General Mills is Planning on Regenerating 1 Million Acres of Farmland

This large food producer is calling for farming practices that create healthy soil.

Apr 2, 2019

Picture courtesy of General Mills

Like the advice Scarlett O'Hara's father gave her that land is the only thing worth working for because it's the only thing that lasts. The land, the soil – black, brown or red like the soil of Georgia – we grow our food in was thought to be eternal. If we sow seeds, food  will grow.

At least that is what we believed. In 2014, the United Nations warned that if we do not change our agricultural practices, the top soil we depend on, will disappear within 60 years. This warning is being heeded by one of the largest food producers in the US, General Mills.

"Without soils we cannot sustain life on earth and where soil is lost it cannot be renewed on a human timeline. The current escalating rate of soil degradation threatens the capacity of future generations to meet their needs, ”  Maria Helena Semedo, the deputy-general of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations said in a news release.

The industrial scale agriculture that is so prominent in the US practices heavy use of pesticides and chemicals and the tendency to only grow a single crop (monoculture) on the land year-in and year out depletes the nutrients in the soil and makes it difficult for the land to heal or regenerate itself.

At the same time, as population grows, healthy soil is critical. To feed a hungry planet, changes in the way we do agriculture are necessary. And that is what General Mills, one of the largest food producers in the US is committing to do by supporting regenerative agriculture.

This method of farming is becoming more popular as a way for farmers to replenish their land and keep their way of life. General Mills is now committed to bring regenerative agriculture – a system of farming principles and practices that capture carbon in the soil –  to 1 million acres of farmland by 2030. This practice is also related to permaculture and restorative ecology. General Mills plans on partnering with both organic and conventional farmers to put the changes in place according to a company press release.

"We have been feeding families for over 150 years and we need a strong planet to enable us to feed families for the next 150 years," said Jeff Harmening, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of General Mills.  "We recognize that our biggest opportunity to drive positive impact for the planet we all share lies within our own supply chain, and by being a catalyst to bring people together to drive broader adoption of regenerative agriculture practices."

General Mills will focus on US growers where it sources the high- quality oats for Cheerios, Annies, Blue Buffalo, Cascadian Farm, and Nature Valley according to Jon Nudi, the president of North American retail for General Mills.

General Mills is giving a $650,000 grant to the nonprofit Kiss the Ground to support farmer training through Soil Health Academies. The company is already offering two Annie's products made from ingredients grown using regenerative practices and will introduce two more this year.

Investing in soil health and regenerating our soils has numerous benefits including water infiltration, reduced pest pressure, resilience to unpredictable weather, and reducing greenhouse gases," Lauren Tucker, executive director of Kiss the Ground said in the press release.

"We have an opportunity to not just sustain our natural resources, but to restore them for generations to come. We can only advance the adoption of these practices that benefit people and the planet if we partner with and support our farmers."

General Mills has also developed The Soil Health Roadmap in partnership with the Nature Conservancy which outlines the key steps necessary to achieve the wide-spread adoption of soil health systems on more than 50 percent of US farmland by 2025.

“In sustainability work, it’s often challenging to find anything that lifts more than one or two boats at a time,” Jerry Lynch, General Mills' chief sustainability officer told Fast Company. “This lifts so many boats: water quality, soil health, reduced carbon footprint, increased biodiversity, and farmer profitability and economic resilience.”

With a mega company like General Mills on board, it is very likely that they can influence other companies in the US and out to follow suit. This could lead to a new soil preserving agricultural revolution that will enable us to feed future generations.

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BONNIE RIVA RAS, EDITOR & WRITER
Bonnie Riva Ras has dedicated her life to promoting social justice. She loves to write about empowering women, helping children, educational innovations, and advocating for the environment & sustainability.

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