Join the Newsletter

Stay up-to date with food+ag+climate tech and investment trends, and industry-leading news and analysis, globally.

Subscribe to receive the AFN & AgFunder
newsletter each week.

strongsoil from Chonex
Image credit: Chonex

Accelerating regenerative agriculture: meeting corporate commitments by 2030

October 6, 2023

This sponsored post has been published in partnership with Chonex, an agtech company making StrongSoil, a dry microbial concentrate proven to boost soil health.

The year is 2030 and large corporations have stayed true to their regenerative agriculture commitments. Millions of acres of land have been restored, and food is more nutrient-dense because of regenerative ag practices. It’s a huge win for these companies, consumers, farmers and growers, and the environment as a whole. 

While no one can see the future, we can all hope the big players such as PepsiCo, Unilever, General Mills, and Walmart reach their regenerative agriculture and carbon reduction goals. 

But hope is not a strategy, and 2030 is only seven years away…

Challenges of tracking regenerative agriculture 

Regenerating over 60 million acres of land with just seven years to go is no easy feat. 

Regenerative agriculture centers on enhancing soil health, fostering biodiversity, and reducing environmental impact. However, the lack of a standardized definition or set of criteria for regenerative practices makes it challenging to hold companies accountable for their commitments.

Understanding Ag, a leading regenerative agricultural consulting firm, defines regenerative agriculture as “Farming and ranching in synchrony with nature to repair, rebuild, revitalize and restore ecosystem function starting with all life in the soil and moving to all life above the soil.”

“Many of the large corporations that have made these commitments are taking an active role in providing education and resources to farmers. If these companies do as much as they can to move the needle in legitimate ways, they will be in strong leadership positions with both consumers and farmers moving forward,” says Dr. Allen R. Williams, founding partner of Understanding Ag

Yet challenges persist when considering the supply chain isn’t currently designed to easily track and report on the data. The corporations sourcing crops and products have to report on their claims, but that data comes down to the farmer, at the farm-level. 

Thankfully, both emerging companies and a renewed focus on restoring the land are providing solutions to these challenges.

 Dr. Williams notes that “things that speed up the rate of progress are going to be important” in healing the land. 

So, how do we speed up the process of transitioning farms to regenerative agriculture?

strongsoil from Chonex
Image credit: Chonex

Time is of the essence

Time is of the essence not only for these corporations to stay true to their commitments, but also from an ROI perspective for the farmer. Unfortunately, there’s no silver bullet.

Conventional farming practices have created significant challenges that require a combination of solutions to improve soil health. Collaborative efforts between corporations, farmers, and growers are vital in making this shift towards healthier agricultural practices.

Mark Harris of Bois d’Arc Farm (BDA) in Union County, AL, has seen this first-hand on BDA’s 6,000+ acre farm. “The land had always been farmed conventionally, and it had been tilled to dust.” When they had the opportunity to transition to regenerative agriculture, Harris went for it. “When you bring life back to the soil, you see the difference it makes to the land. The land starts to work for you.”

Dr. Pam Marrone, cofounder and executive chair at Invasive Species Corp. & Invasive Species Foundation notes that one of the pain points for farmers is the time it takes to switch over to regenerative agriculture: “From an ROI perspective, it has to make sense with increased yields and reduction of inputs.”

For Harris at BDA, it took roughly two years to see the soil change, but he notes that reduced expenses related to chemicals and inputs needed for conventional farming resulted in immediate financial benefits.

StrongSoil from Chonex
StrongSoil. Image credit: Chonex

Can you accelerate regenerating the soil?

When speaking to the process of transitioning to regenerative agriculture, Dr. Williams says farmers must start with building the microbial foundation in the soil. “We look at  ‘how can we jump-start the biology in the soil to get to great soil?’ We’re looking for biology that has symbiosis with the native biology in the soil. Then, we’re looking at critical mass. We need products that have large numbers of microbes.” 

That’s exactly what founder and CEO of Chonex, Michael Lynch, set out to solve with StrongSoil.

“Think of StrongSoil as your probiotic for the soil, but if you took the entire bottle at once,” explains Lynch. “The microbes are concentrated up to 50,000 times more per milliliter than competing products.” By improving the microbial foundation of the soil faster, the process of regenerating the land overall speeds up. “If we can get you [the farmer] regenerated faster, you’re selling faster.”   

New innovations entering the market present opportunities for farmers to restore the soil faster. 

“The majority of our soils are bacterial-dominated meaning they are missing fungal and protozoal. StrongSoil has a strong fungal and protozoal mix making it much more balanced,” says Dr. Williams. 

StrongSoil is a site-activated microbial solution containing high levels of beneficial bacteria, fungi, and protozoa. The biodiversity and multifunctionality result in healthier soil faster – leading to increased yields, higher quality crops, and optimization of synthetic fertilizers. In fact, StrongSoil has been shown to reduce the traditional regenerative agriculture timeline by four years.

With new companies, products, and investment dollars entering the regenerative ag space, consistent results and positive economics will be key for the Walmarts and General Mills of the world as well as farmers and investors. 

Driven by the economics

Studies have shown that regenerative agriculture practices produce higher quality crops, while reducing the need for fertilizers and chemicals. 

Larkin Martin at Martin Farms has experienced this firsthand. Martin Farms is in Northern Alabama in the Tennessee Valley. With a rolling landscape and land that had been tilled for 200 years, the Natural Resources Conservation Service considers around 70% of the land highly erodible. 

