This series, by the Yale Center for Business and the Environment's Regenerative Agriculture Initiative team, looks at how changes in training, investing, insuring and marketing the work of regenerative farmers can bring about broad benefits.
This article, by The Regenerative Agriculture Initiative (RAI) team at the Yale Center for Business and the Environment (CBEY), is the first in a series on key opportunities to accelerate regenerative agriculture in the United States. At today’s rate of soil degradation, some scientists predict the world’s topsoil could be destroyed within 60 years. Regenerative agriculture can reverse that.
Achieving the transition from conventional to regenerative agriculture will require a major shift in the strategy and behavior of many of America’s two million farmers. For a farmer, farming for healthy soils, ecosystems, communities and climate conflicts at many points with conventional agriculture practice. Wider success comes only from the cumulative impact of individual farmers changing their on-farm practices, and resetting how they keep data,
The traditional landscape of farmland ownership and financing in the United States thwarts the adoption of regenerative agriculture. First, farmland is expensive. Farm real estate prices have doubled in the last decade. But models have emerged to power regenerative practices forward. These include concessionary capital, financing from real estate investment trusts, and dollars from larger investors who treat farmland as a hedge to other asset classes.
In the words of the great agricultural philosopher Liza Minnelli, “Money makes the world go round.” Most stakeholders RAI interviewed across agricultural supply chains, especially farmers, want to grow crops and raise livestock in a sustainable way. Yet this desire to minimize environmental harm is not feasible if it creates a financially unsustainable operation. Farming profitability is essential for affordable food production, long-term solvency, and accessible financing.
Across the political spectrum, most Americans have favorable opinions of farmers and are happy with the idea that the federal government provides financial assistance to help pay for crop insurance. If they knew crop insurance's full cost, that might change. This system, while well-intentioned, leaves out the majority of farmers and encourages the degradation of precious soil and water reserves by rewarding consolidated monoculture crop production.