Farmers first is the key to regenerative agriculture

It’s not every day you hear eight Ph.D.s, entrepreneurs or bigwigs at billion-dollar international companies talking intensely about farmers. But during two regenerative agriculture breakout sessions at VERGE 2020 this week, that’s what happened.

“For us, it was critical to actually put the farmer at the center of this conversation,” said Robyn O’Brien, co-founder of rePlant Capital, during one conversation.

These experts knew that to make real change in the agriculture system that would help draw down carbon and make farming more sustainable, the industry must get the farmers on board. According to Jay Watson, sourcing, sustainability and engagement manager at General Mills, you can have the resources, the buy-in from local governments and the cultural support but to unlock a new way of producing, it needs to be a farmer-led movement.

Farmer Peer Networks Building Healthy Soils for Cotton

When it comes to understanding the sustainability of U.S. cotton, Soil Health Institute (SHI) conservationist David Lamm always returns to the soil. “When producers use management practices that complement how soils function, particularly to support cotton production, they realize that they do not have to accept degraded soil as the norm,” reflects Lamm. “Soil is supposed to cycle nutrients, retain water and buffer against pollutants. It’s a complex biological ecosystem. We are trying to help producers see the soil as a living ecosystem.”

As a conservationist and Project Manager for SHI, Lamm is on the forefront of scaling adoption of positive soil health practices across the cotton belt. The Soil Health Institute launched its Healthy Soils for Sustainable Cotton Project in three states in 2019, participating in Field to Market’s Continuous Improvement Accelerator, with financial support from the Walmart Foundation, VF Foundation, and Wrangler.

“It’s exciting that the industry is wanting to show their consumers that the cotton they use is being grown in a sustainable way,” says Lamm. “Implementing soil health management systems is a very effective way to meet sustainability standards for the cotton industry.”

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Soil Health Institute Announces Virtual Field Days

The Soil Health Institute (SHI), the non-profit charged with safeguarding and enhancing the vitality and productivity of soils, released today virtual soil health field days. The video tours include conversations with cotton growers and soil health specialists in Arkansas and South Carolina, according to David Lamm, Project Manager of Healthy Soils for Sustainable Cotton. The series of 13 videos are publicly available on SHI’s YouTube Channel.

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How to Scale Regenerative Agriculture at Verge

Regenerative agriculture has the potential to draw down billions of tons of carbon dioxide while simultaneously restoring soil health. Yet interest in the approach from producers, food companies and legislators has not translated into widespread adoption of regenerative methods. The good news is that new data and initiatives from entrepreneurs, policy makers and technologists looks set to take regenerative agriculture mainstream over the next few years.

Dr. Cristine Morgan, Chief Scientific Officer at Soil Health Institute, will join Taryn Barclay from Cargill and Jay Watson from General Mills for a panel discussion at VERGE on Tuesday, October 27, 2020, from 11:30am to 12:00pm Pacific. The session will cover the latest soil science results and what the data means for the food industry.

Taryn Barclay, Senior Director, Strategic Partnerships & Stakeholder Engagement, Cargill

Taryn Barclay has 20 years corporate experience and has been with Cargill since 2007, working to advance Cargill’s food security, nutrition and sustainability strategies and partnering with Cargill businesses on stakeholder engagement, NGO partnership development, public private partnerships, issues management, communications and employee engagement.

Prior to Cargill, Taryn was appointed IPC Media’s (formerly part of Time Warner) first Corporate Responsibility Manager to lead and implement the company’s CR strategy and activities. With a background in Human Resources, Taryn has worked in numerous roles in the UK and South Africa, where she commenced her career in the coal mining division of BHP Billiton.

Taryn obtained an MSc degree in Responsibility & Business Practice from University of Bath, United Kingdom in 2006, and has a BA (Honours) Degree Industrial Psychology from the University of South Africa in addition to her undergraduate Bachelor of Arts: Industrial Psychology & English degree obtained from the University of Port Elizabeth, South Africa. Taryn was born in Zimbabwe and grew up in South Africa. After living in the United Kingdom for 13 years, Taryn relocated to Minneapolis, Minnesota in 2015.

Cristine Morgan, Chief Scientific Officer, Soil Health Institute

Dr. Cristine Morgan is responsible for establishing research priorities to advance soil health and developing the scientific direction, strategy and implementation for soil health research programs. Her duties include leading scientific research and coordinating projects carried out at various institutions that advance soil health science and result in useful and reportable results.

Prior to joining the Institute, Dr. Morgan was a tenured professor of Soil Science at Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas, where she was recognized for outstanding collaboration, teaching, research, and mentoring. Her emphasis was in soil hydrology, pedometrics, and global soil security. Among her many accomplishments, Dr. Morgan conducted ground-breaking research on how management practices influence soil-plant-water relations. She also developed methods that were adopted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture for easily measuring soil carbon. She has a history of applying her knowledge to address real-world problems experienced by farmers and ranchers and is passionate about educating others.

