Growing our Future: Scaling Regenerative Agriculture in the United States

The Challenge

Agriculture sits at the nexus of some of the world’s most pressing challenges: climate change, food security and nutrition, water and soil quality, biodiversity and sustainable livelihoods.

  • Every year, the US loses approximately 996 million metric tons of soil through erosion, while the societal and environmental costs of mainstream agriculture amount to $85 billion.[1]
  • Agriculture systems account for 8-10% of US greenhouse gas emissions, while the associated climate change could reduce the yield and protein value for staple crops[2].
  • More conventional methods of farming are no longer sustainable; in 2019, the number of US farmers filing for bankruptcy rose by 20%, the highest level in a decade[3].

In addition, the COVID-19 crisis is hitting the US agricultural sector hard and has revealed the fragility of our food production and fibre supply chains. 

It’s clear that business as usual is no longer an option.

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The regenerative agriculture solution

Forum for the Future is calling for a just transition to a regenerative agriculture system, which is one that puts back more into the environment and society than it takes out. 

Regenerative agriculture is, at its heart, an approach to farming that puts more back into the environment and society than it takes out.

As part of creating an agricultural system that is fit for the future, regenerative agriculture practices have the potential to create more resilient supply chains, restore soil health and enable farmers and businesses to thrive. 

While progress towards regenerative agriculture in the United States has accelerated over the last five years, there are significant barriers holding us back. What are they? And how can we overcome them?

With funding from the Walmart Foundation, Forum for the Future led a collaborative process with stakeholders from across the American agriculture system to identify the key opportunities to scale regenerative agriculture in the US. These are published in a new report which identifies 16 barriers to scale along with a seven-point-plan to help overcome them and drive transformational change, and specific recommendations for how different actors can enable this transition.

16 barriers to scaling regenerative agriculture

Growing Our Future is based on an analysis of the US food system and brings in wide-ranging perspectives from across the supply chain.  

Among the systemic barriers the report highlights is: 

  • A lack of consumer demand for regenerative products
  • The siloed nature of US finance, public health and agriculture systems.
  • Current market incentives, pricing and economics fail to support grower and farmworker livelihoods
  • Long-standing supply chain infrastructure being built around intensive specialized systems
  • Current policy and regulatory frameworks are not supportive of regenerative agriculture

Fig. 1 Map of barriers - Growing Our Future

Seven-point roadmap for a just transition to regenerative agriculture

The seven-point-roadmap identifies the key actions that players across the supply chain – including farmers, businesses with agricultural supply chains, agribusinesses, non-profits, investors and financial services, research institutions, philanthropists and policy makers – must variably take to drive change:

  1. Create financial mechanisms and market structures that support regenerative outcomes
  2. Empower farmers to build coalitions at the grassroots level
  3. Shape policy to build a resilient agricultural economy
  4. Build and demonstrate the business case for regenerative practices
  5. Engage with consumers to increase demand for regenerative products
  6. Prioritize nutritional benefits to enable healthy diets
  7. Mobilize landowners to enable regenerative practices to mainstream.

All underpinned by cross-sector and pre-competitive collaboration. The challenge is too great for any one organisation to tackle alone; working together to address systemic barriers, we just might.

Fig. 2 Map of leverage points - Growing Our Future. Read the full report here.

Join us

Watch our webinar

To learn more about how your organisation can get involved in transforming the agriculture system in the United States, you can watch the recording of our recent webinar on Forum's YouTube channel.

Get in touch

For any other enquiries, please contact Mary McCarthy at [email protected] 

To find out more about Forum’s work on Sustainable Nutrition visit 

Who’s involved 

Funding provided by: 
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“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

Report authors: Mary McCarthy, Elizabeth Rich, Samuel Smith, Lesley Mitchell, Sally Uren

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[1] The Nature Conservancy (2019). reThink Soil: A Roadmap for U.S. Soil Health.

[2] United States Environmental Protection Agency (2019) Greenhouse Gas Emissions

[3] The Farm Bureau (2020). The Verdict is In: Farm Bankruptcies up in 2019