Eco-friendly. Sustainable. Organic. Once obscure, these terms have become mainstays as guideposts that influence where people shop and what they buy. But there’s another term that’s garnering the attention of both consumers and companies: regenerative agriculture.
“While the benefits of moving to regenerative agriculture practices are clear, awareness is just blossoming,” Karn Manhas, CEO and founder of global agtech company Terramera, said in an article published on Yahoo. “And this is precisely where advocates can borrow from the organic playbook. After all, even 25 years ago, ‘organic’ remained a niche distinction, understood and championed by a relative few. But by showing not just consumers but farmers, corporations and governments alike the upsides of embracing organic foods, these advocates jumpstarted a revolution.”
Regenerative agriculture, as defined by California State University’s Chico Regenerative Agriculture Initiative and The Carbon Underground, refers to farming and grazing practices that, among other benefits, reverse climate change by rebuilding soil organic matter and restoring degraded soil biodiversity—resulting in both carbon drawdown and improving the water cycle.
“The key to regenerative agriculture is that it not only ‘does no harm’ to the land but actually improves it, using technologies that regenerate and revitalize the soil and the environment,” officials from Regeneration International, a nonprofit that promotes regenerative agriculture, said on its website. “Regenerative agriculture leads to healthy soil, capable of producing high-quality, nutrient-dense food while simultaneously improving, rather than degrading land, and ultimately leading to productive farms and healthy communities and economies.”
Regenerative agriculture strategies employ “permaculture and organic farming practices, including conservation tillage, cover crops, crop rotation, composting, mobile animal shelters and pasture cropping, to increase food production, farmers’ income and especially, topsoil,” according to the organization.
It’s an entirely new way to look at the entire agriculture system, Melissa Bauer, director of strategic initiatives and sustainability programs at Pet Sustainability Coalition (PSC), told Pet Product News (PPN).
“Traditional agriculture today degrades the planet, our soil and our food systems, leading to less health for the planet and less health for the people and animals who eat the resulting food,” Bauer added. “However, regenerative agriculture looks to reverse that by allowing farmers and ranchers to increase yields of very nutritious food for people and pets while also restoring the soil [and] reversing climate change.”
She added that the practice also improves the water cycle and increases biodiversity, among other benefits.
Here and Now
The rising interest in regenerative agriculture stems, in part, from consumers wanting more than just products from companies.
“Across sectors, consumers have been looking for increased transparency and at the sustainability of the products they purchase and the food we consume,” Bauer said. “We see this sparking several trends such as #meatlessmonday, plant-based diets and more.”
There is also an increased attention being brought to the environmental impact of climate change and water shortages, among other issues, Bauer added.
“With climate change receiving so much attention, the benefits of regenerative agriculture, which are now scientifically proven, has created a lot of buzz, including the Hollywood documentary ‘Kiss the Ground!,’” Eileen Kelly, co-founder of Farm Hounds, a dog treat and chew manufacturer based in Smyrna, Ga., told PPN. “So, I think that, coupled with the influence of social media during the last year, has really provided a platform for all things regenerative ag.”
The pandemic has also pushed these environmental causes to the forefront, according to Manhas.
“The pandemic has driven demand for more sustainable, environmentally friendly and ethical products,” Manhas said. “One survey [published on Food Dive] found that 83 percent of respondents take the environment into consideration when making purchases.”
Kelly expressed similar sentiments.
“The pandemic really pulled the curtain back on how fragile and easily broken our food supply system is,” Kelly said. “Grocery stores were out of basic protein options that were never out of stock. So, people started looking for alternative sources for their food, especially meat, and found local farms and CSAs [community-supported agriculture] in their area. The demand for these products created a big increase in the direct-to-consumer sales of many of our farm partners. Many of these farms have long embraced regenerative practices and so I think as consumers started to get to know their farmer, they began to hear more about regenerative agriculture.”
As for its own contribution, Farm Hounds is sourcing its products directly from farm producers, not intermediary suppliers, Kelly said.
“Our first farm partner, White Oak Pastures really inspired us by what they were doing,” Kelly said. “When we first met them back in 2013, I don’t think the term ‘regenerative agriculture’ was really used much. We talked with them about their journey back from a more industrial cattle production to a multi-species, totally natural operation. The transition was painful at times and financially taxing, but they knew it was the right path for their family and future. As small business owners who had faced financial challenges pursuing the right path, we bonded.”
Kelly said that the company knew that it could help White Oak Pastures’ profitability and support its philosophy of zero-waste by taking both excess product as well as some of the product they weren’t able to sell to the human market.
“As we grew, we partnered with other farms on the same path and kept our commitment to transparency by labeling our products with the farm name, giving our customers a direct link to the farm,” Kelly added.
Other pet companies are catching on, too. For example, in mid-April, Canidae launched Canidae Sustain, a new environmentally friendly alternative pet food line. The launch coincides with the company’s new Sustain the Goodness campaign, which illustrates Canidae’s pursuit to improve the lives of pets and their people and investment in creating a healthier planet for pets and people to play on, officials said in a statement.
The Stamford, Conn.-based company has partnered with Katherine Schwarzenegger Pratt to help promote the new line.
“I love that Canidae Sustain’s ingredients use sustainably sourced proteins like cage-free chicken and up-cycled brewer’s yeast, and also include regeneratively farmed ingredients where possible,” Schwarzenegger Pratt said in a statement.
Regenerative agriculture just may be the way of the future.
It’s “a natural progression forward from the term organic,” Kelly said. “The organic movement was a step away from chemical inputs like pesticides and synthetic fertilizers. However, it was really just a first step as many organic farms still till their soil—a big no-no in regenerative. Regenerative agriculture is really a complete rejection of the entire system of industrialized agriculture and a movement toward not just sustainability but reversing the damaging effects of those practices and rebuilding our soils.”
In other words, regenerative agriculture is not a fad, Kelly said.
“Regenerative agriculture is beneficial to farmers (more production on less land), to consumers (higher quality food) and to our earth (recapturing CO2 out of the atmosphere and into the soil where it belongs and does good, not harm),” Kelly added.
Bauer also believes regenerative agriculture is here to stay.
“At PSC we’re finding more and more brands looking to make their food more sustainable, and conversation going around regenerative agriculture,” Bauer said. “At the same time, brands are reporting more and more consumer demand for sustainability and transparency in their products.”
The demand has been so great, in fact, that PSC is making regenerative agriculture the focus of its April webinar. “Using Agriculture and Ingredients as a Force for Good,” which is set for April 29, will include a discussion with David Rizzo, COO of the Savory Institute’s Land to Market Program. Rizzo has years of experience in regenerative agriculture, and is a veteran of the pet industry, having held positions at Zuke’s, Merrick Pet Care and Nestlé Purina.
Webinar details and registration information can be found here.