Dale Buss

March 2023

Volume 77, No. 2

regenerative agriculture practices

© Daniel Balakov/iStock/Getty Images Plus

regenerative agriculture practices

© Daniel Balakov/iStock/Getty Images Plus

Organic agriculture is both a complement and a complication to the push for regenerative agriculture. Its success demonstrates that financial rewards can encourage more sustainable practices on the farm, but the organic approach also stops short of the philosophy behind regenerative agriculture.

Clear Frontier, for example, is a startup funded by wealthy investors that has begun buying up Midwestern farmland to convert it to organic agriculture and has acquired about 8,500 acres so far. The Omaha, Neb.–based outfit is on its way to spending a total of between $200 million and $300 million over a decade to purchase about 30,000 acres for that purpose, says Justin Bruch, president and cofounder.

“We buy the land and lease it to farmers on a long-term basis and help them with crop rotation and cover crops and technology around that, as well as give them the runway to get from conventional to organic in 35 months,” Bruch says.

Among other things, Clear Frontier aims to detail the financial gains for farmers from doing things organically. “It’s important for farmers not just to have a sustainability case but to be profitable in a longer-term case as well,” says Cristina Rohr, managing director of investments for S2G Ventures, which has invested in Clear Frontier. “It’s validating to have proof from actual farms.”

The market is validating the boom in organic acreage. U.S. sales of organic foods reached $52.3 billion in 2021, and will ride compound annual growth averaging nearly 9%, to $95 billion a year in sales by 2026, according to BlueWave Consulting and Research.

But organic agriculture isn’t regenerative agriculture, even though there’s a lot of overlap between the two. Organic carries strict requirements and regulatory definitions in the United States and elsewhere, focused mainly on inputs: not using pesticides or synthetic fertilizers.

So while both organic and regenerative philosophies also can involve crop rotation, for example, organic farmers use light tillage, while regenerative agriculture discourages any tillage. And synthetic fertilizer can have a role in regenerative farming while it’s verboten in organics, which is one reason yields on organic farms typically are lower than in conventional farming.

Still, Bruch believes that organics can show a way for the growth of its regenerative cousin by demonstrating that the end consumer will pay more for products that manifest efforts to protect human health and promote sustainability.

“With organic, you have a standard, and documentation, and you’re paid a premium to get there,” Bruch says. “If there’s no criteria and you don’t compensate” [farmers who use regenerative practices], “it’s using a shotgun versus a rifle.”

About the Author

Dale Buss, contributing editor, is a veteran journalist who writes about the food industry from Rochester Hills, Mich. ([email protected]).

Digital Exclusives right arrow

Hidden Opportunities in the Processed Foods Debate

Criticism of processed foods is not new. However, until recently, the finger-pointing was placed squarely on a specific ingredient or nutrient: too much sugar, too much fat, not enough protein.

The White House Conference Was Only the First Step

The National Strategy’s whole-of-government approach is a first step at breaking silos and was seen on the day of the conference, from USDA, FDA, and White House staff and others leading discussion sessions to current and former members of Congress presenting and hosting.

WHC Panels Explore Benefits, Barriers to Food as Medicine

A core theme at last week’s White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health was the need to develop policies that more intimately tie nutrition and food security to healthcare—both as preventative and treatment measures.

Can History Repeat at Biden’s White House Conference?

The challenge for the 2022 White House Conference experts may be less about navigating the mechanics of program development, as was done 50 years ago, and more about taking stock of government’s role in solving today’s nutrition and health challenges.

Food Technology Articles right arrow

Hot, Hot, Hot: Spices and Seasonings

A visually oriented overview of spice and seasoning ingredient trends.

From Family Recipe to Retail Shelf

Family restaurant owner Dane Carder navigates the hurdles to bring his grandfather’s spaghetti sauce to U.S. grocery stores

Checking on Portions

An infographic describing how consumers use portion control to manage their diet.

Recent Brain Food right arrow

A New Day at the FDA

IFT weighs in on the agency’s future in the wake of the Reagan-Udall Report and FDA Commissioner Califf’s response.

Members Say IFT Offers Everything You Need to Prepare for an Uncertain Future

Learn how IFT boosts connections, efficiencies, and inspiration for its members.

More on the FDA's Food Traceability Final Rule

In a new white paper, our experts examine the FDA’s Food Traceability Final Rule implications—and its novel concepts first proposed by IFT.