Responsible Farming Can Secure the Future
Wood Turner, Senior Vice President of Agriculture Capital, believes we are at a pivotal time in food production: “We’re at a point where we are trying to produce so much food for so many people, that it’s absolutely critical that large producers and managers of large acreage move aggressively into responsible farming. By responsible, I mean I’m articulating a broad view that ranges anywhere from organic to sustainable to regenerative farming.”
Agriculture Capital is trying to expand responsible food production methods by investing in farmland and food processing to “build consumer driven, vertically integrated, appropriately scaled and regenerative businesses that support the planet and communities.” In his role, Turner focuses his time integrating and bringing to life the company’s various sustainability strategies to help find solutions to large-scale environmental problems through responsible and regenerative agriculture. Agriculture Capital will release their 2018 Impact Report later this summer to inspire “conversation around the regenerative management of land in permanent crop agriculture.”
Agriculture Capital is working to increase the use of regenerative farming not only to renew and restore the land but also the communities where they operate. To restore the land and communities, they employ various methods, one of which uses native pollinator optimization. Native pollinator optimization enhances the environment of farms to host their native pollinators, such as bees, in hopes of bringing back native pollinator activity to increase farm yields and restore ecosystem value. Pollinators are an essential part of keeping regenerative farms as productive as possible, but bringing in outside pollinators is one of the biggest costs for Agriculture Capital and farmers. Using cover cropping, pollinator hedgerows, and pollinator meadows to connect natural areas surrounding the farm into the farm itself increases the habitats for native pollinators which mitigates risk and reduces farm costs. “We can have a broader diversity of native bees providing function on the farm while also increasing species richness and species abundance,” says Turner. To do this, all farmers must aid this work, “We need engagement from farm managers and landowners around the country to be able to put more native pollinators back to work supporting productive farms.”
Family Foundations, public pensions, and college endowments largely make up Agriculture Capital’s investors which bring some challenges, such as returning long-term financial results to investors while maintaining the company’s desire for sustainable innovations to produce high returns. There is also the challenge of dispelling the idea that sustainable or regenerative farming will always be more expensive. Agriculture Capital employs a combination of methods to keep costs down by identifying projects that create positive value through responsibility to lead to higher returns.
Agriculture Capital also faces the challenge of informing consumers of their responsibility in “driving better products, better practices, and changing what goes into our food system.” There is a misunderstanding among consumers that “they don’t have any real choice” in creating change in the food system. In reality, Turner says, every food company “is incredibly interested in the views of consumers — what is their perception of food quality, what do they want to see in the way of food sustainability, and so on. People who buy food – all of us – send signals every day about what they want that food to be like. Too few of us understand that.” Consumers also influence the timing and availability of different food products. Because society generally moved away from understanding seasonal availability, many consumers expect all food products to be available throughout the year, but that is often unsustainable for the environment.
Moving forward, Agriculture Capital is working to address all the barriers to expanding regenerative farming. They are using “innovation and scale to give more people the opportunity to be able to access healthier and more responsibly grown food.” They are encouraging farms producing permanent crops to demonstrate a regenerative mindset towards farming to be part of climate solutions through various solutions, such as keeping woody biomass in place to sequester carbon or utilizing cover crops and composting to build soil health.
Ultimately, “we need everybody involved at whatever scale possible to be able to look for opportunities to manage our food system more effectively,” says Turner. “We’ve got to have room for large-scale operations in a description of what sustainability is, or what regenerative management is, in order to drive towards some of the solutions that we need.” Agriculture Capital is trying to build bridges that connect small and large-scale farming operations to learn from each other in order to move all farming scales towards more sustainable and regenerative agriculture.