By Scott Shiels
With increased focus coming to agriculture on sustainable and regenerative farming practices, it’s a great time to share some information on the marketing side and the potential held within these new “buzzwords.”
Consumers across the globe are constantly shopping for products produced in a more sustainable manner, while not always understanding what that really means. This scenario has created a demand from food companies that then extends back to millers and processors. In turn, it has created opportunities for farmers to fill these needs.
While some companies are content to market traditionally produced products as “regenerative,” “sustainable” or even “carbon neutral/negative” to encourage consumer spending, there are actually real initiatives on the table to encourage production practices by farmers that meet the goals set out by a standards. In fact, the practices being used to do this have the potential to not only improve the soil on your farm, but your bottom line as well.
The research that goes into the production practices necessary to attain these accreditations has been going on for years across North America. However, the guidelines and protocols that we as an industry need to share with producers to enable them to meet the standards are still relatively in their infancy.
Where previously zero tillage appeared the best way to go, recent studies are showing a more minimum tillage plan is often better in the long run. The common assumption held by many that livestock integration was necessary to meet the carbon goals of the regenerative programs has also now been proven false. While the practice can drive a distinct benefit, if farmers are excelling in other practices such as cover cropping, inter-cropping and variable rate fertility, they can still meet the standards for carbon neutral and regenerative markets without raising any livestock. While this fact came as quite a shock to some in the industry, it means that we have the potential to bring farmers with zero interest in having any livestock on their farms into these markets.
The practice of cover cropping has long been the domain of the organic producer. However, in recent years conventional growers have begun to embrace the practice, leading to some positive results as far as their carbon scoring goes. For most of these producers, their goal was likely based on anything besides being carbon related. In many cases, these acres were seeded down to grass to try and improve weed control for certain chemical resistant weeds or to give the land a break from grain production while still having something there to grow and catch snow in the winter. It is possible we will see more of these cover crop acres put into regular rotation on conventional farms if this market does in fact take off and add some premiums to the grain prices that farmers receive.
Because of consumer demand, as well as government initiatives directed at reducing artificial fertilizer application on the farm, the growth potential for these markets is tremendous. While we sit here today and look at them as a “specialty” market, it won’t be surprising to see them as the mainstream markets by the end of the decade.
Until next time…