Responses to our Regenerative Agriculture survey
Wednesday, Jul 19, 2023
Interest in regenerative agriculture is accelerating as a way to help mitigate climate change, restore biodiversity and ecosystems, and ensure the world’s food supply. The ForumforAg’s goal is to help build a more resilient and sustainable food and agriculture system. One of the important commitments in our Call to Action is developing and scaling regenerative agriculture in Europe.
There is intense debate on how to do this. What do stakeholders think would make the biggest difference to the transition? We wanted to understand their thinking on how to reach a common definition and metrics for regenerative agriculture, support farmers, incentivise the market, and develop and scale regenerative agriculture overall.
Over the past year we hosted a number of workshops with farmers, the agri-food industry, policymakers and NGOs to determine the steps ahead to stimulate debate.
The next step was to gather opinions from a wider range of voices. We invited our Forum followers to take part in an online survey to identify common perspectives. Over 180 responded, answering 3 multiple-choice questions and giving more than 160 free-form answers. The article below summarises the responses we received.
Clear financial benefits: The strongest theme to emerge from our participants’ free comments was the overriding need for regenerative agriculture to be profitable. The transition will only happen if this is the case. Farmers’ livelihoods were the main concern, although other stakeholders were also front of mind. “De-risk the transition for all actors,” was one view.
Many echoed a comment that “regenerative farming should pay off”. There were multiple calls for fair pricing or true pricing (without subsidies) for regenerative agriculture produce and crops.
Payments for ecosystem services were a popular idea, along with financial incentives including some that go beyond the CAP. Targeted subsidies, with CAP funding redirected, access to affordable capital, and private sector funding and investment were highlighted. New business models were seen as important. “Quite simply, food has been too cheap for too long,” wrote one UK farmer.
Market demand: The market has to be ready for regenerative agriculture, and stable market prices are a necessity. “Consumers must be willing to pay,” said one stakeholder. Another went further, saying regenerative agriculture should be the specific aim for all food, not elite and expensive and beyond the pocket of most.
Support for farmers: A large number of survey participants called out specific needs to help farmers transition: knowledge transfer, information, technology, equipment, e-learning, demonstrations and evidence of regenerative agriculture’s benefits for sustainable productivity.
Consumer education came up, with a call for better understanding by the public of what regenerative agriculture is. “Communication – storytelling – to the final consumer.”
Definition and metrics: There was agreement that a clear definition is vital – and urgent, wrote one participant. “Any farm, product or company can claim to be regenerative… this greenwashing misleads and confuses consumers, misdirects investments and policy, undermines serious actors and hinders the genuine transformation of the food system.”
Several participants wanted a clear, science-based vision and mission for regenerative agriculture and alignment across countries. Regenerative agriculture needs to be outcome-based, not method-based. It should not be dogmatic, and not positioned as needing farmers to start from scratch, but incorporated into existing systems.
Metrics must be clear and transparent, and digitalization is clearly needed for alignment and comparison of data.
Collaboration: Numerous participants wanted to see all stakeholders collaborating and rewards for the entire value chain. Collaboration between regenerative agriculture and the organic sector was another idea. “Stop pushing a ‘beyond organic’ narrative,” one wrote.
Governments’ role: A “carrot and stick” approach was popular with suggestions for legal targets, strict regulation, and penalties for “degenerative” farming. Governments should make regenerative agriculture the default option, said one participant. There were also suggestions that cheap imports should be prevented.
Q1. In terms of definition and metrics, what would make the biggest difference?
181 answers, multiple-choice question, no opportunity for individual comments
- Almost 60% said the most effective option would be clear metrics commonly agreed and followed by all stakeholders.
- Another 34% thought that a clear definition was more important.
- Only 6% believed that both clear metrics and a clear definition already exist.
Q2. What would make the biggest difference to help farmer transition?
182 answers, multiple-choice question and individual comments
Respondents were more evenly split on this question.
- The largest group – almost 36% – chose targeted CAP subsidies as the most significant factor.
- Just under 26% thought access to affordable machinery, inputs and other technologies were important.
- 21% opted for expansion of advice and information to farmers.
- The remaining 17% felt that some other factor would better help farmers transition.
Many stakeholders highlighted topics already mentioned above, including fair or true pricing, payment for ecosystem services, incentives outside the CAP, private sector involvement, and access to affordable capital. Others wanted advice and information for farmers and outcome-based programmes with solid metrics.
In terms of collaboration, it was interesting that more than one stakeholder suggested cooperation between regenerative agriculture and the organic sector.
“Regenerative agriculture is a holistic approach to nature-powered food, so requires a holistic approach to its implementation…governments should have RA as the default approach,” stated one respondent.
Q3. What market incentives would make the biggest difference?
30 answers, multiple choice question and individual comments
- Around a quarter of respondents (23%) thought that premium prices for regenerative agriculture produce and crops would be the best market incentive.
- Another quarter (almost 27%) preferred payments for eco-system services.
- The majority of respondents (almost 47%) did not think that any of the choices offered would be the best option.
- A few – 3%- opted for discounted loans and insurance premiums.
Again, comments touched on pricing, payments for ecosystem services, incentives for all involved, and not only farmers, collaboration with the organic sector, and reduced taxes.
“Make RA the specific aim for all food, not elite, expensive and beyond the pocket of most.”
Q4. What would make the biggest difference in developing and scaling regenerative agriculture in Europe?
117 answers, individual comments only
As we have seen, the strongest theme emerging was financial, with multiple references to clear financial benefits, profitability, and fair compensation. One suggestion was that European subsidies need to be allocated in a way that rewards farmers for improving soil and water quality.
Better business models were called for, along with the need to de-risk the transition to regenerative agriculture for all actors. Some participants wanted government policies to support regenerative agriculture with strict regulation and private sector involvement. The need for alignment across all countries was highlighted.
The idea of outcome-based programmes surfaced again – “outcomes, not methods” – and the need for transparent and accurate metrics. Digitalization was also mentioned, to allow digital documentation of RA practices, and be common to all countries. A holistic approach “to make RA the new norm” was also highlighted.
Greenwashing emerged, with one stakeholder pointing out that a clear definition of regenerative agriculture was important to prevent it being misused in businesses’ claims. Another said it was important not to position regenerative agriculture as starting from scratch but to build on what is already being done on farms.
Various stakeholders highlighted support for farmers, including targeted advice, and better communication about regenerative agriculture.
A system-wide approach resurfaced, with one stakeholder commenting: “A holistic approach that combines policy support, education, research, financial incentives, collaboration, infrastructure development, and consumer demand can make a significant difference in developing and scaling regenerative agriculture in Europe.”
Q5. What sector do you represent?
- Almost 30% were farmers or landowners
- 22% were in the agri-food industry
- Just under 10% policymakers
- 3% from NGOs
- 35% were from other areas, such as research, education, the media, seed and fertilizer industries.
Q6. In what country do you work?
Country breakdown (180 answers):
Further information on our ongoing work on Regenerative Agriculture will be presented later this year.