Regenerative agriculture combines traditional farming practices with modern and technological innovations to respectfully and sustainably optimize food production. Regenerative agriculture encourages practices that provide healthy, quality food to a growing population, while conserving the planet’s resources, respecting animal welfare and ensuring the long-term viability of farms.
Innovation has a key role to play in making farming more precise and efficient.
Here’s what we’re already doing:
• Improving animal welfare and farm productivity with sensors and connected collars on cows (Margarita in Mexico, with IDB)
• Using satellite images and machine learning to collect and process data on soil health and track farming practices (in the USA, with Sustainable Environment Consultants)
• Supporting startups (Connectera, Sowit) that give farmers new data-driven tools for decision-making.
We define regenerative agriculture as a set of practices that:
• protects soil, water, and biodiversity
• respects animal welfare
• acknowledges the key role of farmers and the positive impact of farming, while taking into account its economic viability.
Regenerative agricultural practices include reducing tillage and chemical inputs (like pesticides and herbicides), improving water management by reducing water usage and boosting water quality, increasing crop rotation and cover crops, and installing buffer zones and hedges. When implemented together, these practices restore soil health and enable agriculture to act as a carbon sink.
We work with farmers and other partners to support them find the right balance between reducing tillage and reducing chemical inputs. Sometimes farmers might still need to use herbicides in limited quantities, depending on crop cultures, soil type, and climate. Every farm is different, and our goal is to support farmers transition to regenerative agriculture in a way that is balanced and sustainable in their own contexts.
It’s no secret – more and more consumers are turning to products that reconnect them with nature. This is only accelerating in the current context.
During the past year of lockdowns, 22% of European consumers changed their purchasing habits, orienting their spending towards more natural and organic products. Moreover, 19% of them expressed a desire for more sustainable products (source: McKinsey’s consumer report).
Regenerative Agriculture therefore represents a unique asset for brands to connect with consumer desires for sustainability and local connection to the food they eat.
As an example, Blédina, Danone’s early life brand in France, has been investing heavily in regenerative and organic practices. Today, it is topping consumer appreciation rankings – this success speaks volumes about the potential of investing in natural capital.
Regenerative Agriculture and a desire for locally grown food are really two halves of the same coin: consumers want to reconnect with the food they eat in the knowledge that it has been grown sustainably. That means a shift in both how food is grown and the path it takes to get from farm to table.
Our food system is responsible for approximately 26% of global GHG emissions—within that, transport (6%) and supply chains (18%) make up roughly a quarter of the emissions that result from feeding the world, with food production itself (including livestock, fisheries, and crop production) accounting for 60%.[ https://ourworldindata.org/environmental-impacts-of-food]
Meeting just one half of the coin (food produced locally, but in a GHG intensive way / food produced sustainably, but transported across long distances) fails to get at consumers’ true desires. The way to win the hearts, minds, and loyalty of consumers is to tackle both challenges head on — transitioning food production to regenerative practices, while also sourcing ingredients as locally as possible.
We need participation from actors present all along the supply chain in order to
finance the transition to regenerative agriculture.
Danone is doing its part thanks to:
• A dedicated internal fund to support the implementation of new practices
• Partnerships with banks, NGO and crowdfunding platforms to co-build new finance tools
For instance, in France, we have invested over 40 million Euros since 2016 to help cover costs as more farmers transition to regenerative practices. We are on track to source 100 percent of ingredients in France— including fresh milk, fruits and vegetables, and sugarbeets — from regenerative agriculture by 2025.
In Mexico, we are working with the Inter-American Development Bank to transform dairy farming practices — equipping 2,000 cows on 40 farms with sensors and connected collars to optimize their well-being and productivity. We are also working with strawberry farmers to enable their transition to regenerative practices. To date, the project has resulted in 30% higher income for farmers, 50% more soil conservation, and 15% fewer pesticides.
The key difference is Reg Ag’s intention to regenerate (or renew) the productivity and growth potential of whatever is being regenerated. Sustainable practices, by definition, seek to maintain the same, whereas regenerative practices recognize that natural systems are currently impacted and it applies management techniques to restore the system 1.
The mindset is different. Organics strive to reduce negative inputs (chemicals, GMOs, etc.). Regenerative agriculture goes further by working on soil health (reducing tillage, promoting cover crops and crops rotation), on biodiversity and water (including quantity).
Some practices are similar, but Reg Ag integrates more dimensions.
The impact of livestock on climate change and biodiversity largely depends on the farming system and the way livestock are raised. Industrial livestock production fuels huge demand for feed crops, which require intensive land use, and often result in a host of environmental costs, from deforestation, soil erosion, and loss in soil fertility and biodiversity to groundwater pollution, agricultural runoff in rivers and lakes, and transportation-based emissions. 2
But livestock can have positive impacts when integrated into sustainable farming systems — grazing on cover crops, providing manure that can be used as natural fertilizer, and even being used for weed control. The sustainable integration of livestock into a farm can help reduce the need for chemical inputs and herbicides.3 That’s what Danone aims for in its approach to Regenerative Agriculture
Certain practices hold the potential to reduce livestock GHG emissions, though these are not widely used today (Gerber et al., 2013). Some of the technical options for mitigating the impact of livestock on climate change include carbon sequestration, improving diets to reduce enteric fermentation, improving manure management, and more efficient use of fertilizers (Steinfeld et al., 2006, Thornton and Gerber, 2010, UNFCCC, 2008).