RR News Update: March 30, 2019


Soil and climate change  

Soil continues to carve out a spot on the leading edge of climate change dialog. Some big names chimed in to add even more buzz to the regenerative chatter.

Bill Gates made a call on his blog, GatesNotes, for more attention to soil, pointing out that there’s more carbon in the soil than in the atmosphere and all plant life combined. Agricultural practices have the ability to both release this carbon into the atmosphere (exacerbating climate change) and sequester carbon from the atmosphere into the soil (helping reduce atmospheric carbon). Gates points to some of the innovative companies that are making agriculture a solution to the climate change puzzle.

With a continued spotlight on soil, a recent Scientific American article takes on the question: Can Soil Microbes Slow Climate Change? Some experts say that the use of carbon farming techniques that extract carbon dioxide from the air and store it in soil is now imperative to the fight against climate change. But can we learn to store more carbon while also increasing agricultural yields? One expert from New Mexico State University, David Johnson, says it can be done but scaling up may be a challenge.


More food companies turning to regenerative…but some are skeptical of underlying motives

The number of companies focusing on soil and regenerative agriculture in their messaging continues to increase. 

Founder and former COO of Blue Apron, Matthew Wadiak, announced the launch of Cooks Venture, with the goal of building a better food system with a superior supply chain, starting with the most impactful food – poultry. This new regenerative food company will be built off of a newly acquired 800-acre farm and two large processing facilities in Arkansas that will sell pasture-raised, heirloom, slow growth chickens starting in July 2019.

Bonterra Organic Vineyards has made a different kind of investment in regenerative, with a new soil study highlighting the benefits of organic and biodynamic agricultural practices. The results, although limited to a small sample of Bonterra’s 1,000 acres of vineyard, show “biodynamic sites hold the most soil organic carbon, followed closely by organic sites; both are superior in storing carbon to conventional farming.”

Despite the increasing messaging and growing awareness about sustainable and regenerative agriculture, there is room for skepticism about the motives that underlie such endeavors. The positive optics that come from positioning food companies in this space are growing and raise concerns that companies may jump on the regenerative bandwagon without the follow-through necessary to create real change. AgFunder outlined what may be the fears of many in this interesting piece.


Investment continues in the tools for ecological agriculture

The ecological inputs sector continued to show it’s resilience with a new €700K investment in French innovator Kapsera this week by European investment firm, Demeter. This investment will help Kapsera scale up and complete product development on their microbe technology that encapsulates microbes in a biodegradable polymer made from brown algae. Kapsera was able to show that the technology, which is already approved for agricultural use in Europe, is a great fit for farmers looking for sustainable solutions to chemical fertilizers.


What we’re reading:

We continue to see the anti-meat movement and alternative protein start-ups like Impossible Foods putting great emphasis on the detrimental environmental footprint of meat production. But a closer look at the facts paints a different picture. This piece from AgFunder, Alternative Protein Startups: Let’s Get the Facts Straight about Livestock’s Carbon Footprint, analyzes some of the latest research on meat-based versus plant-based diets and their respective impacts on the environment, and critiques the flaws in the anti-meat arguments. More importantly, we like that this article looks at the potential of new practices and technologies to change the norms for livestock operations, encouraging increased dialog rather than presenting “a black and white scenario.”

Another big picture article that caught our attention recently was an early March interview with Sustainable Food Trust founder Patrick Holden done by Borough Market. Holden walks readers through his vision of a sustainable food system and the history that took us away from that. He discusses the fluctuating narrative around the health of eating meats and the sometimes misguided draw of plant-based diet arguments. But what caught our attention was his discussion of the economics of sustainable farming and his identification that consumers play a role in demanding, with their grocery lists and wallets, the kind of food that will regenerate our ecosystem rather than degrade it.