Working together to accelerate the transition to regenerative agriculture in the United States

Agriculture has been sitting at the heart of some of the world’s most pressing challenges for years: food security and nutrition, water and soil quality, biodiversity, and sustainable livelihoods. Most recently, COVID-19 has continued to expose the inequalities and weaknesses within existing global supply chains, the vulnerabilities of farmers, and the growing numbers of people unable to afford or access healthy food.

What’s more, agriculture is responsible for 8-10% of US greenhouse gas emissions, driving climate change that is set to reduce the yield and protein value of staple crops.

If we’re to create a more sustainable future, business as usual is no longer an option for farm communities, business or governments.

Regenerative agriculture offers a significant opportunity to positively impact a number of these global issues. The movement in the United States has never had more momentum, largely driven by the role soil can play in addressing the climate crisis. Regenerative agriculture also, however, has real potential to create more resilient supply chains, restore biodiversity, distribute value and access to land equitably, and enable farmers, business and communities to thrive. 

But while progress towards regenerative agriculture in the US has accelerated over the last five years, adoption of even the most basic regenerative practices, such as no-till and cover cropping, is still very low - let alone the uptake of more advanced methods such as diversified cropping, silvopasture and alley cropping.

The Challenge

Transitioning to regenerative agriculture in the United States is a systemic challenge that requires uncommon partners to work together. 

Many initiatives and organizations are already working on these issues, however, the sector is not yet seeing the requisite level of collaboration. Small-scale practitioners tend to collaborate and learn from peers, while larger businesses and funders work together toward their own goals. There is rarely overlap between the two approaches, preventing both the depth and scale of transformation needed. 

Growing our Future aims to build on this momentum by bringing the sector together around specific areas where effective and collaborative action can drive transformational change at pace and scale. 

What we're doing: Growing our Future

With funding from the Walmart Foundation, the first phase of Growing our Future, in 2020, involved a collaborative landscape assessment that identified key ‘leverage’ points for scaling regenerative agriculture.

View our report Growing our Future: Scaling Regenerative Agriculture in the US 

Since then, we have brought together more than 100 diverse stakeholders from across the agriculture system, to seek ways to align and combine forces, access new energy, resources, or expertise, and to collectively design ways to drive tangible action to accelerate the scaling of regenerative agriculture in the US. 

Together, the group identified four areas of work that have high potential for impact and require collective action. Over 2021-2023, Growing our Future will help deliver these key workstreams, and we are now inviting actors from across the US agriculture system to join us. Find out more.

Policy change

A unified body advocating for progressive legislation

Desired outcome: A broad coalition of actors from across the agriculture system publicly advocates for a progressive policy proposal, informed by farmers, farmworkers, farm communities, and organizations. The proposal addresses inequality in the current agriculture system, incentivizes more regenerative approaches across US agriculture, and provides services to support the transition to regenerative agriculture.

Why: Policy is an area that is both ripe for change and essential to shift the dynamics of the status quo. There is a need for more advocates and supporters – from corporations to farm networks – to push for progressive regenerative agriculture policy with a unified voice. This needs to be informed by farmers, farmworkers, farm communities and addresses inequality in the current agriculture system. 

What: Growing our Future will support the building of an advisory coalition for progressive agricultural policy rooted in the core mission of ensuring equity and social justice is brought to the forefront of any policy conversation. We will support existing groups doing great and complementary work around policy and advocacy in the agriculture system, including the American Sustainable Business Council (ASBC), Midwest Row Crop Collaborative (MRCC), and Ceres, to share resources, align agendas to advocate for progressive legislation with a shared voice, and create a broader coalition of support. 

Join this workstream if...

  • you work on agriculture policy to support a transition to regenerative agriculture for your organization;
  • your organization has an active lobbying or policy branch;
  • your work in regenerative agriculture is actively constrained by policy and you have insights on what change is needed;
  • input into the upcoming Farm Bill or any federal legislation around key agriculture is a strategic priority.
  • We’re specifically hoping to bring together corporate and mainstream players that have significant influence in the policy space to advocate for progressive regenerative agriculture policies. 

Financing the transition

Increasing capital flows and de-risking the transition

Desired outcome: A clearer understanding of the structure and timing of financing needed to support the transition to regenerative; growth of financial mechanisms that finance the transition to regenerative agriculture for all types of farm communities; and de-risking of inflows of more types and higher volumes of finance into the sector.

