By: Eric Schroeder 

General Mills, Inc. and Ecosystem Services Market Consortium (ESMC) on June 7 unveiled a multi-year roadmap to scale Eco-Harvest, ESMC’s market program that rewards farmers for beneficial environmental outcomes from regenerative agriculture.

General Mills said the roadmap will focus on priority regions in the United States and Canada where the Minneapolis-based company sources its key ingredients, including wheat, oat, corn and dairy. To kickstart the initiative, General Mills said it is investing $3 million in the program. Part of General Mills’ initial investment includes an ESMC grant to support the launch and development of Eco-Harvest and funds to scale regional programs.

Introduced on May 17, Eco-Harvest is a voluntary market program that generates and sells credits for increased soil carbon, reduced greenhouse gases, and improved water quality. These credits represent verified environmental benefits created within agricultural value chains resulting from approved farm practice changes, according to General Mills. ESMC said it is targeting up to 500,000 acres enrollment in the Eco-Harvest program.

“As a founding member of ESMC, General Mills is proud to expand its partnership and reward farmers for the quantifiable impact they’re having on the environment by advancing regenerative agriculture,” said Mary Jane Melendez, chief sustainability and global impact officer, General Mills. “As a non-profit, ESMC gives us confidence that the greatest possible value will go to the farmers. Also, no other market program offers the same scientific rigor and outcomes-based protocols that ESMC delivers, ensuring the credibility of soil carbon removals or reduced greenhouse gas emissions for reporting. General Mills is inviting supply chain partners and other companies that source from these same regions to collaborate on this effort to have the greatest impact.”

Several of General Mills’ top executives, including Ms. Melendez, spoke at length on the company’s efforts around regenerative agriculture during a May 4 General Mills Force for Good event.

The partnership with ESMC further supports General Mills’ commitments to advance regenerative agriculture on one million acres by 2030, reduce absolute greenhouse gas emissions across its value chain (scopes 1, 2 and 3) by 30% by 2030, and ultimately achieve net zero emissions by 2050.

“With our Eco-Harvest market launched, we are excited to partner with General Mills on our joint vision to scale regenerative agriculture outcomes from US and Canadian producers using our science-based, standards-based approach,” said Debbie Reed, executive director, ESMC. “We have spent more than three years building, testing and refining our program. Now, we can scale impacts to not only pay farmers but also tap the interest from companies like General Mills, along with investors and consumers who are seeking transparent and meaningful actions.”

This is not the first time General Mills and ESMC have worked together. In 2020, General Mills and the Kansas Department of Health and Environment piloted a project with ESMC to reward farmers for improving soil health on their land, through techniques like using cover crops and reducing tillage. According to General Mills, the pilot project was made available to Kansas wheat farmers participating in General Mills’ regenerative agriculture program and tested ESMC’s protocols and processes. Twenty-one farmers participated, opting into data tracking and field measurements, the company said. In October 2021, the farmers were paid for their improved ecosystem services, and the collaborative plans to continue the program in 2022.

“We see the efforts from General Mills over the past handful of years, including the curiosity and ambition to move the whole system forward,” said Alex Boersch, farmer, Elie, Manitoba and owner of Re-Gen Ag Solutions Inc. “While General Mills is buying oats from the region, they’ve shown interest in everything that’s happening on the land. I appreciate that General Mills is stepping up and trying to do this to be a leader.”

In July, ESMC will share regional Request for Proposals (RFPs) to identify organizations that can provide technical assistance, farmer enrollment support and soil carbon sampling. Implementing organizations will be selected in August, and soil sampling will occur in the spring of 2023 to set an important baseline for eventual credit generation, General Mills said.