With this agreement, “the vast majority of that funding flows directly to the farmers,” who largely farm wheat, corn, soy, sugar beets, and other crops, Margaret Henry, senior director of sustainable agriculture strategy and external engagement for PepsiCo, told FoodNavigator-USA. Some of the regenerative agriculture practices that the investment will support include increasing crop rotation diversity, nitrogen optimization, plant cover crops, and reducing tillage, she added.
Putting runs on the board, delivering outcomes
In fall 2021, PepsiCo unveiled its pep+ sustainability framework with three key pillars: positive agriculture, positive value chain, and positive choices. This investment in agriculture "demonstrates that [PepsiCo is] really willing to walk that walk” with its commitments, Henry said.
“We've made some significant strides, and this announcement is really saying, ... now we have that roadmap all the way through to 2030. With the right organizations, we've taken the time to try out different approaches with lots of different groups who work with farmers, and these three farmer-facing groups are extremely credible.”
Last year, PepsiCo advanced its pep+ goals by sourcing 100% of its potatoes in North America from sustainable farms. And this year, PepsiCo aims for more tangible results, Henry noted.
“It's great to make commitments and to have goals, but we're also going to actually put some runs on the board and show success; those outcomes are flowing through. We already have some from 2022 that I think you're going to see in our sustainability report ... [which have] to do with the actual carbon that's been sequestered [and] the actual biodiversity improvements that we've seen on the farm."
Working towards a common definition of regenerative agriculture
While there is some debate on the definition of regenerative agriculture, PepsiCo's "definition is around outcomes," from reducing greenhouse gases to improving soil health to making positive changes in the lives of farmers, Henry said. However, industries need a common definition of regenerative agriculture, she noted.
“We think that this whole industry needs to move together. [Regenerative agriculture] shouldn't just be a PepsiCo definition; it needs to be a definition alongside all of our peers, all of our competitors, the fuel world, [and] anyone who touches ag, so it doesn't confuse farmers. At the end of the day, we got to keep farmers farming, and they have better things to do than field 20 different offers coming at them in the field gate for 20 different versions of regenerative agriculture.”
Improving farmers' lives: The heart of regenerative agriculture
PepsiCo sees “the heart of regenerative agriculture is … improving the ecosystems in which farmers are working,” Henry said. This means that the focus is on “the practical farmer first, and so it's always going to be a bottom-up rather than a top-down build for what's value and what's critical to farmers,” she added.
Knowing “how to interact with farmers,” which includes providing “good agronomic advice” through methods that support the local community, also is important, Henry said. The three organizations that PepsiCo is investing in “support farmer-to-farmer communication, bringing together field days to hear from neighbors about what's not working just as much as what is working,” she added.
“It's not somebody who shows up from New York City onto your farm and says, ‘Hey, I'll pay you a little bit for your carbon, see you next year.’ These are people who live in the communities, who work with these farmers, have come out of these farms, [and] are really providing good agronomic advice to ensure that these practices succeed.”
Building resiliency in good and bad times
PepsiCo’s pep+ also factors in climate resilience, Henry said. “Mitigation and adaptation go hand-in-hand,” and PepsiCo will combat climate change while addressing its real-world impact, she explained.
Farmers that adopt regenerative practices with good agronomic advice are “still green in those drought years and those five years where all their neighbors’ [crops] have turned brown,” Henry noted.
“One thing that that we're focused on at PepsiCo is climate resilience,” Henry said. “Farmers and the food system …. [are] going to be more stressed than almost any other system due to the climate change that is rolling down that pike today — no matter how much we mitigate — so those risks are coming to farmers.”