Onward is an exclusive content series authored by broadhead’s thought leaders, highlighting their unique perspectives on adapting, adjusting and pushing forward during unprecedented times.
Written by Wayne Carlson | VP, Brand Strategy
As a marketing agency with permanent residency at the corner of Food Street and Farm Road, we’ve been following the rise of regenerative agriculture for a while now.
Originally thought to be most appropriate for the organic/farmers’ market crowd, regenerative agriculture received a commercial farmer’s voice with Gabe Brown’s 2018 book “Dirt to Soil,” which detailed the North Dakota farmer’s adversity-fueled quest to adopt a better way to farm, both for profit and for the future of his land. Brown’s plight was relatable to the American farmer, so his message resonated. As importantly, it showed a path to regenerative success. At scale.
In the time since, the conversation has shifted, from one known most for its polarity, to a mutually beneficial dialogue between profit-minded professional farmers and brands looking to better deliver the climate-conscious sourcing their consumers demand.
As we’ve mentioned before in this space, the COVID-19 pandemic’s ability to accelerate certain trends and extinguish others will have a lasting impact on the way we live. That’s certainly true of regenerative agriculture. If you work even adjacent to the food or agriculture space, you’re likely seeing five to ten headlines a week about regenerative partnerships, projects and products as companies strive to meet the demands of consumers amidst a mid-pandemic shift from “more for less” to “better for more.”
In fact, in just the past week, Cargill announced a commitment to help farmers turn ten million acres regenerative in the next ten years. Country Crock® teamed with Martina McBride to raise awareness for The Cover Crops Project. And The Nature Conservancy, McDonald’s, Cargill and Target are coming together to launch a new five-year, $8.5 million project aimed at working with Nebraska farmers to advance proven soil health practices to help mitigate greenhouse gas emissions and help farmers adapt to climate change.
Of course, as the movement gains velocity, there will be widespread implications for businesses in (and in between) the food and ag spaces. Here are five implication predictions we’re monitoring closely for our clients and some thoughts on why they matter:
The re-diversification of the American farm
Over the course of the past several decades, farming has become more and more specialized from an operational standpoint. For instance, as many Midwest row crop operations grew from an acreage standpoint, they opted to eschew livestock to be able to run towards the profit that corn and soybean crops were providing. Utilizing grazing practices as a means to restore soil health is an imperative part of regenerative agriculture and will potentially create a re-diversification effect across many of those same operations.
WHY IT MATTERS: As farmers diversify their operations, there will be both opportunity (new potential customers) and barriers (more message clutter) for ag marketers seeking to reach customers in impactful ways.
The emergence of the next farm tech leader
There has been no shortage of technological breakthroughs in the past 50 years of farming, but as more and more farmers adopt regenerative practices, it will force continued innovation, particularly to bring scale, precision, traceability and impact measurability into the equation.
WHY IT MATTERS: If your agribusiness isn’t looking into developing new technologies in the next five years, it most certainly will be trying to figure out how its products and services will interact with those technologies.
A measurable shift in acre allocation
Core to regenerative agriculture practices is building a diverse cropping system under heavy rotation. Adoption will require growing fewer acres of corn and soybeans, for instance, than what a grower typically might, per season.
WHY IT MATTERS: The only thing predictable about the regenerative-driven acreage shift is the unpredictability of the adoption rate. For agribusiness sales and marketing staffs, agility and creativity will be essential to best serve newly-diverse cropping landscapes.
Turning carbon into cash
In the midst of extremely difficult headwinds related to trade wars, COVID-19 and (more simply) supply outpacing demand for many commodities, U.S. farmers find themselves in search of additional revenue sources. They may find that source through the development of carbon markets and potential government funding that would make it much easier to participate in those markets.
WHY IT MATTERS: Farmers will be on the lookout for products and services that will help them access this new revenue stream, and ag companies will need to evaluate their offerings to better communicate with farmers the carbon impact of their products — a task that takes significant time and real-farm research.
Forward thinking rewarded
Regenerative practices will find a place in the landscape of American farming because they will make good business sense both in the short-term and as an investment in the longevity of farm operations. But it should be remembered that these are practices we’re still learning about and will continue to evolve.
WHY IT MATTERS: Ag marketers and food companies will need to pay particular attention to messaging. A tone that teaches instead of preaches and drives forward progress without demonizing past practices will help each entity find success without alienating farmers committed to doing their best for both their land and their business. In short, we’ll need to look onward, not backward.