For companies looking to advance multiple, intersecting impact goals, regenerative agriculture could be a gamechanger.
Regenerative agriculture reimagines farming in line with natural systems, with a focus on replenishing, restoring, and reusing key resources. When done right, it can help companies make good on targets linked to climate change, deforestation, biodiversity loss, water quantity and quality, and farmer livelihoods.
It also reflects a critical shift in perspective—from doing “less bad” to doing “more good." At a time when companies have struggled to find and implement effective solutions, regenerative agriculture is a legitimate pathway to tangible social and environmental impact.
Regenerative Agriculture Trends in 2023
We’ve identified five regenerative agriculture trends we have seen in 2023. Some of these trends will happen in the background, forcing companies to respond to new pressures and market demands. Other regenerative agriculture trends reflect what forerunning companies have already put in motion—and what we expect to continue to build going into 2024.
1. Financial Incentives for Farmers to Make the Transition
It costs farmers time, money, and effort to embrace regenerative agriculture practices and principles. However, most farmers lack the capital to make this shift. In fact, among the primary challenges contributing to farmer hesitancy to participate in regenerative agriculture practices includes real and perceived lagging and/or insufficient financial support from both companies to which growers regularly supply, as well as external financing sources, to implement regenerative practices and approaches.
Recognizing this significant barrier, we predict a regenerative agriculture trend will include seeing more companies building creative partnerships to incentivize and support farmers as they make this transition.
What might this look like? We expect to see more companies making long-term contract commitments to buy from farmers who deploy regenerative agriculture practices. Companies can also partner with financial and lending institutions to shape financial incentives for farmers who successfully transition their farms and practices.
In one such example announced just this month, PepsiCo and Walmart announced a 7-year collaboration to pursue $120 million worth of investments focused on supporting U.S. and Canadian farmers in their pursuit to improve soil health and water quality through regenerative agriculture. This effort is a new model for PepsiCo, marking the company’s first large-scale strategic collaboration focused on sustainable agriculture with a retail partner.
2. Pre-Competitive Collaboration for Regenerative Agriculture in Overlapping Supply Chains
Companies can no longer solely focus on the one crop they need grown during one growing season. Increasingly, companies realize that what happens on the farm off-season impacts them, too.
We see more companies advocating and supporting farmers’ long-term health and viability, yet these companies realize they do not, on their own, have the power or influence to make a transformative impact at scale. In response, we see among the emerging regenerative agriculture trends the growth in pre-competitive partnerships. Companies that buy from the same farmers, but in different growing seasons, can form strategic partnerships, taking a landscape approach to advancing sustainable impact in 2023.
There are several pre-collaborative arrangement structures that companies might undertake, and we are seeing a number emerging as part of regenerative agriculture trends. For example, there several corporate partnerships involving two or more competing companies working together to solve a common pain point along agricultural supply chains.
This is the case with the formation of the Agribusiness Task Force, which includes representative companies from some of the industry’s largest agribusiness companies and organizations such as PepsiCo, Mars, Olam, Bayer, Yara, and Mondelez, among others. The aim of this partnership is to accelerate regenerative agriculture into becoming the predominant agricultural system in the world. The task force has so far focused its attention on three case study value chains (US wheat, UK potatoes and Indian Basmati rice) from which to identify learnings transferable to other crops and geographies.
3. More B2B Companies Will Join in on Regenerative Agriculture
To date, regenerative agriculture has mostly attracted B2C (business to consumer) companies. But a regenerative agriculture trend that we see continuing in 2023 is more B2B (business to business) companies entering the sector to help develop and deploy regenerative agriculture solutions, and helping farmers transition to regenerative agriculture practices and principles.
We see roles for heavy equipment companies to design new farming tools in line with regenerative farming; for technology and service providers to develop hardware and software that farmers can use to collect, analyze, and verify on-farm data and impact; and for financial institutions to help farmers obtain appropriate and catalytic financing.
This month, a Seattle-based agricultural technology startup was featured across news outlets and social media with the unveiling of its groundbreaking autonomous, scalable robotics platform, powered entirely by solar and wind energy.
Launched in 2020 by founders Rich Wurden and Kenny Lee, their company, Aigen, seeks to “connect farmers to breakthrough technologies, decarbonize agriculture, and improve human and planetary health,” the company’s solar-powered, AI-driven vehicles can autonomously navigate, weed, and analyze row crops without any chemicals or diesel fuel. Offered as a service, the vehicles reduce farmers’ workload and their reliance on fossil fuels, while increasing their crop and soil health. The demand for this technological solution is so great, pre-orders for 2024 and 2025 sold out in one day. According to the company, the Aigen Element service will debut on more than 20,000 acres of US farmland next year.
4. More Debate on Standards (but Without Resolution)
At a recent conference, we heard from a farmer who said he works under 10 different company programs, each using different metrics to measure regenerative agriculture success. Even the USDA, which has increased its commitment to making America’s farming system more sustainable, even intimating as part of its 2023 goals its support of regenerative and climate-smart agriculture, has not issued standards. This won’t work as the momentum for adopting regenerative agriculture practices accelerates.
Such a setup is unsustainable and inefficient—taxing farmers and diverting resources and momentum away from the impact we need. A first step is aligning and agreeing on standards for carbon sequestration, watershed health, and biodiversity impacts. For example, we’ve heard from many sustainability professionals in different industries who want industry-wide standards for climate-smart agriculture. Yet they recognize regenerative agriculture is a principle-based approach that needs to be tailored to local contexts. In short: the debates over what these standards should look like are already underway.
The era of certified regenerative agriculture is underway, and this year we will see debate ratchet up, especially around science-based targets and the best metrics for carbon pricing and carbon payment strategies. There are already several third-party verification programs in place, including Regenerative Organic Certification (ROC), widely used by tens of thousands of organic farmers and companies. The Savory Institute’s Land to Market program is also gaining traction with fashion and food brands on board.
In addition, according to the recent Organic & Non-GMO Report, additional initiatives have joined the regenerative agriculture movement, including: The Soil Carbon Initiative (SCI), Certified Regenerative by A Greener World (AGW), and Regenified, have all defined regenerative agriculture standards and are starting to verify farms and food brands. We believe in the next few years, finding commonality across standards will be one of several emerging regenerative agriculture trends.
5. Farmers Matter
Our regenerative agriculture trends for 2023 share one thing in common: they center the farmer.
Regenerative agriculture cannot work unless, and until, farmers are an active and empowered participants. Companies today have already begun this work, and it will grow in 2024. We see more companies embracing inclusive design, to better engage farmers in their supply chains to understand the unique challenges they face, their barriers to transitioning to regenerative agriculture, and the solutions that might enable farmers to make the switch.
Act Now on Regenerative Agriculture Trends in 2023
In 2022 we saw many forward-thinking companies embrace regenerative agriculture. And this isn’t slowing down in 2023. According to a new report by Grand View Research, Inc., the global regenerative agriculture market size is expected to reach USD 2,900.2 million by 2030, registering a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 15.7% from 2023 to 2030.
As promising a pathway as regenerative agriculture is—and it is—transformative results won’t happen overnight. It takes time for farmers to transition their farms and time to see and measure results. However, the sooner you start with strategic and intentional investments in regenerative agriculture, the sooner your company will be primed to drive sustainable impact and get results.
Editor’s Note: This post has been updated for accuracy and current best practices.