Jeez, this time it’s the global director, sourcing & operations sustainability at General Mills, Kevin O’Donnell.

It’s unlikely this fellow is a sandals-wearing socialist, uninterested in making money.

Yet General Mills,  a US$17.6 billion company that buys and sells a rather huge amount of food ingredients and products (think Häagen-Dazs, Pillsbury, Progresso, Yoplait) has made two environmental commitments:

  1. Reduce its absolute GHG emissions by 28% across the entire value chain by 2025 (compared with 2010).
  2. Sustainably sourcing by the end of this year their top 10 ingredients, which include oats, wheat, corn, cocoa, vanilla, dairy, palm oil, fiber packaging, sugar cane, and sugar beets. Together, these account for over 40% of GM’s total direct materials purchasing.

So how does regenerative agriculture fit into that picture?

Says Mr. O’Donnell (interviewed this month in Successful Farming):

“We began to discover the incredible power of improved soil health to do so many of the things we were trying to accomplish with our sustainability initiatives – improve water stewardship, reduce climate impact, create stronger supply chain resiliency, increase biodiversity, all while improving farmer profitability.

“We believe soil health is the cornerstone of regenerative agriculture, which is a number of key principles, that when stacked together, really unlock and unleash some incredible power. Simply put, regenerative agriculture is about seeing the farm as more of an ecosystem and viewing common issues like pests, weeds, disease, and nutrient deficiency not just as problems to be patched with a synthetic input, but instead as a symptom of an unhealthy ecosystem.

“We see regenerative agriculture as a lasting solution to a healthier ecosystem. It’s a holistic principles-based approach, which includes six principles, that really tries to strengthen and intentionally enhance ecosystems and farming community resiliency. The six principles are:

  1. Understanding the context of your farm operation.
  2. Minimizing soil disturbance with low tillage or, ideally, no tillage.
  3. Maximizing crop diversity.
  4. Keeping the soil covered year-round. Keeping skin on the soil, so to speak.
  5. Maintaining a living root in the ground year-round.
  6. Integrating livestock. While we know this isn’t realistic everywhere, integrating livestock wherever possible.

One of the things we love most about regenerative agriculture is that it also has the power to improve farmer profitability. We’re not saying never use synthetic inputs, but if you can reduce your investment in synthetic inputs and get Mother Nature to do that job for you, it’s going to draw money straight to the farmer’s bottom line. That’s exciting.”

I’ve yet to see or hear anyone of authority actually pick apart those six common sense principles. They’re hardly radical. And they improve farmer profitability.

But wait, no … it’s all muddle-headed nonsense.

At least to some Hawke’s Bay farming ‘leaders’, like CHB farmer Steve Wyn-Harris, local voice of authority for Farmers Weekly. He claims there’s no science or facts to back up the ‘claims’ of regenerative farming advocates.

Hmmm … whom to believe? Steve, who likes to cite Fertiliser Review, or Kevin, who has billions of $$ on the line?

Fertiliser Review vs Successful Farming?

This is a tough call!

I think I’ll go for the Häagen-Dazs.

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1 Comment

  1. Good on General Mills, Kevin O’Donnell and BayBuzz! Nice statement of the Regen Ag principles which are, quite simply, the way that all healthy ecosystems function. Is our agriculture so distant from science that we need more research to tell us how ecology works? We’ve known and used these eco regenerating principles for over a hundred years. Now we need to follow the lead of the farmers already doing this. The important thing to remember is that ALL of the principles have to be observed to get the soil health/production improvements. You can’t pick and choose which principle to use and expect excellent results. We need whole systems thinking – seeing the microbes, soil, plants, animals and us as a marvellously interconnected, transactional whole ….a holobiont.

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