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Regen Ag Renegade: Understanding Ag appoints new CEO to break down educational barriers for farmers

March 18, 2020

As the buzz around regenerative agriculture grows, many outlets are ramping up educational efforts. There is still a lot of debate about what regenerative agriculture does or does not include, how it’s measured, and whether it can truly mitigate climate change. But for regenerative ag consulting and educational firm Understanding Ag (UA), the more important question is how to help more farmers overcome the specific challenges they face to adopting different farming practices.

“Let’s say a farmer or rancher reads something or goes to a seminar. Well, how do you actually get this implemented? Implementation is such a crucial piece of this and you need some mentorship and guidance to get there,” Walter Lynn, Jr, the newly appointed CEO for UA, told AFN.

Walter Lynn, Jr

UA recently appointed Lynn as its new CEO to focus on growing the organization and freeing up the founding partners to work on key projects. North Dakota farmer and the original regen ag renegade in the US Gabe Brown, soil expert Ray Archuleta, Kansas producer Shane New, and grazing management pioneer Allen Willims co-founded UA in January 2019 to serve as on-farm consultants and Soil Health Academy instructors. The four also comprise UA’s board of directors. 

“Due to the rapid growth of UA, we felt it was a prudent strategic move to expeditiously appoint a well-qualified CEO to facilitate our future growth and direction, which will free up the founding partners to work on key projects within the mission and vision of UA,” Gabe Brown said in a statement announcing Lynn’s appointment. “The move will allow the UA partners to focus on serving our clients, building educational materials, writing, and filmmaking, and expanding the reach of the organization’s efforts. The new CEO will focus on critical administrative and fiduciary functions, and develop strategies to expand the impact of regenerative agriculture,” he said.

Lynn’s background involves decades-long experience working with NGOs, businesses, and industry leaders throughout all facets of food production and conservation. He currently serves as the chairperson of Holistic Management International, an educational institution dedicated to promoting soil health and regenerative agriculture. He views his new position with UA as an opportunity to increase the adoption of regenerative agriculture practices.

Much of what UA provides is education for farmers whether through speaking at workshops, one-on-one consulting, or through its Soil Health Academy. It can send a field consultant to your farm to perform an assessment, assist farmers with examining their financials to pinpoint opportunities to increase profits, and perform an overall deep dive on any farm business. 

Although Lynn sees a lack of educational support as the biggest barrier to the adoption of regenerative agriculture, sometimes a farmer is facing a unique blend of challenges, which makes the one-on-one consulting so valuable. Sometimes the barrier to adopting a different practice is less about willingness to change and more about getting “all the legs under the stool” as Lynn says. Sometimes this may involve discussions with a bank or a landlord.

As for the potential role for technology to play in the growing movement, Lynn is taking a cautious approach.

“I think sometimes tech is used as a bandaid. It’s looked on as a panacea but there are some things out there that are positive. We have to do some sorting. Yield monitors in a row crop setting to help move towards nitrogen efficiency or grazing management software to help you develop that grazing instinct that are positives. But we need to get some of the low tech things out of the toolshed like a trowel or a spade and start digging around a little bit and work on our observational skills.”

One of the biggest themes we’ve explored in the Regen Ag Renegade column is that very premise: can regenerative agriculture scale? 

“The consumer wants it. It’s not just on the farmer’s side. But there many different pieces here. You’ve got the landlords and individuals in the supply chain. You have infrastructure issues to deal with that are in the supply chain. We need to create a market for these products, a complete system. If we can just break these fences, siloes, paradigms–whatever you want to call them — to get people to start the movement.”

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