The keys to unlocking large scale regenerative agriculture: Takeaways from the 2022 Regen Ag Summit
By Eric Archambeau for Astanor Ventures
Astanor Ventures just concluded a fascinating 3-day workshop in central Denmark where we had the privilege to host, with the help and connections of Soil Capital and Ingleby Farms, a group of academics, agritech and biotech experts, large scale farmers, policy makers and investors to take stock of some of the most recent advances in the field of regenerative agriculture.
These actors came together to find new ways to accelerate the necessary transition of the entire agrifood sector toward regenerative agriculture (regen ag).
What is Regen Ag?
It is not a certification like ‘organic’ but simply a set of principles with which to farm land and ensure its regeneration while farming it — as opposed to progressively deplete it as with today’s widespread farming practices.
Why is this transition necessary and why now?
Since the 2019 IPCC special report revealing the extent of the contribution of the agrifood sector to global greenhouse gas emissions, water consumption and biodiversity loss, it has become increasingly apparent that the agriculture sector could turn around to become the most efficient and scalable solution to recapture carbon in the soil, limit global water usage and restore biodiversity to meet the 2050 UN goals.
But time is running out to facilitate that transition.
With a majority of farms slotted to go through a generational transition in the next few years everywhere in the world, there has never been a better time for the widespread transition of agricultural practices. Current regen ag farmers who have obtained sustainable financial results on their sizeable farmlands (as large as tens or hundreds of thousand of hectares) can pass on the message to millions of new farmers and lead the transition away from high input, deep tilling techniques.
Regenerative agriculture works and is now more profitable than ‘modern’ agriculture because of the ever higher direct costs of fertilizers, pesticides and fuel.
The indirect costs of having depleted the soil of its biological life through deep tilling include increasing costs due to water usage and erosion the ever more apparent and measurable effect of decreased nutritional value of the crops produced on depleted soil.
The good news
Advances in biotechnology, climate tech data, precision farming and robotics are making farmers more and more capable of running a profitable regenerative farming operation without having to be agronomical explorers and machinery tinkerers.
What needs to happen next?
Technology: While promising new technologies are being developed, we need further advancements of mechanical and biotech solutions to achieve fully carbon-free farming operations.
Policy: We need the governments and regulators, starting in the EU, the US and the UK, to step in to help with the generational transition of hundreds of thousands of farms to regenerative agriculture.
Funding: Innovative financing options are needed to support the less profitable transitional years between traditional practices and full regenerative yields and profits. Funds are needed to support young farmers to take over from the older generation (take for example the recent decision from the Danish government to grant €100k to any young farmer to establish themselves is a great example to follow) — and widespread trainings on regenerative farming techniques.
Education: Traditional co-ops are no longer capable of unbiased training because of their deep economic links to traditional fertilizer, pesticide and seed makers. New independent outfits such as non-profit Hectar in France could offer the training but they would need help in financing outreach at scale throughout Europe and the UK.