Why: There is a mismatch between the needs of farmers operating in or transitioning to regenerative agriculture and the flows of capital. For investors, information on risks and returns is lacking or hard to unearth. For farmers, investment needs to accommodate different timelines and risks to conventional agriculture, and be accessible and valuable to a range of farmers. Opportunities to attract mainstream private and public finance and to tap into new financial flows around ecosystem service markets need to be developed in ways that work for farmers. This means we need greater information flows plus collaborative exploration of financial mechanisms that work for farmers, enable blended finance solutions and increase capital flows into the space. 

What: Growing our Future participants are interested in engaging in this workstream in two ways

  1. Cotton Pilot: Stakeholders operating in the apparel and cotton sector are exploring the opportunity to support cotton growers to transition to regenerative agriculture using a variety of different financial mechanisms including insetting, ecosystem service markets, green bonds, supportive contracts, etc. This pilot takes a holistic approach focusing on regenerative cotton in the context of other crops in rotation and looking beyond carbon benefits to include other ecosystem services. 
  2. Beyond this specific cotton pilot, this workstream will work to elevate and amplify existing proofs of concept to mainstream finance system stakeholders that might not yet be engaged in supporting the transition to regenerative agriculture.

Join this workstream if you’re a…

  • farming community representative or organizing body: we are intentionally designing all work to be farm community centric; 
  • financial institution interested in and investing in regenerative agriculture;
  • financial intermediary or expert interested in developing financial mechanisms and structures that drive regenerative agriculture;
  • foundation or philanthropic organization focused on agriculture and regenerative systems;
  • corporation with strategic investment opportunities;
  • apparel brand currently sourcing cotton and interested in engaging and investing in regenerative supply chains in the United States;
  • cotton grower interested in participating in the pilot.

Pathways to market

Creation of new value networks

Desired outcome: New value networks are in place that create pathways to market by connecting buyers, distributors and producer communities through improved information flows to drive demand, address fragmentation, equitably distribute value and improve circularity.

Why: The current marketplace is fragmented, and buyers and sellers working within the regenerative agriculture system struggle to find each other. Farmers and producers, particularly as they shift to more diversified production systems, do not have clear pathways into supportive markets. This is a particular challenge for small or marginalized farmers. 

What: Growing our Future participants are interested in understanding and leveraging the large middle space of distributors, institutional buyers, and processors to address the fragmentation within the current marketplace. This workstream aims to improve connectivity between regenerative producers and buyers, improve information flows across the value chain, and address critical barriers to creating a vibrant marketplace. Specifically, workstream participants will also explore opportunities, in partnership with others, to support aligned, scalable and credible data collection.

Join this workstream if you are…

  • working in or interested in addressing the fragmentation of our agricultural supply chains;
  • actively trying to procure or sell products from regenerative agriculture systems;
  • working in or interested in exploring how to more equitably distribute value back to farm communities.

Find out more

Join us in accelerating the transition to regenerative agriculture in the US

We are now inviting stakeholders from across the US agriculture system to join us in one or more of the above workstreams. Opportunities to get involved range from workstream contributor or implementation partner, to joining the accountability team or supporting the program as an amplifier and connector. 

Participants will represent farm communities, agribusiness, food service, retailers, manufacturers, apparel, investors, philanthropies, academia and policy. Growing our Future will partner with incumbents as well as diverse and less-heard voices and we are particularly seeking to elevate under-represented sectors, including Black, indigenous groups and communities of color; farmworkers; financial institutions; policy makers; and businesses just beginning their journey towards regenerative agriculture.

Our work together will be based on four key principles:

For more information on becoming a financial supporter or to discuss how you can get involved in Growing our Future, contact Mary McCarthy, [email protected].

Who’s involved 

Funding provided by: 
Corporate logotype -

“Regenerative agriculture allows actors across the current food system to use their skills, 
assets and determination to drive the transformation of a system which today is mostly geared towards efficiency and profit maximisation for a few, to one that is driven by a goal to maximize access to nutrition for all, while also putting more back into the environment and society than it takes out. Regenerative agricultural practices are already here, particularly in the United States.

The challenge is understanding how we scale these practices. Taking a systems view - understanding the agricultural system as a set of interconnected actors and activities - helps us begin to understand how to influence this complex system in a way that drives transformative change. This report is our contribution to creating that shift.”

DR SALLY UREN, Chief Executive Officer, Forum for the Future

View the report Growing our Future: Scaling Regenerative Agriculture in the US 

Further resources 

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