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What’s the Trajectory of Climate-Positive Food and Farming?

A 2021 Outlook

The term “climate-positive food,” along with “sustainable agriculture,” “regenerative agriculture” and “resilient farming” have been gaining popularity in our global efforts toward a climate-positive lifestyle. However, as it stands, these terms and their relationship to one another are still puzzling: with such large goals on the horizon, how can we ensure that we are all working towards the same outcome? 

In other words, what is the trajectory of climate-positive food and agriculture in 2021, and what do we need to reach our goals?

The Future of Food Conference, hosted earlier this year by the Innovation Forum, presented a diverse range of voices and perspectives from agribusinesses, farmers, organizations, nonprofits, and multinational food corporations. Through insights gleaned from this conference and from interviews with experts, we identified four key themes in the movement toward climate-positive food. 

This is how we anticipate the industry will grow, and details how we might change our approach in 2021 and beyond.

Technology and Data are Essential in Making Lasting Change

Financial tools, technology and data must connect with growers across platforms to encourage climate-positive food and farming, while maximizing profits for growers.

It’s important that growers have the resources and time to consider a multi-year approach to planning for their operations.

Aparajita Bhalla, Senior Director of Markets Transformation for the Rainforest Alliance emphasized this at the Future of Food conference, adding, “Farmers [also] still lack the ability to have timely access to relevant information…that helps them optimize their input utilization, that helps them optimize their productivity, optimize their access to market.” According to Bhalla, in order to support climate-positive food and farming practices, we must ensure that growers have the access to the kind of detailed, timely information that will allow them to make real-time decisions, both for the immediate and long-term future of their operations.

“Sustainable finance is  a big missing piece.”

Often, we fail to acknowledge the financial burden placed on the agriculture industry when we discuss sustainable farming practices. Allowing growers, agronomists and advisors to make sustainable practices means that we must make those practices financially viable. We must also give growers the resources to remain financially resilient through market fluctuations.

Practices Must Be Understood and Standardized

It’s essential that growers, companies, and regulatory bodies know exactly what they’re aiming for when it comes to sustainable agriculture. Terms like “resilient agriculture,” “regenerative farming” and “sustainable agriculture” are broad and poorly defined, especially given that practices are nuanced and region-specific. 

Kellie Blair, a grower in North Central Iowa grower discussed what it means to attain the terms ‘regenerative’ and ‘sustainable’ in a recent conversation:

“It really depends on who you’re talking to. Consumers might think [the terms are] different than growers, growers think they’re different than food companies, and the same goes for the government.”

Blair suggested that policymakers work to help us unify our definitions of success, so that we can better develop standards around them. “Policy gets pretty sticky…but policy could really help us with standards. They could help us to keep a simple standard of what you need to meet.”

Industries Must Collaborate to Establish Incentives for Climate-Positive Farming

Cross-industry collaboration has been mentioned by many food experts in conversations about climate-positive food. It’s not just the grower’s responsibility to respond to markets and make farm management decisions accordingly. It’s up to entities across the food supply chain to support climate-positive food and farming, using the resources they have available.

Kate Schaffner, Sustainable Agriculture Lead at Kellogg, recently provided a great example from Kellogg’s perspective.

“[Sustainable food] is something that requires collaboration across the industry.

For example, we need to think through how best to use the resources we have at Kellogg’s disposal, so we can demonstrate the value of this work. We need to partner with our peers, with customers, our suppliers, to find opportunities to bring that work to scale. [It’s] going to be critical for any of us to be successful in this work.” 

We Must Allow Farmers to Learn from Each Other

Along with cross-industry collaboration, we must work together to provide growers with the opportunity to learn from each other.

Jay Watson, Sourcing Sustainability Engagement Manager at General Mills, said in a recent panel at the Future of Food conference: “We’re focused on creating very holistic support for these producers…this includes technical assistance, training, cost-sharing. However, [we must strengthen] the peer-to-peer network, since we understand that farmers will learn best from other farmers.”

We’ve heard this from several of the growers that we’ve interviewed for our blog: without a network of peers to share information, data and resources, it’s difficult to transition farming practices efficiently and effectively. Often, resilient or regenerative agriculture practices take time and testing, and if farmers have the opportunity to share information with one another, it lessens the time and testing needed to make resilient agriculture effective.

Bringing it All Together

These four tenets have risen to the surface of many of our recent conversations about climate-positive food and farming. Collaboration, unification, and access to resources are essential factors in making regenerative, resilient or sustainable agriculture viable, effective and adoptable. 

For more insights on regenerative agriculture, read our blog post on Implementing Regenerative Ag Practices.

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