Hannah Zimmerman and Jeremy Osborn
Published 1 month ago.
About a 15 minute read.
Image: James Wheeler
SB’23 San Diego concluded with the inaugural Regenerative Agriculture Summit, in which players from the field explored the shared opportunities offered by regenerative ag — where sustainable practices intersect with economic growth.
Driving change in a producer-centric system can often be a challenge in the
agri-food value chain. Often, sustainability interventions fall short of the
intended impact due to the lack of awareness of the realities of farming and
what value means. Ernst & Young (EY)’s
Partner/Principal and Co-Leader of Agriculture, Lee
Addams, and Senior Director of Strategy
Andrew Davey-Greaves kicked off
Sustainable Brands®’ inaugural Regenerative Agriculture
at SB’23 San Diego (read more in Forbes’ coverage
by discussing key levers for creating value in this space for commercial
producers and sustainability departments alike.
Commercial farmers operate through a lens of profit, effort and risk — which can
often feel unaligned with the sustainability priorities of carbon accounting,
protecting biodiversity or reducing emissions. EY has come up with a structured
approach to satisfy the needs of both sides without compromising their personal
“It has taken many years to come up with the things that we know will work on
the farm,” Addams said. “And, it is up to us to make it happen.”
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Identifying buckets of opportunity such as using cover
to create revenue streams and improve soil health, access to carbon
optimizing cost by addressing regulations through tax incentives, and brand
equity to improve reputation are all drivers that can be stacked and meshed.
For example, when you think of cover crops that bring multiple forms of value
for the producer — including cash from selling the crops, carbon credits,
selling livestock grazing rights — that same cover crop also benefits
manufacturers and retailers: The value shifts to brand equity and the
opportunity to foster relationships, as well as using the crop as an alternative
ingredient or using certifications to drive adoption.
While there is no silver bullet, Davey-Greaves said this strategy of creating
value in a systematic way that meets the needs of the farmer and the
sustainability teams “brings the right groups together at the table to speak the
same language on a given challenge. It gives partners along the supply chain the
opportunity to come together and unilaterally be motivated through a
shared-value opportunity in the same direction.”
L-R: Sally Uren, Kristine Root, Michael Rinaldi, Keith Dokho and Lee Addams
Interest and motivation in a shift toward regenerative
currently vary across stakeholders and industries. While some focus on the
environmental benefits, others may favor the social responsibility or long-term
viability of the practice. Even with its challenges, collaboration and the
sharing of strategies and processes can propel the regenerative ag movement.
In the "State of the Industry" panel, moderated by Forum for the
Future Chief Executive Sally
Uren, EY’s Addams joined
panelists Michael Rinaldi,
VP of Sustainable Business Development at Rabobank;
Kristine Root, Head of Brand
Marketing at Regenified; and Keith
Dokho, Private Sector Engagement
Secretariat Lead at the US Agency for International Development
(USAID), to discuss current successes and challenges
in the burgeoning industry.
Change can be risky and difficult for farmers; and if it doesn’t work out well,
it can be detrimental to their livelihoods and the stability of our food
systems. However, when done right and in partnership, there is proof that it can
be both economically and environmentally beneficial. Rabobank, a financial
services company, operates through a systems approach — hand in hand with
and other organizations.
“This conversation isn’t just a nice-to-have to talk about sustainability and
food and agriculture,” Rinaldi asserted. “It is an imperative to ensure the
resiliency of our food and agricultural system.”
With that being said, while brands may be committing to move to regenerative
it ultimately comes down to farmers to make those changes — which are often not
simple and require funding and resources. When you look at agriculture globally,
like EY has, there are still groups of smallholder farmers — often women — who
have the same needs as the large commercial farmers are being left behind.
“Agriculture and the supply chain are global,” Addams said. “The responsibility
to help smallholder farms advance on these challenges is critical, because
Similar to any large-scale project, it is easier to do it in collaboration
versus going at it alone. We are also at a time when many key players are ready
and excited to sit at the table. Whether it be brands, NGOs, or government —
innovation, research, funding, capital and resources are becoming increasingly
available. The government is positioned well to help increase those things both
with programs already in place and new partnerships with other countries — such
as the $13 billion and growing US-UAE partnership with the Agriculture
Innovation Mission on
that is funding regenerative ag.
“Partnerships excite me,” Dokho said. “You can’t address these issues without a
As a company, shifting that mindset from competitive to collaborative is
necessary to make this transition on a global scale. When you think of
certifications, for example, a product with the Regenefied
mark recognizes and rewards farmers
for utilizing regenerative practices. If the product gets another
regenerative-farming certification such as Land to
Market, which taps into a slightly different
approach and audience, it means the practice is just expanding even further.
There are things we can learn from each other and things we can share — knowing
ultimately, we need to get this practice to scale.
