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How to Deliver Accountability in Regenerative Agriculture Practices

Regenerative agriculture has been a common practice for time immemorial in Indigenous cultures, and at long last, Western agriculture has embraced the benefits of an Indigenous approach to farming practices. While the term regenerative agriculture has been circulating in Western agriculture since the 1980s, in the past four decades, how to measure accurate results in regenerative agriculture practices hasn’t been standardized. Here at Merge Impact, we believe that defining and standardizing regenerative agriculture practices is a must to build trust between consumers, farmers, and brands. However, until these practices are nationally standardized — in a similar way to the USDA organic label — it’s important to know how to recognize hype, greenwashing, and the truth. When it comes to understanding truly beneficial regenerative agriculture practices, we believe that transparency, simplicity, and measurable data are the keys to creating trust. Even more critical though, is shifting the paradigm to focus on impact and outcomes vs. process. Here are five things to look for when determining who’s walking the walk, and not just talking the talk, when it comes to regenerative agriculture.

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How to Identify Real Regenerative Agriculture Practices

Assumptions Should Not Be Made  Always seek accurate information when it comes to regenerative agriculture practices. While estimates and assumptions are great for creating goals, change only happens when we can prove it with real data, collected from real supply chains.  From individual farmers to international CPG companies, modeling outcomes is an easy way to diminish the potential benefits of real, regenerative agriculture practices. . Our reality? Models and assumptions are great for understanding potential value chain outcomes, sometimes how to solve challenges, but not for proving impact accounting. Authentic data generated by the farms themselves, combined with resources grounded in regenerative agriculture and embraced by brands committed to making a genuine impact, is far more valuable than relying on estimates and assumptions.. 

Data Should Always Be Centered.  A recent Stanford report noted that data deficiencies complicate and impede climate-smart agricultural practices. Currently, a lack of publicly-accessible datasets means that pinpointing baseline conditions and tracking soil carbon increases and emission reductions — two of a multitude of regenerative criteria — is difficult at best. Luckily this is changing, thanks in large part to the $20 billion allocated for agriculture-related conservation funding in the Inflation Reduction Act, with $300 million explicitly set aside for the USDA to use field-based data to guide climate benefits in agriculture. Mending these data deficiencies will take time, but new tools, such as Merge Impact’s new platform, MINT (Merge Impact Nutrient Traceability),  and Earth Impact Soil Protocol (EISP) will help exponentially. MINT, a dynamic soil health and crop nutrient testing tool offers farmers access to easily verifiable information about the nutrition of their crops, while also giving food brands a fully transparent source of nutrient-density data for their ingredients. EISP 

is a new standard for measuring, tracking, and validating soil based ecosystem outcomes in regenerative agriculture. We believe that  tools like MINT and EISP are needed to ensure that data is centered when it comes to regenerative agriculture practices.

Don’t Undercomplicate Regenerative Agriculture We want to keep things simple, but under-complicating regenerative agriculture practices by assuming that no-till methods and a few cover crops are the answer is patently ridiculous. This is especially true in the conventional modeling space. Say a producer plants some cover crops but maintains the use of chemicals and synthetic fertilizers. Is this regenerative? No way — yet the brand they service can now greenwash a box of pasta by waxing poetic about their regenerative practices. This gives the entire industry a bad name. 

But Also: Beware of Overcomplicating Regenerative Agriculture  Complicating regenerative agriculture can be just as bad as under-complicating the process.  The most complicated part of regenerative agriculture is currently managed by the farmers doing the field-level work and measurements. It’s a highly complex medium to work with and the management of the regenerative system is far more intensive than conventional, and in some cases even organic agriculture. The complexity often discourages farmers and brands from getting into the regenerative space. That’s where Merge Impact comes in: we can lift the burden by providing the data infrastructure that connects brands and producers to field level measurements and ecosystems services with efficiency, affordability, and scale.

Best Practices are a Premium Establishing a price premium for regenerative agriculture products necessitates the integration of reliable impact data. By merging accurate information about the soil, water, biodiversity, and community benefits of regenerative practices, consumers can gain a deeper understanding of the true value of these products. This comprehensive approach to evaluating the positive impact of regenerative agriculture will enable the industry to justify higher price points and encourage more widespread adoption of sustainable practices. Ultimately, leading to a market where both producers and consumers recognize and reward the long-term benefits of regenerative agriculture, supporting a healthier ecosystem and more resilient communities.
While we have a long way to go of defining and standardizing regenerative agriculture practices, using common sense and centering data will go a long way when it comes to understanding real regenerative agriculture practices. By doing so, we can continue to build trust between consumers, farmers, and brands. This is our mission and one we’re passionate about growing. Interested in learning more about Merge Impact? Go to www.mergeimpact.com to learn more about how Merge Impact’s measurement and data solutions contribute to a climate-positive food future.

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