Any talk about regenerative agriculture must involve policy: Clif Bar exec

By Stephen Daniells

- Last updated on GMT

“I wish we had as much energy around a regenerative, climate-smart Farm Bill as we did around the marketing of regenerative, because now is the time to craft a Farm Bill that could actually improve climate and the quality of our farming,” says Clif Bar’s director of agriculture.

Speaking with FoodNavigator-USA at the recent Good Food Expo in Chicago​, Matthew Dillon said that, while food companies often think they can change the world simply with their supply chains and marketing, companies should also explore how that can affect policy.

“[It’s] true that supply chain and consumer communication are powerful tools, but we cannot ignore policy because policy is a major lever for changing our food system,” ​he said. “We either have policies that incentivize farmers doing sustainable practices that conserve soil and build soil health, or we have policies that dis-incentivize, that encourage farmers to grow corn on corn on corn​.

“Every brand has to ask itself what is its citizen’s responsibility to try to affect policy that is going to be good for people, good for the planet, and good for farmers.

“I don’t see enough engagement in that area,” ​he added.

Hot topic

Regenerative agriculture was recently defined* as: “a holistic land management practice that leverages the power of photosynthesis in plants to close the carbon cycle, and build soil health, crop resilience and nutrient density”. 

“‘Regenerative’ is a very popular buzz word right now,”​ said Dillon. “It is being thrown around fairly loosely by a lot of different folks, there are at least five or six different standards being discussed. For some people, regenerative is about conventional agriculture doing a more sustainable job, and for others it’s about organic.

“I think one of the things we have to be careful about is creating new labels and new buzzwords that are good for marketers but they might not necessarily be good for consumers or for farmers if we’re not all clear about what the terms mean.”

Dillon added: “I think we all need to slow down. Standards take a long time to develop. We need time for people to give input on these standards, to look at pros and cons, to see how they may impact farmers and markets. I feel the urgency - as someone who has kids – and there needs to be an urgency, but we also need to be cautious, thoughtful and ask good questions.”

“Most importantly, while we’re having those conversations we should be investing in what we know will impact our planet in a better way, and that is encouraging farmers to grow more cover crops, investing in research that will make farmers more sustainable, and that will give them more tools to implement practices that will improve soil quality.

Organic & regenerative

Clif Bar is paying close attention to regenerative agriculture but as of right now is still focused on organic, he said.

“We think that investing in organic because people know what it is and there’s a set standard and set rules is the best thing we can do right now,” ​said Dillon.

Regenerative Organic Certification program was recently launched​ by the Regenerative Organic Alliance, a coalition of organizations and businesses led by Rodale Institute, Dr. Bronner's, and Patagonia. Separately, the Carbon Underground and Green America, in partnership with Ben & Jerry’s (Unilever), DanoneWave, Annie’s (General Mills), and MegaFood also recently announced they were starting to develop a global verification standard for food grown in a regenerative manner​.

* The definition was crafted by the Regenerative Agriculture Initiative at California State University at Chico, the Carbon Underground and 56 other leading organizations from over 100 countries working in this field.

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