Farm News: As Regenerative Agriculture Takes Root, Let's Hold Corporates Accountable

March 24, 2022

Despite having been an integral part of Indian farming practices for centuries, modern linguistics trends have transformed the word “regenerative” into a description that sounds attractive to consumers but, in the long run, little more than lip service.

Buzz words harness the dangerous power to convince trusting shoppers who have, in the past, developed an undoubting relationship with companies and their labeling methods. Now, most of us know that some of the phrases we see lining some of our food packaging can be misleading and sometimes, downright inaccurate.

This is nothing new. But what is new is the development through which corporations have begun to take advantage of the fact that public awareness regarding regenerative agriculture has shot upward over the last twelve months.

In essence, the idea is that, in making promises championing the benefits of regenerative growing, corporate entities will work with farming partners to leverage cover-cropping, rotational grazing, and other regenerative agriculture practices that aim to restore soil health and can pull carbon out of the air, returning it to be stored in the ground. The effects of this help combat climate change, reinforcing the idea that healthier soil can store more carbon, draining it from the atmosphere.

But, as doubters have expected, the path to regenerative corporate agriculture is not a straight one, nor is it paved. Regenerative agriculture, like other farm-related terms so often are, remains undefined in regard to possessing one sole, agreed upon meaning.

Industrial agriculture also has, for the most part, acted in direct opposition to the ideals it now upholds. Some of the same companies that once used chemical pesticides and toxic fertilizers without hesitation are now shifting their focus to regenerative techniques like cover cropping and no-till farming.

In the wake of these and other unmentioned promises made across the industrial agriculture sector, interest groups and researchers like those at AFN (Ag Funder News) have started keeping track of corporate pledges made and maintaining their list to reflect updates in progress (or lack thereof).

Some companies, like General Mills, have committed to specific quotas and thresholds as part of their announced goals (deadlines included), whereas others have used vague phrasing sans specific figures or dates. These groups, including the brewing bigwig Anheuser-Busch which has publicized its aims to “invest in ‘smart agriculture’ that promotes regenerative practices,” have failed to establish tangible plans of action given the fact that their propositions lack both target dates and specific strategies.

The AFN has since declared their list an non-exhaustive compilation of current promises, but has pledged to remain consistent in updating both categories for commitments made and later, the status of whether these have been achieved (or at least pursued and pending).

It might surprise consumers to learn the bulk of these pledges were released after 2020, but the recentness of these developments should serve as a poignant reminder of the fact that cheap methods have long gone unpenalized. The longer damaging techniques have managed to duck beneath the radar of agricultural regulation, the more accepted their practices have become.

Information regarding the relationship between industrial farming practices and soil health, environmental preservation, and agriculture at its most general has been available and veritable since the late 1980s. Since the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was founded in 1988, there have been sponsored programs in place to promote an up to date scientific understanding of historical and current environmental crises, monitoring their causes and effects with close attention.

Now, readers can expect the AFN to amend their list whenever updated information becomes available. Of course, it is far from ideal that civilian researchers are burdened with the task of surveilling the exact entities that have sworn themselves dependable and transparent. On the bright side, it should be somewhat reassuring to consider how our actions in the months ahead in terms of consumer behavior can invoke visible change for good in the agricultural sector. How we purchase food and who we support in terms of growers and corporations both might not seem impactful in the grand scheme of our environmental wellbeing, but collective action cannot be forgone because it can, at times, appear insignificant.

Our behavior as one connected framework of people who deserve to have input as to what goes into their bodies cannot be underestimated in terms of how it can inform trends, even in the corporate world. But what does this look like in practice? Effective conduct, first and foremost, rests upon where our cash lands. Local Roots champions the businesses of those growers who have exhibited sustainable solutions to industrial farming practices and taken diligent action to counteract climate change through soil health.

Regenerative agriculture and its recent trendiness makes for a bittersweet scenario through which we can be swindled, at times, considering the ambiguousness of corporate diction, but through which we might also use this acclaim to push for real progress. Pairing the information available to us with individual action through spending is within our capacities and, based on government inaction, might be one of our best options for promoting regenerative agriculture and holding corporates accountable.

Article by Local Roots contributor Jess Santoro // @jess_santoro

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