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Program

Regenerative Agriculture Initiative

The Regenerative Agriculture Initiative is a new student effort at CBEY that aims to inspire and educate decision-makers to support and invest in regenerative agricultural models.

sunset over field

The Problem

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.

contact info

If you want to learn more or potentially get involved in this initiative, reach out to us at cbey@yale.edu.

 

Our current projects

Defining Metrics & Incentives for Investments in Regenerative Agriculture:

As corporations and investment firms alike have taken an increasing interest in funding efforts to mitigate humanity’s impacts on climate and biodiversity, projects that utilize ‘regenerative’ agricultural practices have recently received unprecedented attention and capital. 

But you might not guess this from what’s happening on the ground. The problem is not just that some farmers and investors see the regenerative agriculture movement as a greenwashing exercise. Numerous investors who see opportunity in the growing demand for broad, structural change in our food system are struggling to put capital to work, while at the same time many established farmers cannot readily find partners to finance their regenerative transitions. A new generation of firms who seek out farmers as partners, not clients, have stepped into this gap and are developing innovative ways to overcome challenges and unlock opportunities for farmers to invest in their land. 

Through literature reviews and in-depth interviews with investors, corporate buyers, and farmers, our project seeks to clarify what makes investments in regenerative agriculture 'work' for both farmers and financiers. How can farmers who want to invest in a regenerative transition, taking up-front risk to improve the long-term health of their farms, connect with capital providers? Rather than taking a one-size-fits-all approach, how can these firms meet farmers where they are and build tailored financial solutions? And, perhaps most importantly, how can this process bring historically marginalized farmers back to the table as partners in a shared future? 

Getting these first steps in the regenerative transition right could result in a watershed movement in American agriculture while getting it wrong will almost certainly have dire economic and environmental consequences in the future.

Student research team: Colin Custer, Alex Healey, Harrison Meyer, Ryan Smith

Linking Surf to Turf: Coupling New England Agriculture and Aquaculture for Regenerative Approaches in Coastal Food Systems

From seaweed farming to oyster cultivation, our coasts represent some of the world’s most dynamic and vital regions of food production. As climate risks and development pressures rise in coastal ecosystems, there is increasing attention from both researchers and policymakers on the potential of oyster aquaculture and kelp cultivation as opportunities to mitigate the effects of climate change, while providing nutritious food sources and enhancing natural resources. Onshore, similar efforts to bolster resilience on coastal land-based farms through improving soil health, cover cropping, and other conservation agriculture practices have gained significant traction in recent years. Comparatively less discussed is how these regenerative approaches on land and at sea can be effectively integrated for regenerative approaches in coastal foodscapes.

From gathering seaweed to use as fertilizer on farms to burying crushed oyster shells as a soil conditioner, marine food sources played a key role in nutrient cycling for coastal farmers in New England. This sea-to-soil connection faded from common practice in the 20th century with the rise of chemical fertilizers and commercially available mulches. Our project will focus on the coastal foodscapes of New England, drawing on the already well-established shellfish and algae aquaculture industries in Maine and the burgeoning southern New England sector, to re-establish this connection. Our research will explore the relationship between regenerative practices on land and at sea, the historical use of and future opportunity for effective integrated approaches, and the policy priorities at the national and regional levels that would be required for systems change in coastal foodscapes. Ultimately, we aim to frame how to effectively couple aquaculture and agriculture businesses as a holistic, systems-level approach to regenerative practices along New England’s coastline.

Student research team: Kelly McGlinchey, Ryan Clemens, Ivan Morales, Violet Low-Beinhart

Soil Policy Recommendations for Connecticut

We believe fighting climate change starts with soil. Healthy soils have the potential to capture large amounts of carbon emissions through regenerative agriculture. Increasing soil organic matter improves soil quality, encourages below-ground carbon storage, and decreases erosion. As a result, healthy soils support biodiversity, water retention, and crop yields. Unfortunately, conventional agriculture practices have historically led to carbon emissions and soil degradation worldwide. Management practices have the potential to improve soil quality and carbon capture. Policy is key to defining and supporting best management practices.  Soil policy can include any number of efforts to increase soil health and quality through financial, technical, and educational support. Currently, most soil policy initiatives focus upon on-farm management practices that improve soil quality. 

Connecticut can lead the way in the Northeast. Agriculture has historically been a significant industry in the framework of Connecticut’s economy. As the industry continues to grow with locally-sourced food gaining popularity1, there is an opportunity to utilize local farms across the state as vehicles to sequester carbon and fight climate change. Building off the soil policy initiatives in states including California, New Mexico, and Colorado, our project team is focused on a soil policy proposal for the state of Connecticut. Our efforts will compile relevant research, expert perspectives, and policy analysis in a white paper that will provide a professional resource for Connecticut lawmakers to elevate soil solutions in agricultural and environmental policy. Our project’s goal is to provide a viable path to help combat climate change through soil policy that promotes regenerative agriculture.

Student research team: Phoebe Hering, Mary Marshall, Janey Lienau

 1https://www.usda.gov/media/blog/2014/06/12/farming-rise-connecticut

Previous projects

People & Partners

Tagan Engel

Resident Fellow at Yale Center for Business and the Environment
Producer at The Table Underground

Stuart DeCew

Executive Director at Yale Center for Business and the Environment
MBA 2011
Master of Environmental Management 2011

Colin Custer

MBA 2024
Master of Environmental Management 2024

Alex Healey

MBA 2023
Master of Environmental Management 2023

Program Alumni

Claire Lafave

Kathryn Sierks