Digging in: Cargill’s regenerative agriculture program brings healthier soil and profits to more European, U.S. farmers
Read Time: 5 minutes
May 23, 2023
Three things fuel Steven Flaig and his coworkers during harvest season in Montezuma, Indiana.
“Adrenaline, coffee and eggs,” he says with a laugh.
While those age-old inputs keep farmers like Steven going, the soil that supports his corn, soy and seed beans relies on newer support these days. Since 2021, Steven has enrolled 1,500 acres of land in Cargill’s regenerative agriculture program, Cargill RegenConnect®. Through the program, he’s using cover crops to maintain healthy soil — and build a more resilient future on his farm.
“We’re building organic matter (in our soil), and we definitely need that in Montezuma on the sandy, gravely ground,” he says. “I’m conserving the soil for the future. There’s going to be someone out there who wants to farm, so you have to have someone help you out to pass it on. If you can help a young farmer for the future, why not?”
Farmers choice: Which regenerative agriculture practices are right for me?
Connecting farmers with regenerative practices and new market opportunities is at the heart of Cargill RegenConnect. This year, the program is expanding to bring those same benefits to farmers and customers in four European countries — France, Poland, Germany and Romania — and nine new states in the U.S.
Steven exemplifies how regenerative agriculture practices can not only help combat climate change and improve soil health on farms, but also increase farmers’ economic resiliency and opportunities.
Cargill RegenConnect is built on a simple foundation: Farmers choose the regenerative practices — such as cover crops or reduced- or no-tillage — that are best suited to their unique growing conditions. Cargill pays them a competitive market rate for every metric ton of carbon that is sequestered in the soil, supporting their transition to practices that revitalize soil, boost the productivity of land, increase biodiversity and improve water outcomes. The program connects farmers to Cargill’s downstream customers, too, who are working to reduce their environmental footprint by supporting regenerative agriculture.
Farmers also get access to hands-on support from Cargill agronomic experts on how to start using regenerative practices and guidance on how to maximize profitability and improve land stewardship.
“We realize that every farmer is unique when it comes to the adoption of regenerative agriculture, which is why we provide options that give foundational economic and environmental benefits to their operations,” says Alexis Cazin, the leader of Cargill’s agricultural supply chain business in Europe.
What is regenerative agriculture?
Cargill defines regenerative agriculture as farming and ranching systems that build resilience and deliver positive environmental outcomes for people and our planet. At Cargill, we believe regenerative agriculture is how we’ll address some of the biggest challenges of our time, from climate change to food insecurity. That is why we focus on the soil health practices that work best for farmers and ranchers to build on the good stewardship they are already practicing on the land.
This includes things such as cover crops, nutrient management, no-till and crop rotations — soil health practices that help sequester carbon, improve water quality and availability, and support farmers economically. Cargill’s commitment is to support farmer-led regenerative agriculture practices and systems across 10 million acres of agricultural land in North America by 2030.
But we’re not stopping there — Cargill is working with customers, NGOs and governments to support the adoption of regenerative agriculture around the world to advance our vision of making regenerative agriculture commonplace. This includes:
- Partnering with Nutrien and farmers in Riverina, Australia to reduce carbon emissions in canola production by creating efficiencies in on-farm nutrient management.
- Collaborating with PUR in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana on an agroforestry project that is helping to restore depleted areas, while diversifying the incomes of cocoa farmers to reduce the pressure to expand into forested areas. Cargill helps fund the cost of seedlings, provides expertise on the ground and engages with cocoa growers whose soil quality improves when nearby forests regenerate.
- Teaming up with The Nature Conservancy, McDonald’s and Target through our BeefUp Sustainability initiative to support Nebraska farmers in using proven soil health practices to help mitigate greenhouse gas emissions and help farmers adapt to climate change.
How does regenerative agriculture connect farmers and customers?
Beyond direct payments, supporting farmers’ transition to regenerative practices also fuels their long-term growth.
“Every producer’s most valuable asset is the land they farm, so there’s nothing more important we can do than directly support their livelihood and long-term productivity,” Alexis says.
Cargill RegenConnect also connects farmers to companies who are counting on agricultural supply chains to reduce their environmental footprint while supporting regenerative agriculture. And progress on those goals has never been more urgent: As the impacts of climate change continue to coincide with the demands of a growing global population, food systems must adapt to produce enough food that’s grown sustainably and responsibly.
As a key connector of the food system, we create meaningful impact at scale — for our customers and for our planet,” Chief Sustainability Officer Pilar Cruz says. “We have the deep expertise, the connections across supply chains and the talent around the globe to deliver end-to-end sustainability solutions that no one else can.”
Cargill RegenConnect wins Edison Awards gold
Cargill RegenConnect was recently named a gold winner in the 2023 Edison Awards™, named after the famed inventor Thomas Edison, to recognize some of the world’s most innovative products and business leaders. The program won in the Sustainability category for “incentivizing collaborative conservation.”
Expanding regenerative agriculture in the U.S.
Back on the farm in Montezuma, Steven is ready to see more of his fellow farmers adopt regenerative agricultural practices.
“Cargill RegenConnect is working for this farm here,” he says, “and I’m sure it could work for other farmers throughout the United States.”
Based on similarly strong feedback from many farmers enrolled in 2022, Cargill RegenConnect is expanding to nine new states, including North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Colorado, Mississippi, Alabama, Oklahoma, Louisiana and Texas. Now in 24 states, Cargill RegenConnect is also adding cotton to its list of eligible crops, along with corn, soy and wheat.
As the program continues to grow, so are opportunities to grow farmers’ incomes. In a study of 100 farmers across nine states, conducted by The Soil Health Institute and supported by Cargill, researchers found soil health management systems increased incomes for 85% of farmers growing corn and 88% of farmers growing soybeans. The average income for corn growers increased by $52 per acre and $45 per acre for soybeans. Farmers also said, on average, growing corn cost them $24 less per acre and growing soybeans cost $17 less per acre.
“Companies like Cargill are helping to make it economically feasible for farmers to implement sustainable practices around the world,” says Chantelle Donahue, Cargill’s North America agriculture supply chain vice president. “It is how agriculture and farmers can be part of the climate solution, helping to reduce emissions, improve water quality and use, increase yields and build up the resilience of our soils for the next generation. Our vision is to make regenerative agriculture commonplace across our global supply chain, enabling farmers to produce food more sustainably while increasing their profitability and resiliency.”