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Danone releases new tool to help farmers measure regen ag’s potential returns

January 27, 2022

Danone North America has launched a new benchmarking tool for farmers to measure and predict the financial impact of regen ag practices on their operations.

  • Dubbed R3 – for “robust, resilient, reliable” – the digital tool was developed in collaboration with sustainable solutions provider Sustainable Environmental Consultants (SEC).
  • SEC provides food companies and their agricultural supply systems with a range of services including sustainability risk assessment, agricultural compliance and engineering, and erosion control.

How it works:

Farmers can use R3, which is a web-based application, to understand the economic impacts of regenerative practices like no-till farming and cover cropping.

  • Leveraging farm-specific data from SEC’s EcoPractices platform, R3 can forecast potential return on investment for different regen ag methods. This can help farmers decide which practices are best suited to being implemented on their land.
  • R3 is part of SEC’s Sustainable Continuous Improvement Plan (SCIP), which the organization has developed to help its supply chain partners meet short and medium-term sustainability goals.
  • Danone North America farmers using R3 have so far adopted no-till, cover cropping, and establishing buffer zones between conventional and organic farming as SCIP practices.

Why is Danone doing this?

Danone has a soil health program that just completed its fourth year and has expanded to more than 140,000 acres across North America. Farmers currently participating in the program supply milk for Danone brands including Oikos, Two Good, and Horizon Organic.

Other major agrifood corporates are similarly working to help farmers take up regenerative ag – including Nestlé, Cargill, and Heineken, among others. Corporates are making public commitments around reducing their greenhouse gas emissions and, in many cases, reaching ‘net zero’ by 2050 or earlier, often in an attempt to win over increasingly climate-conscious consumers.

Why it matters:

As one of the world’s top agrifood producers, Danone North America parent company Danone operates significant amounts of farmland. 

Danone, which has a presence in more than 120 countries, says it works with over 50,000 farms and partners on regenerative practices globally. Since 2017 it has converted over 150,000 hectares to regenerative agriculture representing about 12% of Danone’s direct sourcing. Meanwhile, more than 90% of all Danone North America’s farm acres in North America are within the dairy shed, hence the company’s focus on dairy companies soil health program.

The company’s sheer geographic reach could potentially make the company’s approach to regenerative agriculture and relationships to farmers influential to the entire food and bev sector as more companies introduce regenerative practices into their supply chains.

The bigger picture:

To date, only a small fraction of US farmers have implemented regenerative agriculture practices. Many farmers cite cost and risk as major barriers to adoption. Switching to regen practices like cover-cropping can be expensive, and it can take several years to see a return on investment. Furthermore, yields often decline in the first few years as farmers stop using synthetic inputs and wait for soil health to build up sufficiently. A farmer might shoulder the financial burden of these changes for years before any financial returns are realized.

In addition to incentives, farmers need tools that can rapidly provide them with a clear picture of the risks and rewards they face by adopting regen ag practices.

What they say:

“We understand the opportunity within our soil and the importance of regenerative practices and what they can unlock – environmentally and, now, financially,” Jennifer Simpson, director of agriculture at Danone North America, said in a statement.

“While soil health is just one piece of the puzzle, we work hand-in-hand with our farmer partners to apply a tailored approach to each individual farm to help them adopt economically viable regenerative farming practices that are best for them.”

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