Despite the economic downturn that had a stark impact on investment across asset classes, 2023 was a busy year for the development and investment in regenerative agriculture and food. RFSI News covered the year with both curated news from around the sector and with stories of our own. Here’s a look at the top 10 RFSI News stories of 2023 and a look at the top 6 RFSI News interviews.
RFSI’s Top 10 Stories of 2023
As they say, “With great power, comes great responsibility,” and such is the case with global food companies – ten of which control most of the global food system. Considering the tremendous scale of transformation potential that these corporations represent, they have a key role to play in the systemic transition of agriculture and food away from extraction and degradation. And while the how is incredibly important, we also wanted to take a look at the who. On their own path to transformation, large food companies have a significant role to play in supporting stakeholders across the system to transition to regenerative.
In an agricultural system where degradation is perpetuated by an antiquated financial system that incentivizes the status quo, financing options that meet the unique needs of farmers transitioning to regenerative or organic practices are limited. Mad Capital is pushing the envelope about how we think about and execute regenerative agriculture finance by blending new debt and traditional debt models. Their effort took a big step forward in late 2022 when Mad Capital announced a $4 million seed round fund raise in December, bringing them a bit closer to meeting their goal of financing 10 million acres of farmland by 2032. We had the opportunity to talk to Mad Capital Co-Founder and CEO, Brandon Welch, to dig into their work today, the recent fundraise, and how they plan to keep changing the trajectory of regenerative agriculture finance.
Like regenerative agriculture, regenerative capital needs to be looked at from the perspective of what it regenerates, how this capital is different from traditional extractive approaches, and the process by which the intended regenerative outcomes actually materialize. By understanding and applying the mindset and approaches that we use to build regenerative agriculture, we can also begin to understand and build regenerative capital frameworks.
Two powerhouse real asset managers – SLM Partners and Impact Ag Partners – are joining forces to launch a new fund that will invest in regenerative agriculture and carbon storage in Australia. The SLM Agri Carbon Fund – which has already secured a cornerstone investor – will combines decade-plus experience from both companies to scale up regenerative, low-carbon farming systems that will deliver positive social and environmental impacts.
Here’s a startling fact: Farmers and ranchers are twice as likely as people in other occupations to die by suicide, according to the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention, and farmers report stress is on the rise. This is a crisis. What is it about farming that leaves its community more susceptible and how can this be addressed with human and capital resources?
This past summer, Keavin Hill of Hill Farms added 51,000 chestnut trees across 650 of their traditionally row crop acres in Northern Kentucky. This significant transition in land use to include permanent crops is set to bring both long-term ecosystem and economic benefits to Hill’s operation and he’s not alone. Hill is one of a growing number of operators that are adopting agroforestry – defined as the intentional integration of trees and shrubs into crop and animal farming systems. It’s not just operators either, investors are also slowly turning onto the opportunity of agroforestry…with good reason. Read how investment capital can help farmers overcome adoption barriers.
Opportunities to invest in regenerative agriculture and food have increased dramatically in the past five years and for good reason. Regenerative agriculture can work to address some major global challenges – including climate change and biodiversity loss – and some sector specific challenges – including declining farmer incomes and the decline of rural communities. For the professional investor, these new investment opportunities seem relatively diverse and plentiful. But what about the non-accredited investor? We took a look at the options that exist for these investors to fund regeneration.
The bad news: Women are grossly under-represented in the finance and investment space, especially in key decision-making and leadership roles. The good news: The regenerative agriculture and food investing space may be small but there is a growing list of capable, passionate, and driven women working to drive investment into a new, resilient food system. We’ve identified women in the U.S. who are leading the effort to unlock capital to regenerate our agriculture and food systems.
In the past 12 months we have seen a proliferation of the term regenerative agriculture across the food system – from farmer, to emerging brand, to input providers, to global food corporates – representing many different levels of understanding and approaches to engagement in the space. During this time, the RFSI team has had the opportunity to attend and participate in several convenings that have allowed us a view into how different corners of the food system – including mainstream food and agriculture stakeholders – are stepping into the space. From Amsterdam to Anaheim to Chicago to Minneapolis, here are some of the lessons we’ve taken away from these experiences.
Regenerative land stewardship has an important role to play in addressing the climate, pollution, and human health crises brought on, in part, by decades of extractive agriculture and food systems. But we are only at the beginning of what needs to be a massive transition in land management and all hands on deck are needed – including and especially those stewarding our land. Unfortunately, not all land stewards have the same opportunities to participate. Historically, discriminatory programs and policies have presented barriers for BIPOC communities to access land and financing at the same rate as others. With this in mind and a mission to a mission to keep farmers on the land, Iroquois Valley Farmland REIT has launched a new program – the Rooted in Regeneration Notes – to help address these inequities.
RFSI’s Top 6 Interviews of 2023
With a mutual desire to create real and lasting impact for human health and the planet, Chris Ramsay and Simon Evill have launched Pelican Ag – the UK’s first VC firm exclusively focused on regenerative and sustainable food systems. Pelican Ag invests in early stage (pre-seed, seed, and Series A) across the agriculture and food systems for outsized impact and returns. RFSI had the opportunity to sit down with co-founder Chris Ramsay to talk about what brought them to this emerging space, what their theory of change is, and why a £50M fund for regenerative food and agriculture is just what we need right now.
Funding what many call the messy or missing middle of the regenerative food supply chain remains complex, because of the complexities of projects themselves and because of expectations of traditional capital financers. As a result, activating capital to projects that seek to build solutions has been slow. Transformational Investing in Food Systems, or TIFS, is working to address this. RFSI News had the opportunity to sit down with Tim Crosby and Rex Raimond to discuss what they are learning in the space and how we move from dialogue to action.
> 4P Foods: Activating Capital for Regional, Resilient, Regenerative, and Equitable Distribution Systems
Tom McDougall believes the importance of building a new food system goes far beyond a business opportunity – it is a moral and strategic imperative. 4P Foods, the company Tom founded and leads, is building the boring, but absolutely necessary plumbing system – the pipes, the pumps, (the infrastructure, the tech) – for a regional, resilient, regenerative, and equitable food system. They do this by enabling the connection between the demand for regenerative food grown within regional foodsheds and the corresponding supply coming from communities of farmers and ranchers. Building a business around this requires grit and capital, something Tom knows a lot about. Read more about his journey here.
As the nation and world reflects on what the failure of Silicon Valley Bank (SVB) means for start-ups, businesses, and banking, we were wondering what this tells us about our broken finance system. We asked two people – Robyn O’Brien, co-founder and Managing Director of rePlant Capital, and Charley Cummings, President & CEO of Walden Mutual Bank– to share their reaction to the failure of SVB and what this means for the food and agriculture finance space.
Ooooby is a decentralized marketplace for local, ecological food. Pete Russell, founder of Ooooby, set out to solve for the problem of delivering better prices to consumers of regenerative foods while ensuring farmers get the premium they deserve for their regenerative farming practices. Ooooby provides an easy way for farmers & food producers to sell direct to local households using their sales and logistics platform.
RFSI caught up with Ben Adolph, Co-Founder of Merge Impact, who is on a mission to provide the infrastructure and organization of data from innovative technologies to construct a fully transparent, authenticated global food network, intricately interweaving environmental sustainability, farmer empowerment, community enrichment, and human health into a cohesive ecosystem. Read our full article to learn about Merge Impact’s journey, lessons learned, and what lies ahead.