Regenerative farming –– using practices that refresh the soil in ways that fight the effects of climate change –– is gaining the attention of investors, who have poured about $47.5 billion in money and assets into the sector, according to Croatan Institute’s Soil Wealth report.
Regenerative agriculture is a method of rebuilding soil by using plants that take in carbon from the atmosphere, thus increasing overall biodiversity. This helps fight climate change by reducing the amount of greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere.
“Regenerative agriculture is absolutely critical to solving the climate crisis,” Peter Dolan, an associate at Cornerstone Capital Group, an investment advisory company, told Karma.
“Not only would a broad-scale transition to regenerative agriculture in the United States sequester a tremendous amount of carbon dioxide from our atmosphere. It would also have the effect of increasing biodiversity, increasing the quality and diversity of food options people have, and improving the quality of life for farmers around the nation.”
The latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report showed that the food industry produces 37% of those emissions.
“Conventional agriculture essentially utilizes the soil to grow crops by allowing the land to be tilled and then using chemicals to enhance the soil because there are less nutrients to help the plants,” Finian Makepeace, the co-founder of Kiss the Ground, a nonprofit organization trying to advance regenerative agricultural initiatives across American farms, told Karma. “Regenerative agriculture treats the soil as a living organism that needs to be fed carbon sugar from plants. This system of agriculture enriches the soil, enhances the ecosystems, and also reverses the global trend of carbon accumulation in the atmosphere.”
Along with California-based Kiss the Ground, companies such as San Francisco-based Farmland LP, the Savory Institute in Colorado, and India-based Aranya Agricultural Initiative are working to shift conventional farming toward regenerative methods.
Companies like Farmland LP that invest and advise for sustainable farming claim to have 40% to 50% growth margins on wine grapes that are grown through regenerative methods versus single-digit margins on those grown through conventional farming.
Makepeace says that regeneration is needed to prevent the costs of food production from skyrocketing.
“We’re going to face major market crashes and superexpensive ways of producing foods if we don’t adapt to regenerative methods,” Makepeace said. “We are losing 30 million acres due to land degradation. For investors, regenerative agriculture means the land will be able to produce more and stay intact. It means more production.”
Project Drawdown, an organization founded in 2014 that looks into the most viable solutions to climate change, found that 12 of the top 20 solutions dealt with agricultural or land-use changes.
According to Dolan, regenerative agriculture may revive a struggling rural America and help farmers who face health risks from pesticides and fertilizers from current farming practices.
“As it exists now, our agricultural economy is highly vulnerable to drought, flooding and other extreme weather events. Farmers are amassing debt due to exploitative practices from large agricultural firms and lending agencies,” Dolan said. “Conversion to regenerative agriculture holds the promise of contributing to the solution of the climate crisis at a broad scale.”
Investors should look to shift from conventional agriculture with high petrochemical inputs to regenerative methods of eliminating toxic and costly inputs in favor of more organic strategies, he said. “There are a handful of funds which seek to support farmers through this conversion,” Dolan said. “Many of them have demonstrated market rate or above returns.”
Makepeace said the main struggle has been garnering attention for regenerative agriculture.
Diana Martin, the director of communications at the Rodale Institute, which focuses on organic and regenerative farming research, agreed with Makepeace.
“The struggle is to get consumers to care about the need for regenerative agriculture,” Martin told Karma. “Today we want the cheapest food possible, and farmers will be forced to produce what is wanted in the market. We need to show that this affects our future health and ability to produce food in the future. People are more removed from agriculture than ever before.”
Despite the struggles, Martin sees hope in farmers shifting towards greener methods because it improves their livelihood and prioritizes soil health.
“It is really the future for the market,” Makepeace said. “The movement is collaborative with investors, and it’s not flooded market either. It’s a good time to get in.”