The study with Bain looked more specifically at four techniques that would be the most affordable with more immediate results for farmers:

The idea is that all of these techniques are part of a farming system that can produce nutrient-rich soil to grow food year after year with minimal intervention.

Initial losses lead to higher gains

Transitioning a farm that doesn’t use regenerative techniques to one that does will take time. The farm’s soil needs to build up enough nutrients to support crops, which is done by increasing organic matter in the soil to create healthy and consistent topsoil. Most food is grown in the uppermost layer of soil, which is why having good topsoil is important.

Farmers need assistance to get through the initial financial losses of setting up a regenerative farm. While beginning the process of changing farming techniques, initial yields will be lower, leading to less marketable produce and less profit. The study suggests that it would take about four years until a farmer would break even and make the same amount they would have before transitioning.  However, the rewards are greater after the fourth year, with higher profits than if the farm had not made the transition.

Regenerative farming does not exclusively mean organic farming. Depending on the limitations and circumstances of the farmer, fertilizers and other chemicals may still be used. But regenerative farming can also serve as a path to becoming 100% organic since it is difficult to immediately switch from non-organic to organic.

There’s also investment pressure where food companies’ marketing and research and development departments, for instance, would need to allocate more money towards these initial big changes.

🎧 For more intel on sustainable farming, listen to the Quartz Obsession podcast episode on oat milk. Or subscribe via: Apple Podcasts | Spotify | Google | Stitcher.

“Balancing sustainability targets and the investments required against just the competitive pressures is going to be hard,” Martins said.

The biggest challenge right now for companies in the food industry is not so much how to reduce emissions but more so how to mobilize the entire hyper-competitive industry, which is being eaten away by private labels, he said. “Many companies in the food value chain have not yet grasped what regenerative agriculture means and what’s the potential.”

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