A few weeks ago, we had the pleasure of speaking at the Cool Farm Alliance Annual Conference, discussing the challenges that food and drink companies face when they are looking to scale up their regenerative farming programs. Given the pressing need to produce food more sustainably, we’d like to share what we have learned over 20 years of fostering more collaborative supply chains. Let’s dive into the six critical elements we’ve identified to scale these initiatives successfully.

  1. Mindset: The Biggest Hurdle

In our view, mindset is the single biggest challenge to scaling up regenerative farming programs. Pilot projects often attract progressive farmers who are open to experimenting and taking risks. However, when expanding these programs to the broader farming community, companies can frequently encounter a more conservative mindset. Farmers may be reluctant to change and wary of new initiatives. To overcome this, it’s crucial to demonstrate how programmes create value for farmers to encourage participation.

But it’s not just about the farmers. The mindset throughout the entire supply chain and within food companies is equally important. For these programs to succeed, all actors in the supply chain need to change how they operate to enable the whole chain to transition to regenerative practices.

  1. Value: The Elephant in the Room

The concept of value is a significant sticking point. Farmers increasingly recognise that their efforts to sequester carbon or enhance biodiversity have intrinsic value, especially as government support wanes. However, food companies hesitate to pay a premium for benefits they can’t easily recoup in the marketplace. This clash of perspectives needs resolution, especially given the wild west nature of the unregulated carbon and biodiversity markets.

  1. Measurement: What does good enough look like?

Measurement plays a crucial role here.  Accurate data is needed to meet scope three targets and demonstrate year-on-year improvements. This is tough when dealing with biological systems and unpredictable weather conditions. We need to decide whether to incentivise input or output measures, set boundaries for what we measure, and ensure the accuracy of the data. This is manageable on a small scale but daunting when scaled up.  There’s a delicate balance between oversight and building trust.  Additionally, ensuring that the carbon credits belong to one supply chain and aren’t double-counted elsewhere adds another layer of complexity.

  1. Communication: Ensure it’s Useful and Compelling

Effective communication is vital for knowledge exchange. The information must be compelling, boundary-pushing, scientifically rigorous, yet understandable. It should appeal to a wide range of farmers and facilitate peer-to-peer learning. Ultimately, the goal is to help farmers make better decisions. When scaling up, maintaining clear, transparent communication helps align all parties and fosters collaboration.

  1. Complexity: Embracing the Challenge

As programmes scale up, the complexity increases. Initially, small-scale initiatives often have a direct relationship between the food company and the grower. But scaling up involves more parties—merchants, cooperatives, millers, processors, etc. This complexity can be challenging to manage, requiring resources, sensitivity, and often an independent party, such as EFFP, to oversee the process.

We shouldn’t fear complexity; it’s not a reason to avoid scaling up. Instead, we need to adapt our approach to funding and resource allocation. Scaling initiatives require different strategies compared to pilots, including considerations around costs of goods sold, commercial alignment, margins, and co-funding.

  1. Resources: Investing for the long-term

Scaling up demands significant investment in time and money. Relationships, data platforms, and de-risking change need robust support. A long-term commitment is essential, moving beyond the short-term financial cycles to decisions that span years, if not decades.  Considering under-appreciated medium and longer-term risks makes the business case for action significantly stronger.  This shift is necessary to build sustainable supply chains that are resilient and capable of supporting large-scale regenerative farming.

Moving Forward Together

As Henry Ford said, “If everyone is moving forward together, then success takes care of itself.” True collaboration is at the heart of successful, sustainable initiatives.

At EFFP, our DNA is all about fostering such collaboration. When all parties in the supply chain are aligned, working towards a common goal, and able to extract fair value from their participation, we pave the way for genuine, sustainable practices. Only then will we achieve the long-term impact necessary to make our food systems truly sustainable. Let’s continue moving forward together, embracing these six elements and building a better future for farming and food.

 

Photo by Inbetween Architects Jerome Charignon on Unsplash