As a seventh-generation farmer, Martin understood the importance of soil health and topsoil to crop resistance and began migrating to practices that would heal the land – before the term “regenerative ag” was regularly used. “We’ve been no-till, have done intensive soil sampling and crop rotation for 20 years and intensive cover cropping for 5 years. We’ve also found that clover can replace some of the nitrogen inputs needed.

“We were economically driven to this model. We later found it was all considered regenerative practices.”

“A regenerated soil provides consistency, predictability, and reliability,” adds Aaron Goy, CRO of Chonex. “Affordable products that can speed up the process can decrease the perceived risks.”

Reducing the economic risks

While regenerative practices seem to pay off in the long run financially, the risk of the initial transition can be a barrier for some farmers. Mitigating this financial risk for the farm is an important piece of this puzzle. 

“What really stands out about StrongSoil is the data always showed very consistent results,” says Dr. Marrone. 

StrongSoil’s three-year trial resulted in increased yield and crop quality. Plant performance showed an 8-20% increase in yields. Data also showed increased tissue nutrient levels, and improved tolerance against plant stress, pests, and disease tolerance. 

In addition, the trial showed up to a 25% optimization of fertilizer, fungicide, and herbicide utilization.

Used in conjunction with regenerative agricultural practices that support an optimal soil life environment, StrongSoil reduces the transition time required and helps sustain soil health once reached. 

Martin is currently testing StrongSoil. “By applying it to 50% of the acreage, we will have a side-by-side comparison to see what difference StrongSoil makes in terms of yield. At this stage in the trial, we are seeing the highest yields in the corn fields where StrongSoil was used compared to neighboring corn fields.” 

Martin notes, “Applying the intensity of the microbe load and the various families of microbes will increase the percentage of living microbes in the soil, which should provide long-term benefits as well.”

“StrongSoil accelerates what farmers are trying to do. It not only helps get regenerated faster, but they are able to maintain and sustain with lower rates over time. When this happens, net profitability increases,” explains Goy at Chonex. 

Mark Harris of BDA has been using StrongSoil for over four years and has started to see a variety of benefits including thicker grass and undergrowth in his hayfields, larger, healthy root balls on his tomato crops, and higher percentages of sugar in his sorghum plants in treated vs untreated areas.

In addition to products that speed up the process, more and more programs like The Bayer Carbon Program and Carbon by Indigo are being developed to reduce the financial risks and provide a way to track the carbon levels in the soil.

As regenerative agriculture becomes more of a priority for consumers and corporations, traceability will be an important factor.

Martin notes that the textile supply chain allows for better traceability. “If I, on the farm, can generate data on how we reduce carbon emissions and follow certain regenerative practices, that would be considered Scope 1. That becomes the corporations’ claim on Scope 3. I essentially de-commoditize my product by making it a premium product for [customers’] ESG claims.”

By reducing the time it takes to regenerate the soil, tapping into incentive programs, and being able to demand a premium, regenerative agriculture becomes less risky for the farmer.

Can they get there in seven years?

Can large corporations reduce their carbon footprint and help transition farmland to regenerative practices in just seven years? With substantial investments pouring in and new innovations entering the market, it looks promising. 

At the end of the dayor at the end of seven years – it’s going to be about making legitimate progress, being transparent with farmers and consumers, and not greenwashing their commitments. 

While the commitments to regenerate the soil or go carbon neutral are coming from large corporations, achieving these goals starts at the ground level with the soil itself. The solutions that quickly produce healthy soil and benefit the farmer will lead to the environmental and financial benefits both the corporations and farmers seek.

What’s next for Chonex?

After four years of research and development, Chonex will introduce StrongSoil to targeted market geographies in 2024.  This introduction is set to revolutionize the way growers approach soil and plant management, ushering in a new era of regenerative agriculture and profitability.

StrongSoil is unmatched in its nutrient cycling process, its formulation stability, and the resulting critical mass and diversity of beneficial soil and plant health bacteria, fungi, and protozoa. With 13 trillion colony forming units per treated acre delivered through a 5-gallon per acre StrongSoil activated solution, this product is set at an affordable price of $16 per treated acre. The additional plant health benefits from chitins further expand the natural tolerance to disease and insects.

StrongSoil delivers multi-functional soil and plant benefits including:

  • Improved soil aggregation, increased water infiltration, and holding capacity
  • Increased soil fungi-to-bacteria ratio
  • Nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium solubilization and availability
  • Carbon sequestration, increases organic matter, increasing natural carbon holding capacity
  • Increases plants’ natural tolerance to insects, disease, and drought, and improves root mass and functionality
  • Crop quality – improves plant protein levels in corn, wheat, and soybean and increases fiber strength in cotton
  • StrongSoil meets the demands and requirements of corporate sustainability goals for attaining production sustainability targets
  • Strongsoil’s critical mass and microbial diversity reduce the time to achieve net profitability through regenerative soil health practices by 50%
  • Strongsoil improves plant health and resiliency in production, increasing annual gross profitability

In 2024, Chonex will take center stage in the global soil health crisis by launching in select test markets. Its blend of beneficial microorganisms is poised to revolutionize regenerative agriculture and support major food companies in meeting sustainability goals.

StrongSoil’s microorganisms drive carbon sequestration, nitrogen fixation, potassium/phosphorus solubilization, and enhance overall plant health. This empowers farmers to nurture healthier soils and crops while increasing their profitability. Chonex is at the forefront of the sustainable farming transformation. For more information, please contact [email protected]

Join the Newsletter

Get the latest news & research from AFN and AgFunder in your inbox.

Join the Newsletter
Get the latest news and research from AFN & AgFunder in your inbox.

Follow us:

AgFunder Research
Join Newsletter