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July 15, 2024 9:06 am

Local News

Food Companies Support Regenerative Farmland, But the Numbers Say Otherwise


Anzhe Zhang

While regenerative agriculture is not a new practice, it’s become vital as a climate change mitigation strategy. Now some of the biggest food corporations in the world are planning to adopt it.

Regenerative agriculture has no standard definition, though it has to do with sequestering the carbon within the soil to reduce emissions. This generally is done after harvest, where a farmer will then plant additional “cover crops” that keep the carbon within the soil. Other practices include not tilling or disrupting the soil.

“We’re satisfied so far when somebody tells us that they’re using a regenerative practice, say, reduced tillage or cover crops,” said Ricardo Salvador, from the Union of Concerned Scientists, who emphasized the general positives of this practice is currently more important than finding out the precise numerical data.

However, regenerative agriculture is a financially-risky and unprofitable venture for many farmers, as it requires thousands of dollars in machinery and seed. It’s difficult to incentivize farmers to adopt this conservation practice due to that, which is where giant food corporations come in, taking care of expenses so that they can have access to a stable supply chain.

That’s why this year, 12 food companies, including PepsiCo and Mcdonald’s, committed to increasing regenerative farmlands and towards scaling up conservation practices. 

But it’s doubtful how committed these corporations actually are, as PepsiCo previously made a commitment towards ensuring their entire agricultural footprint would be from regenerative practices by 2030. So far, the corporation, which made $9.7 billion last year, has achieved a whopping 5 percent of that goal.

The food system, which is largely privatized, accounts for one-third of global greenhouse gas emissions, with food corporations responsible for a multi-million ton carbon footprint. Factors like deforestation and plastic packaging are big contributors towards this.

According to the Sustainable Markets Initiative, at least 40 percent of global farmland needs to be using regenerative practices for global warming to be mitigated to 1.5 degrees by 2030. Currently, only 15 percent of global farmland uses regenerative practices.

The low number of regenerative farmland is not only due to production costs, but also due to government policies which focus primarily on economic growth over other factors like sustainability, and from corporations trying to meet projections.

While experts agreed there was essentially no easy fix for this, especially when there’s 12 mega food corporations involved, they emphasized that companies needed to support the farmers they rely on.

“I do think that companies have a huge role to play in making a big shift on the landscape,” Sarah Carlson, from Practical Farmers of Iowa, said.