“We live in a world where there is enough,” Root said. “When we work in harmony,
just as we want our farmers to do in nature, it creates abundance.”
The multifaceted world of regenerative ag is shaped by diverse motivations and
perspectives among stakeholders and industries. While the transition to
regenerative can be daunting and financially demanding for farmers; when
undertaken in partnership with organizations, NGOs, and the government, it can
bring about not only environmental benefits but also economic sustainability.
The imperative to foster resiliency in our food and agricultural
is clear. Furthermore, the shift from competition to collaboration is pivotal
for this global transition — emphasizing the importance of sharing knowledge,
resources, and the space itself to expand the practice and create abundance.
The panel agreed the path toward regenerative agriculture's full-scale adoption
requires a collective effort; and with the current availability of innovation,
research, funding and resources, the time is ripe for this crucial
Image credit: Hammer & Kavazanjian Farms
For farms to transition to regenerative agriculture requires transparency into
how to do
and how to make money from it. The next panel — moderated by JG
Consulting founder and President Jennifer
— featured panelists Mitchell
seventh-generation Iowa farmer and founder & CEO of Continuum
Ag; and Nancy
Wisconsin farmer and Director at US Soy/United Soybean
Board, who discussed how they have broken away from
institutionalized methods in efforts to build a more ecologically balanced
For Wisconsin’s Hammer and Kavazanjian
their regenerative journey has spanned over the last 43 years under the motto,
“Our Soil is Our Strength.” While the processes have changed over that time from
conventional to regenerative, they now utilize a number of sustainable,
regenerative practices including no-till
crop rotation, cover crops, sampling soil regularly, and utilizing renewable
energies and technologies that not only protect soils but ensure that they are
able to continue to produce and be profitable for years to come.
“You need to look at these practices on a whole farm,” Kavazanjian said. “We
aren’t in it for one year; this is a long-term payoff, but we are in a long-term
Hora’s 700-acre farm in Iowa has been utilizing regenerative practices such as
no-till since 1978 and utilizing cover crops since 2013; and seeing the benefits
that came from help, transitions and learning from their mistakes. This journey
inspired the start of Continuum Ag — a software company that not only helps
farmers implement regenerative practices but also gives farmers their
carbon-intensity score, which quantifies climate impacts of on-farm practices
including cover crops, chemical management, crop diversity, and livestock.
However, each farm is different; and efficacy of regenerative principles will
depend on the specific issues relevant to the farms.
“We have to take these principles and implement them, minding the context of our
individual farm,” Hora said. “Following these principles has enabled us to be
more resilient and profitable.”
When considering how to get the resources to start a profitable, regenerative
farm, farmers should consider looking to government initiatives such as the 45Z
— also known as the low-carbon renewable-fuel tax credit, to be implemented in
2025 — which will allow farmers with low carbon-intensity scores to increase
their profits by producing for biofuel
“In my opinion, this tax credit — if implemented properly — will be more
important for the push for regenerative agriculture than the Farm
Hora said. This incentive will give biofuel manufacturers tax credits for
lowering the carbon intensity of their
below 50, and farmers whose crops are part of that product could get up to 50
percent of the cut. While most corn now produced is for animal feed, come 2025,
farmers' corn will likely be sold to biofuel manufacturers — leading to a major
disruption to the system, with farmers' profits benefiting as an outcome.
The transition represents a critical shift toward more ecologically balanced and
sustainable farming practices. The experiences of these farmers demonstrate that
regenerative farming is not just a theoretical concept but a practical and
achievable reality. Their decades-long journey from conventional to regenerative
practices showcases the transformative potential of these approaches. The new
principles and tax incentives can be influential in driving the shift towards
L-R: Tasha Tandy, Lindsay Beddow and Mikel Hancock
To reinforce the theme of the entire
week, to protect our food
systems for generations to come, we must move beyond sustainability toward goals
around regeneration. Regenerative agriculture models must holistically focus on
farmer livelihoods, scaling best practices, and place-based learning.
To dig into this, Walmart’s Senior Director of Sustainable Food and Agriculture,
Mikel Hancock, led a
discussion with General Mills Sales Director, Lindsay
Beddow, and Walmart’s VP
of Merchandising — Breakfast, Baking & Bread, Tasha
Tandy, around how their two
companies are engaging their shared value chain and advancing the practice.
Earlier this month, Walmart and General Mills announced a collaboration to shift 600k
acres of row crops to regenerative practices by
both to do the right thing for customers, the economic livelihood of the farmer,
and fighting climate change. Both the retailer and the food giant have their
to manage and restore land through regenerative ag; so, joining forces will
allow them to accelerate progress on those goals.
“This shows us what the roadmap could look like,” Tandy said. “It gives us a
footprint to repeat it over and over again, with many companies we can continue
The panelists agreed that regenerative agriculture is how food security, healthy
soils and value are all created. By connecting NGOs, industries and farmers
together, the practice will grow at a faster pace and spotlight a critical
component of our survival.
