The Newest Food Trend Is in the Ground

Food companies’ sustainability goals hinge on soil health
May 31, 2019 12:00 PM ET

By Melody M. Bomgardner

At General Mills, chief sustainability officer Jerry Lynch is working with organizations that have direct relationships with oat and wheat farmers in the northern Great Plains to help the company meet its goal of reducing overall greenhouse gas emissions 28% by 2025. Almost half of the company’s carbon footprint, and 99% of its water footprint, comes from agriculture, Lynch says.

Carbon dioxide emissions attributed to agriculture come from the energy used to produce crop inputs—mainly nitrogen fertilizers but also pesticides—and from tractors. Another source of emissions is the volatilization of applied nitrogen, which releases nitrous oxide, a potent greenhouse gas.

But General Mills can’t just tell farmers to cut their use of crop inputs, fuel, and water. Instead, the company is advising them to learn regenerative agriculture to achieve those ends by improving the health of their soils.

Healthy soils trap water and nutrients and make both available to plants throughout wet and dry periods. “Regenerative agriculture is one of the fundamental levers that makes so many improvements simultaneously to the overall system,” Lynch says.

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