Regenerative Industry Landscape

March 28, 2023
Regenerative Industry Landscape

In 2019, Ethan Soloviev, Chief Innovation Officer of HowGood–an independent research company with the world’s largest sustainability database for food ingredients created the “first graphical map of the Regenerative Agriculture Industry.” At that time, the term “regenerative agriculture” was still gaining traction in the food industry, and its future acceptance remained uncertain.

Fast forward to today, and regenerative agriculture has undeniably entered the mainstream, with global giants like General Mills, Cargill, Pepsi, and Unilever publicly committing to transitioning their agricultural lands towards regenerative farming. The success of these commitments will hinge on organizations’ abilities and willingness to monitor and connect on-farm impacts to planetary boundaries.

Regenerative Agriculture: Moving from Practices to Outcomes as the Industry Matures

The original Regenerative Agriculture Landscape (RAL) was designed to evolve over time. Starting in 2021, HowGood collaborated with Kiss the Ground to update the data –this refreshed version is the result, and demonstrates the rapid growth of the term through the end of 2022. Companies, investors, organizations, and farms that either explicitly use “Regenerative Agriculture” or “Regenerative Farming” in public communications or invest financial capital into entities that meet this criterion are included in this map. Although this approach may seem simplistic, it acknowledges that organizations have explored the landscape of regenerative agriculture and decided to align themselves with its principles publicly.

Why this criteria?

There are multiple divergent meanings of “Regenerative Agriculture” in use today. Instead of subjectively applying any particular definition, we use a simple objective approach: Who is using the term?

Though there are limitations to a binary method like this, even using the term is a non-trivial step for most organizations. It implies, at least, that the decision-makers have explored the definitional landscape and decided that something about “regeneration” is important enough to publicly align with and proclaim.

Brands are increasingly weaving this term into their messaging, which drives the appetite for a singular meaning. While the principles of regenerative agriculture are largely agreed upon by the leaders in this space, it’s still imperative that those engaging with regeneration maintain the flexibility and nuance inherent in an evolving intention to steward living systems. For example, adjusting practices based on the specific context of varied ecosystems is the only way to cause regeneration and therefore be “regenerative.”

– Kiss the Ground RE:GENERATE V2 (2022)

The first RAL in 2019 estimated that companies generating 50b in annual revenue were using the term. In 2022, the combined annual revenue of General Mills, Cargill, and Unilever alone neared $200 billion, and internal HowGood research shows that companies with combined annual revenues of over $1 trillion are now using the term. The number of companies adopting regenerative agriculture practices has grown by nearly 130%, from at least 239 in 2019 to at least 549 in 2022.

Number and Cumulative Total of Entities Using “Regenerative Agriculture” By Year

In response to the rapid growth of regenerative agriculture adoption, the number of third-party certifiers and organizations developing regenerative frameworks has also experienced a significant increase. This surge in interest and participation can be attributed to the rising demand for transparent, standardized, and verifiable sustainability practices in the agriculture sector. As the collective annual revenue of major companies implementing regenerative agriculture practices has seen this increase, the need for robust certification systems and regenerative frameworks has grown alongside it.

Entity Types

HowGood & Kiss the Ground identified and catalogued 5 broad categories of organizations using the term regenerative agriculture:

  • Investment: Primarily investment managers and funds, though a few family offices are included.
  • Farm: Includes farms that develop and market their own products.
  • Service Organization: Educators, consultants, research organizations, agricultural equipment and product manufacturers, land managers not tied to a single farm, media producers, for-profit membership organizations, ecosystem platforms, and other types of organizations.
  • CPG: Consumer Packaged Goods manufacturers, primarily food and beverage, but including some health and beauty products. Retailers of Consumer Packaged Goods are included here, along with fashion and clothing manufacturers.
  • Non-Profit: A diversity of not-for-profit organizations, from education to research to events convening to advocacy.

There is significant overlap in the functional work of entities in the “Service Organization” and “Non-Profit” categories, with the primary division being the choice of legal organizational structure.

Entity Types Using “Regenerative Agriculture” – 2019

Entity Types Using “Regenerative Agriculture” – 2022

Consumer Packaged Goods (CPGs) companies have been instrumental in driving the increased usage of the term “regenerative agriculture.” By integrating these practices into their branding and marketing strategies, CPGs not only differentiate themselves from competitors but also raise consumer awareness of the benefits of regenerative agriculture. This commitment from CPGs has been a significant factor in mainstreaming the concept and shaping the future of the food industry.

The number of farms adopting the term ‘regenerative’ is also rising rapidly. Many farms that have long employed Holistic Management, Biodynamics, Permaculture, or Organic Agriculture principles now assert that they have been practicing regenerative agriculture for years. However, the fact that a smaller proportion of farms maintain up-to-date websites makes it difficult to pinpoint when they began using the term and how many farms are practicing.

As demonstrated below, the growth of the use of the term has grown beyond expectations. When the original RAL was published in 2019, the general message when it came to using regenerative agriculture was “the more the better”. Now that we’ve reached the more, it’s time to focus on the better.

As regenerative agriculture becomes increasingly mainstream, the focus must now shift towards prioritizing regenerative outcomes such as improved soil health, biodiversity, and carbon sequestration. Embracing the Sustainable Market Intitiative’s Big Five Actions (figure below) for Regenerative Agriculture and establishing common goals and metrics are crucial for ensuring that regenerative agriculture remains more than just a buzzword in the food industry. With continued commitment and collaboration, the promise of regenerative agriculture can be fully realized, benefiting not only our food systems but also our communities and our shared global ecosystem.

What’s next for Regenerative Agriculture?

Expect the trend to continue, as the number of organizations using the term “Regenerative Agriculture” will likely keep expanding exponentially until at least 2025. With the global revenue of the food and agriculture industries exceeding $20 trillion per year, regenerative agriculture is currently approaching only 5% of the market. The growing international focus on agriculture as a Nature-Based Solution to global climate change, combined with numerous companies setting Science-Based Targets for carbon reduction by 2030, will fuel even greater demand for regenerative farming practices. As carbon and impact accounting becomes increasingly mandated by regulation, mainstream corporate adoption will further push new commitments to regenerative agriculture.

Anticipate mainstream and institutional investors to follow this trend, thereby increasing both the number of firms and total assets under management devoted to regenerative agriculture. An even stronger multiplier effect will be observed in the number of farms and total area of farmland adopting regenerative agriculture practices. Considering current commitments of 20 million acres by major CPGs, there is still significant progress to be made towards the 12 billion total acres of existing cropland.

Today we count at least 549 organizations explicitly using “Regenerative Agriculture”… by 2025, will it be 1,000? 2,000? Either way, the industry has a long way to grow!

HowGood extends our great appreciation to Shelby Eagleburger De Caste and Sara J Hebert, who contributed significant research to the map, and to  Karen Rodriguez of Kiss the Ground, without whom the updated version of this reseach would never have come to life. Thank you!

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