Why Regenerative Agriculture, Why Now?

In the last few years, regenerative agriculture has catapulted from a somewhat nebulous notion to something everyone is talking about. Regenerative agriculture centers on revitalizing soil, reducing chemical inputs and promoting above- and below-ground biodiversity, which in turn can draws down carbon, improve water cycles and restore entire ecosystems, making it a vital way to mitigate climate change.
This sustainable system of farming isn’t new—it’s essentially “the way they used to do it.” It’s basically what Gary Zimmer, founder of Midwestern BioAg and one of Tera’s Edible-Alpha® Live! interviewees, began teaching in the early 1980s, coining it “biological farming.” It has been championed, along with organic, biodynamic and other related systems, by forward-thinking food brands and farmers for years now.

But only recently has regenerative agriculture entered the zeitgeist, with giant food companies, mission-driven food entrepreneurs and farmers—including a growing contingent of historically conventional and commodity farmers—increasingly embracing it. Along with appreciating its ecological benefits, they see regenerative ag as way to secure future supply chains, improve food quality and, notably, increase profits. 
Why is this happening now? What has caused so many stakeholders to wake up to regenerative ag’s potential?
It’s a confluence of factors. For one, climate change has become much more tangible, with one extreme weather event after another ransacking homes, businesses and crop fields and throwing wrenches in food supply chains. These impacts are felt by both the food industry and everyday consumers, compelling many to take action to tackle the problem—and regenerative agriculture offers a promising solution.
Another factor is the growing realization that the current agribusiness model, with its climate-ravaging practices and overreliance on a handful of commodity crops, simply isn’t working. The disastrous weather, escalating trade wars and the global COVID-19 pandemic have exposed conventional ag’s many flaws and made it clear it’s time for change. Frustrated conventional and commodity farmers see it. Food manufacturers that source from farmers see it. Consumers, who increasingly care about the climate and care where their food comes from, see it too.
For a long time, organic farming, which shares many tenets with regenerative ag, was considered the best solution to these issues. It remains a key part of the solution, but with just 1% of cropland in the U.S. certified organic, many now fear there isn’t enough time to convert enough farms before it’s too late. Because to achieve organic certification, farmers must adhere to a strict set of practices and wait three years before their crops can command a premium.
Regenerative agriculture, on the other hand, includes a range of climate-friendly practices that farmers can implement immediately and that can yield measurable results in less time. In short, it has a lower barrier of entry than organic. Though it may not be perfect, it is progress, and doing something to combat the climate problem is better than doing nothing.
All of these factors have made regenerative agriculture an attractive proposition for farmers and the food companies that rely on them. Plus, as they quickly learn, it’s smart business too. By working with—not against—nature, regenerative agriculture requires fewer inputs and produces better outputs, meaning more money saved and earned. The realization of this is helping to attract more investment dollars too, although much more patient capital is still needed.
This is a big reason why we held Edible-Alpha® Live and offer ongoing trainings and networking opportunities: to connect regenerative ag entrepreneurs with impact capital. The time for regenerative agriculture is now, so let’s work together to make real change.

As part of Edible-Alpha® Live!, Tera interviewed famous founder Gary Zimmer, along with his daughter Leilani Zimmer Durand, of Midwestern BioAg. The “father of biological farming” shared the story of his 37-year-old fertilizer company founded on his pioneering soil-health-focused approach to dairy farming, followed by a discussion about how entrepreneurs and impact investors can move regenerative agriculture forward.

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