In a quest for solutions to ensure a sustainable future for agriculture, approaches such as agroecology, permaculture, organic farming, circular agriculture, or carbon farming blossomed in recent years. One of these concepts caught the attention of food and drink companies: regenerative agriculture (to pronounce “reg ag” or “regen ag” for smoother speech).
The overall goal of regenerative agriculture is to enhance the farm ecosystem, by implementing practices which gradually restore soil organic matter, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, increase biodiversity, and ensure clean water availability.
Where do we stand?
The EU aims to be climate-neutral by 2050. To do so, the Fit for 55 package sets net CO2 removal targets for each Member States, with the overall objective of a climate neutral land and agriculture sector by 2035.
The European food and drink industry, processing 70% of the EU agricultural output, is committed to support farmers through this journey. Companies work together with farmers by setting up specific contracts, knowledge transfer, trainings, or financial arrangements.
At FoodDrinkEurope, we are also engaging to enable such transition. FoodDrinkEurope chaired the taskforce which developed the EU Code of Conduct on Responsible Business and Marketing Practices. Many companies signed the Code of Conduct, putting forward concrete climate actions, among which some specific commitments on regenerative agriculture:
- Danone: the Danone French subsidiary to source 100% of ingredients produced in France from regenerative agriculture by 2025;
- Nestlé: source 20% of key ingredients through regenerative agricultural methods by 2025, 50% (14,000 tonnes) by 2030;
- McCain: implement regenerative agriculture practices across 100% of McCain potato acreages by 2030;
- Unilever: protect and regenerate 1.5M hectares of land, forests and oceans by 2030.
On the European policy front, the new Common Agricultural Policy provides incentives for the uptake of regenerative farming practices via the eco-schemes. Recent initiatives on soil health and carbon farming are major policy steps. The legislative proposal on carbon removals certification, expected later this year, offers the opportunity to create a credible business model where farmers and other actors of the food chain can benefit from carbon farming.
What do we need now?
Many questions arise in a process of defining and listing sustainable farming practices. There is no such thing as one size fits all. Flexibility is key to the concept of regenerative agriculture. Soil characteristics, type of farm, climate zones will lead to the use of different practices. We need a set of outcome-based indicators and guidance to ensure consistency in the implementation of regenerative farming practices.
Policy coherence is also essential to ensure a high level of ambition. An increased coordination between leading actors, from both public and private sectors, will lead to better policy alignment.
Finally, collaboration along the food chain remains key to de-risk the implementation of regenerative agriculture at farm level.