Dr. Morgan is a Fellow of the Soil Science Society of America, she served as a member of the Soil Science Society of America board of directors, and currently serves on the board of the North American Plant Phenotyping Network. Dr. Morgan is an editor-in-chief at the global soil science journal, Geoderma, and founding editor-in-chief of the journal Soil Security.

Dr. Morgan earned her M.S. and Ph.D. in Soil Science from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Soil Science Department (2000 and 2003, respectively). Her B.S. degree is in Plant and Environmental Soil Sciences from Texas A&M University, magna cum laude (1998).

Jay Watson, Sourcing Engagement Manager, Global Sustainability & Grain Operations, General Mills
Mr. Jay Watson leads efforts to advance progress on agricultural sustainability efforts, including General Mills, Inc.’s (GMI) 2025 greenhouse gas reduction and 2030 regenerative agriculture commitments.

In his role, Mr. Watson collaborates with buyers and external partners to develop and deploy engagements to both characterize & reduce social, environmental and economic impacts of key ingredients.

Mr. Watson has been fortunate to travel to where many of GMI’s key ingredients are grown and appreciates the opportunity to connect with farmers and learn more about stewardship as well as family legacy.

Prior to joining the sustainability team in January 2017, Mr. Watson spent 10 years in a variety of buying roles within the company’s global sourcing organization. Mr. Watson holds B.S. in Finance and a B.S. in Economics from Arizona State University and a MBA from the University of Minnesota Carlson School of Management.

For more information about the session, visit:

How to accurately measure the organic carbon content of soil

How to measure organic carbon in soils and, even more importantly, accurately measure how it changes over time, are major challenges in the potential development of new income streams for farmers in the next few years.

Globally, there has been a lot of talk about how soils, usually in connection with being farmed regeneratively, could reverse climate change by acting as a vast carbon sink.

The concept is that farmers could be paid for following carbon-storing practices by companies wanting to offset their emissions, creating another income stream.

But the quest to develop these carbon markets relies very much on an unanswered question – how to sample and measure carbon in soils accurately and repeatably?

When, where, how deep and how often you should sample are all a matter of debate among scientists, let alone what method to use and whether there is a finite or infinite amount of carbon that can be stored in soils.

When there is money on the line, answers to these questions will become vital, and much research is ongoing in this area.

There are more immediate reasons to be assessing soil carbon levels though.

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ESMC October 2020

Executive Director Update: Congratulations to World Food Prize 2020 Laureate Dr Rattan Lal

During this season of Nobel Prize winners, I would like to take the chance to recognize the winner of the 2020 World Food Prize, Dr. Rattan Lal of Ohio State University. The Prize was announced in June 2020. The World Food Prize – referred to often as the “Noble Prize for Food and Agriculture,” “recognizes an individual who has enhanced human development and confronted global hunger through improving the quality, quantity or availability of food.”

Dr Lal’s work investigating the role of soil carbon and soil carbon sequestration in agricultural production systems paved the way for all that we know today about soil carbon sequestration and its link to increased soil tilth, productivity, and fertility. I was fortunate enough to meet Dr Lal in the late 1990s when I was working on agricultural and climate change for US Senator Bob Kerrey of Nebraska. Dr Lal of Ohio State University and Dr John Kimble, then of the USDA soil health laboratory in Lincoln, Nebraska, spoke together during an EPA-sponsored symposium on soil carbon sequestration in Washington, DC. Dr Lal’s vibrant and enthusiastic knowledge of soil carbon and its role in agricultural productivity and resilience was compelling and contagious. Senator Kerrey immediately seized on the opportunity to engage Dr Lal in helping other lawmakers realize the role and the potential of soil in improving the human condition, and in combating climate change. We tapped that knowledge and enthusiasm a great deal over the next few years as we pursued a means to reward farmers and ranchers for their actions that can help reduce GHG. We invited Dr Lal to testify before the Senate, and to brief Senators and their staff; he penned books and letters to help convince policymakers of the critical role of agriculture in soil carbon sequestration as a win-win approach to combating climate change.

Dr Lal’s tireless work, his compassion and drive, and insightful application of this work to humankind has thus been instrumental in both scientific and research as well as policy arenas. Over the years, as I have continued to work in the climate and agriculture space in various capacities, I have had the continued pleasure to work with Dr. Lal. His prolific body of research, publications, and contributions to the global discussion on soil health, soil carbon sequestration, and agricultural climate change mitigation and human livelihoods is evidence of the merit of this award and the countless others he has received over his career.

I want to congratulate Dr Lal, and thank him on behalf of ESMC and our many members, partners, and collaborators. I personally owe a debt of gratitude to Dr Lal for educating me and always being willing to share his knowledge selflessly. Collectively, we knowingly or unknowingly owe a debt of gratitude to him for our ability to focus on scaling soil health systems that benefit society – work that builds on the foundation of soil carbon and soil health that he has dedicated a lifetime pursuing. Click here for a complete bio of 2020’s World Food Prize Laureate, Dr Rattan Lal.

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