“In combination with working with a retailer like Walmart, we are able to get
the product to the end-user state in the most sustainable way,” Beddow said.
“That is the virtuous cycle we are hoping to foster.”
While there are challenges and barriers, leveraging a partnership of this scale
can ease the burden. Adoption is not an easy thing to get; so, meeting the
farmers where they are and building trust is critical.
“It’s not going to work if we assume everyone is on the same playing field,”
Beddow said. “This program is designed to meet the farmers where they are and
make sure we can provide them with the resources and tools to
The collaboration between Walmart and General Mills is a significant step toward
future-proofing our food systems. By continuing to prioritize and scale
regenerative approaches through collaborations and partnerships — versus
sticking to current practices — farmers, producers and consumers alike will
L-R: Grant Keenen and Jared Knock
After a break, Hancock returned to moderate a discussion that examined what
regenerative practices look like on the ground for complicated,
resource-intensive supply chains such as beef.
Walmart Director of Cattle Management and Procurement Grant
Keenen and Jared
Knock, a South Dakota livestock
farmer and business development leader at AgSpire,
agreed on the importance of place-based interventions in regenerative
Walmart's broader commitment to becoming a regenerative
includes a goal to convert 50 million acres of land to regenerative practices by
2030. Keenen said that while doing listening tours with its
suppliers, Walmart learned of ranchers’ need for financial and technical assistance when it came
to adopting new, regenerative practices.
Walmart’s efforts to fulfill its commitment to sourcing beef more sustainably
include providing technical advisory work on grazing management within its
vertically aligned beef supply chain and incentivizing regenerative practices in
row crops for cattle feed. A Walmart-AgSpire
partnership saw positive land-use practices
implemented on ranches in the retailer’s beef supply chain. In the pilot
project, AgSpire developed grazing-management plans for each participant —
enrolling 50,000 acres under new, regenerative practices and long-term
conservation commitments that have led to healthier soil, improved biodiversity,
and a more sustainable product option for consumers.
There was some discussion about whether regenerative beef would remain a
commodity or become more of a premium product, allowing ranchers to earn more.
The panel concluded by reiterating the importance of collaboration in achieving
a more sustainable beef supply chain. By working together, ranchers, suppliers
and retailers can create a system that is beneficial for all stakeholders. They
believe strongly that ranching can be transformed to contribute positively to
biodiversity preservation in the US, while helping to solve climate change.
Image credit: Forum for the Future
In an inspiring final session, Sally Uren returned to present Forum for the
Future’s Growing Our Future
— a collaborative effort to catalyze the transition of the US food system to
Originally funded by Walmart and now supported by General Mills, Growing Our
Future was born out of a recognition of the many positive developments taking
place in sustainable agriculture, but also the need for greater coordination,
trust, and inclusion to ensure a regenerative food future.
The initiative's goal is to bring together diverse stakeholders from across the
food system to build trust, elevate lesser-heard voices, and foster a shared
vision for a regenerative future.
Drawing on the principles of racial justice, Growing Our Future is committed to
creating a food system that is not only environmentally sustainable but also
equitable and just.
The initiative has identified four key pathways for achieving this goal:
Pathways to market: Developing and expanding markets for regenerative
Financing the transition: Providing financial support for farmers and
ranchers transitioning to regenerative practices.
Policy change: Advocating for policies that support regenerative
Social outcomes: Ensuring that the transition to a regenerative food
system benefits all stakeholders, particularly marginalized communities.
To support these pathways, Growing Our Future has published a series of
that provide practical guidance on how to progress on each pathway.
As the US Farm Bill continues to be
Forum for the Future is working alongside other partners to ensure that the
voices of lesser-heard communities are heard — including shining a light on
Forum has produced a series of films that highlight the critical contributions
of indigenous peoples to food sovereignty and regenerative land management that
we’re only recently learning to re-embrace.
In a fitting end to the discussions of the day, Growing Our Future’s work once
again demonstrates the power of collaboration in creating a more just and
sustainable food system.
Published Oct 26, 2023 2pm EDT / 11am PDT / 7pm BST / 8pm CEST
Formerly working in the advertising world in Kansas City, Hannah Zimmerman has now married her past experience with her passion for sustainability. When she isn't chasing her four-year-old daughter or helping companies along on their sustainability journey through consulting, reporting, communications and certifications, she is working on her master's in Sustainability through Harvard.
Jeremy Osborn is a NYC-based entrepreneur and and senior consultant with a background in marketing and communications, tech, strategy, governance, and sustainability. He holds an MA in Resources, Environment, and Sustainability from the University of British Columbia and has worked for leading brands in a wide range of industries and sectors — including food and ag, consumer goods, built environment, industrial manufacturing, energy, finance, transportation, and more.