By Patricia Farrar-Rivas and Nicole Davis
One of the most rewarding aspects of working with clients is the opportunity to share ground-breaking ideas that benefit people and society.
We believe that Regenerative Agriculture is one of them – like gender lens investing – that has the potential to redefine climate change solutions. The concept has been around for decades, but it has gained momentum in the past few years. The reason is that Regenerative Agriculture is likely a better way to grow crops and raise livestock, but is also emerging as one of the most effective ways to reduce atmospheric carbon.
We wanted to share our enthusiasm for Regenerative Agriculture, along with the latest research and thinking about the topic. Our hope is to promote a broader dialogue with investors who want to align their wealth with their values.
Regenerative Agriculture – The Magic of Photosynthesis
What is Regenerative Agriculture?
One insightful definition is from Regenerative International, “Regenerative Agriculture is a holistic land management practice that leverages the power of photosynthesis in plants to close the carbon cycle and build soil health, crop resilience and nutrient density.
Regenerative Agriculture improves soil health, primarily through the practices that increase soil organic matter.” Such practices include no till farming, rotational grazing, use of cover crops, and the application of compost.
In its recent white paper, the organization notes that Regenerative Agriculture increases soil biodiversity and health, while increasing biodiversity both above and below the soil surface. In turn, that increases the water holding capacity of the soil and captures carbon. The anticipated result: harmful carbon is sequestered, soil structure is improved and human-caused topsoil loss is reversed.
Rodale Institute has been another thoughtful proponent of Regenerative Agriculture. In its white paper, the organization highlights the potential for controlling carbon emissions through Regenerative Agriculture.
“Simply put, recent data from farming systems and pasture trials around the globe show that we could sequester more than 100% of current annual CO2 emissions with a switch to widely available and inexpensive organic management practices, which we term ‘regenerative organic agriculture.’ These practices work to maximize carbon fixation while minimizing the loss of that carbon once returned to the soil, reversing the greenhouse effect.”
A Better Way
In essence, Regenerative Agriculture practices can prevent the release of soil carbon, and vacuums up environmental carbon, depositing it into the soil. In addition to the carbon sink benefits, Regenerative Agriculture can play an important role in the resiliency of our food system. The healthier soil created by Regenerative Agriculture is better able to reduce crop loss from climate change including flooding-rains and drought.
Experts say transitioning to Regenerative Agriculture will take time. Or will it? Maybe the answer is rethinking the current allocation of capital to climate change solutions.
Today, approximately 80% of investment in climate change solutions is for wind and solar. Just 20% goes for soil health and biodiversity. Perhaps these percentages should be switched, or at least balanced through the allocation of additional investment in soil health.
In order to create widespread adoption, it’s important that capital is used to create economic incentives for regenerative practices. While many such mechanisms are utilized only on a small scale, the results are promising.
Pay for regenerative practices programs have been rolled out for cover cropping, but more practices need to be included. The reason is that the benefits of a holistic system go far beyond the sum of its parts. On a recent tour with Dirt Capital of regenerative farms in the Hudson Valley, a number of Verisians learned about the Hudson Carbon Project. We visited the Churchtown Dairy, the location of one of Hudson Carbon’s monitoring sites, which seeks to measure and verify some of the ecological benefits of regenerative practices.
The work of Hudson Carbon and their partners at the Woods Hole Marine Biological Laboratory, lay important groundwork for the establishment of a soil carbon protocol that could be used by farmers to sell carbon credits, and reap monetary benefits for their role as carbon farmers and ranchers.
As impact investors, we have learned many times that innovation and education can overcome vestigial thinking and entrenched interests. The impetus for that change is often individual investors. The unimaginable growth of impact and sustainable investing in the past decade wasn’t initiated by institutional investors. It was championed from the bottom up by individuals who believed another way was possible.
We believe that now is the time for all of us to think about Regenerative Agriculture. It’s a rare twofer: An opportunity to feed the world more intelligently and possibly stop climate change in its tracks.
We recently attended one of the regenerative learning sessions at Paicines Ranch in California. Sallie Calhoun, also known as the Queen of Soil, created the No Regrets Initiative whose goal is to encourage the expansion of regenerative agriculture through education, impact investing and on the “ranch” experimentation.
As Sallie would say “at the ranch we are creating balance, by regenerating ecosystems while growing healthy food.” For more information about Regenerative Agriculture, please visit this very informative site, the No Regrets Initiative, which is a compendium of research and perspective on the topic.