General Mills program takes aim at soil health

General Mills wants to change the world, through better soil health.

This morning the maker of Cheerios and Nature Valley granola bars, announced plans to promote regenerative agriculture in North America and around the world.

The company plans to partner with organic and conventional farmers to increase the adoption of cover crops, diverse crop rotations, minimal tillage and other practices that benefit soil health. The goal is one million acres, managed with regenerative ag practices by 2030.

“We recognize that our biggest opportunity to drive positive impact for the planet we all share lies within our own supply chain, and by being a catalyst to bring people together to drive broader adoption of regenerative agriculture practices,” said Jeff Harmening, chair and chief executive officer of General Mills.

The announcement, by a company with annual sales of $17 billion, is big news for the regenerative agriculture movement. Over the last three to five years, soil health has become a major point of discussion in North American agriculture. The practice has placed new emphasis on building organic matter in the soil and enhancing the population of beneficial micro-organisms.

There are geographic pockets around Bismarck, North Dakota and in South Dakota where the practices have caught on, but most farmers are not using cover crops, diverse crop rotations, minimal tillage and livestock to improve soil health.

To get more farmers on board, General Mills will provide $650,000 to a non-profit group called Kiss the Ground. The group will conduct soil health academies and other training, so producers can learn how to decrease input costs and build “resiliency into the land”.

“Investing in soil health and regenerating our soils has numerous benefits including water infiltration, reduced pest pressure, resilience to unpredictable weather, and reducing greenhouse gasses,” said Lauren Tucker, executive director of Kiss the Ground.

In addition to the societal benefits, General Mills cares about soil health because it could stabilize their supply of key commodities. For example, the company buys most of its oats from three growing regions: southern Manitoba, central North Dakota and northeastern Saskatchewan. If one of those areas had a drought or another production issue, General Mills could be short on oats.

“We feel improving soil health can help reduce… those large variable swings in supply,” said Tom Rabaey, a General Mills agronomist.

The decision could also enhance public perceptions and improve relations with environmental groups, which have been harsh critics of modern agriculture.

“We need companies like General Mills who have the scale and commitment to create sustainable agricultural systems,” said Larry Clemens of The Nature Conservancy. “Efforts to improve soil health and enrich biodiversity are critical to addressing climate change and other environmental challenges.”

Contact robert.arnason@producer.com

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