Forty-five farms in Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and North Dakota are headed into their second growing season working with General Mills on the adoption of “regenerative agriculture” practices as they grow oats for the multi-national food company.
The three-year Regenerative Oat Pilot project, which involves more than 50 thousand acres, was launched last year as part of General Mills’ larger effort to have one million acres under regenerative agriculture practices in its supply chain by 2030. The Minneapolis-based company estimates this will represent about 20 percent of its sourcing footprint in ten years.
While there isn’t a specific definition, regenerative ag practices generally revolve around increasing soil organic matter by using cover crops, intercropping, reduced tillage, reduced crop inputs, and integrating livestock to boost soil biology, explains Lorne Boundy, oat merchandiser with Paterson Grain.
Paterson is involved in the project as a large supplier of oats to General Mills and a direct link to growers in Western Canada.
“The main goal of the program is coaching, so growers have a resource and a larger community to say ‘I’m doing this here. This works, this doesn’t,'” Boundy says.
General Mills is covering the cost of the pilot, including technical support for participating farmers from regenerative ag pioneer Gabe Brown of North Dakota and his company, Understanding Ag, as well field days and an online forum. The company is also looking to measure the environmental and economic outcomes for each farm over the three year program.
In addition to the oat pilot, General Mills has launched a similar program for wheat growers in Kansas, and has released an an open-source self-assessment tool for growers interested in implementing regenerative practices.
The company has also committed $260,000 to the University of Manitoba for research looking at crop rotations and cover crops on the Canadian prairies, as well as a 5-year study on the impact of cover crops on greenhouse gas emissions.