholders who took the time to be interviewed for this project: Esther Park at Cienega Capital, Benneth Phelps and Jacob Israelow of Dirt Capital, Alex Mackay of Iroquois Valley, Phil Taylor of Mad Agriculture, Betsy Taylor of Breakthrough Strategies, Jeff Goodwin of the Noble Research Institute, Meaghan McGrath of Plenty, Tina Owens of Danone, Erin Eisenberg of Funders for Regenerative Agriculture, Debbie Reed of Ecosystem Services Market Consortium, Chelsea Carey of California Healthy Soils Initiative, Jen Werbitsky of Armonia, Chris Larson and Spenser Shadle of New Island Capital, Emily Oldfield of Yale, Jacob Holzberg-Pill and Grace Oedel of Dig In Farm, Dominck Grant BioCarbon, Jen Molnar of The Nature Conservancy, Andrew Rose and Kathi Levin of MidAtlantic Farm Credit, Anna Johnson of The Center for Rural Affairs, Deborah Atwood of Meridian Institute, Holly Rippon-Butler of National Young Farmers Coalition, Paul McMahon of SLM Partners, Mike Sesko of Frontier Farmland, Steele Lorenz of Farmers Business Network, Luke Smith of Terra Genesis, Emma Fuller of Granular, Kellee James of Mercaris, Christopher Jospe of Nori, LaKisha Odom of the Foundation for Food and Agriculture, Tom Hockenberry and Steven Rosenzweig of General Mills, Keri Hayes and Sarah Levesque of the Regenerative Food Systems Investment Forum, Caitlin Colegrove of Target, Gabe Brown of Understanding Agriculture, Pete Nelson of AgLaunch, Sarah Carlson and Sally Worley of Practical Farmers of Iowa, Kelly Bryan of Village Capital, Linsday White formerly of the USDA-NRCS, Lauren Ashbrook of Indigo Agriculture, Kristine Lang and Carl Rosier of Rodale Institute, Mary McCarthy of Forum for the Future, Tim LaSalle and Cindy Daley of Chico State, Liliana of Tin Shed Ventures, Alex Cordova of the USDA, Matt Zieger of Village Capital, and Sara Eckhouse of FoodShot, Eric Jackson of Pipeline, and Dan Kane of Yale.