Research Report

Redefining Value and Risk in Agriculture: Policy and Investment Solutions to Scale the Transition to Regenerative Agriculture

BFI and the Center for Law, Energy & the Environment at Berkeley Law convened a virtual roundtable of stakeholders — farmers, researchers, investors, and policy experts — to identify critical barriers to regenerative agriculture adoption as well as solutions with high potential to effect change.

December 15, 2020

By Fiona McBride, MPP

There is no single, shared definition of regenerative agriculture, and stakeholders debate whether principles, practices, environmental indicators, outcomes, or whole-farm process plans are the best basis for designation. This report will utilize the definition offered here in the Executive Summary and also provide guidance on how the definition can be interpreted to suit different types of applications—from policy incentives to private investment.

Participants identified five critical barriers to achieving this vision:

  • Economic constraints that limit farmers’ ability to finance upfront costs while creating opportunity costs associated with a transition, such as for seeds, labor, equipment, and infrastructure
  • Misaligned policy incentives including, but not limited to, crop insurance, loans, technical assistance, and other incentive programs that directly and indirectly prevent farmers from adopting regenerative practices
  • Structural racism and concentration of market power that prevent people of color, women, and working-class people from controlling financial resources and farm-level decisions related to regenerative transitions
  • Lack of consensus and knowledge around regenerative farming, which stems from inadequate resources for research, co-optation by major retailers and agribusinesses, entrenched institutional support for conventional agriculture, over-emphasis on urban rather than rural priorities in policymaking, and the absence of strong support for regenerative agriculture within peer-to-peer farming networks
  • Challenges of achieving land tenure due to prohibitive land prices and the tight financial margins of farming, which disincentivize long-term investments in the land

The roundtable and interviews yielded strategies for lowering these barriers that draw on and coalesce existing efforts by nonprofit organizations, research centers, investors, and policymakers. To overcome these priority barriers, the following recommendations summarize the most critical opportunities to support farmers in their transition to regenerative agriculture:

  1. Develop a More Robust Research Base
    Research institutions should advance the scientific case for regenerative agriculture and standardize measurement protocols
  2. Reform Crop Insurance
    Congress and the US Department of Agriculture’s Risk Management Agency should reform crop insurance to reflect the risk reduction benefits associated with regenerative practices
  3. Redefine Risk
    Federal and state governments, banks and investors should account for the risk reduction benefits of regenerative practices and reflect those benefits in financing and direct payments
  4. Advance State-Level Policies
    State governments should expand investments in effective existing policies like incentive programs and peer-to-peer support network initiatives
  5. Prioritize Equity in Agricultural Policies
    Government at all levels should develop more integrated and equitable systems to serve farmers, such as streamlined technology platforms and more robust technical assistance
  6. Urge Landowners and Supply Chain Actors to Enable Regenerative Production
    Landowners and supply chains should help promote regenerative farming among tenants and farmers by incorporating flexibility into contracts and removing barriers