Home LATEST NEWS Soil health in the sights of multinationals

Soil health in the sights of multinationals

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Exhausted by years of monoculture, the soils are not in good condition.: “there must be another way of doing things ” “,” text “:” After the first year, we realized that we had spent a lot on fertilizers and pesticides. We could barely cover our costs by working all year round. So we thought: “there must be another way of doing things ” “}} ‘>After the first year, we realized that we had spent a lot on fertilizers and pesticides. We could barely cover our costs by working all year round. So we said to ourselves: “there must be another way of doing things”, says Riani.

Riani Lourens on his land in Saskatchewan.

Originally from South Africa, Riani Lourens has cultivated land in Saskatchewan since 2017.

Photo: TurnedNews.com

In 2019, there was a click. Riani and her father participate in a meeting organized by the Soil Health Academy, a non-profit organization that teaches regenerative practices to farmers. For Riani, it’s a revelation.

It was as if the light had come on, it made so much sense! What does nature want? If I manage to imitate her, I will take fewer risks and I will have better resilience in the face of the surprises that Mother Nature has in store for us.

A quote from Riani Lourens
Gathering of people in a field.

A meeting of the Soil Health Academy. This non-profit organization has set up training courses to support farmers in their transition to regenerative agriculture.

Photo: Soil Health Academy

The Soil Health Academy is one of the field partners of General Mills. The agri-food giant has set itself a goal: to see regenerative agriculture take hold on more than 400,000 hectares worldwide by 2030. To achieve this goal, the company has set up pilot projects in three regions deemed priority for its supply. Saskatchewan, the champion province of wheat production in Canada, is at the heart of one of these regions.

Mentoring on the farm

As part of its pilot projects, General Mills will not directly purchase the harvest from the selected farms, the farmers will not be paid, but they will be accompanied by a mentor. A farmer for 45 years near Redvers, Saskatchewan, Blain Hjertaas is a consultant for Understanding Ag, the other field partner of General Mills. It helps farmers make the transition to more nature-friendly approaches.

Blain Hjertass in front of a field.

A farmer for 45 years, Blain Hjertaas is a mentor and speaker.

Photo: TurnedNews.com

Standing in the middle of a field of green peas and barley despite the drought, he draws our attention to the buzzing of insects, the chirping of birds. This biodiversity is necessary for the success of life on earth. This is not the kind of thing that we are used to thinking in agriculture, because we are mainly interested in crops. But in regenerative agriculture, you have to think about the whole ecosystem, he argues, not just what you are growing. Everything is connected.

In farms like that of Riani Lourens, a research protocol has been set up. For three years, certain parameters will be measured, then compared with those of conventional control farms. Microphones and recording devices make it possible to list the presence of birds, entomologists regularly collect the density and diversity of insects… The infiltration capacity of water is also analyzed.

But why are the agrifood giants suddenly going to such lengths? Alain Olivier, professor at the Faculty of Agriculture and Food Sciences at Laval University, is not surprised to see multinationals taking an interest in soil health: The artisans of the big business are aware of certain problems caused by industrial agriculture. They realize that our soils are degrading and that, in the more or less long term, this poses a problem for their own benefit.

Portrait of Alain Olivier.

Alain Olivier, professor and author of “The agroecological revolution” published in 2021.

Photo: TurnedNews.com

Without too many detours, this is what confirms us General Mills.

We are dependent on the earth’s resources to produce food for another 150 years. If we can’t get the ingredients to make our products, that’s not good news for our consumers or our shareholders.

A quote from Jamie Bastian, spokesperson General Mills

Blain Hjertass, who has practiced regenerative agriculture for 25 years, believes that it is urgent to review our ways of cultivating the land, based on monocultures. The security of our food supply is at stake.years undermines soil health. Each year, it deteriorates, so much so that the model is less and less resilient. “,” Text “:” The industrial model put forward for 50 years undermines soil health. Every year it deteriorates, so the model is less and less resilient. “}} ‘>The industrial model put forward for 50 years undermines soil health. Every year it deteriorates, so the model is less and less resilient.

A field of canola that is bare due to lack of water.

Monocultures, like here in this canola field, have suffered a lot from the drought this year.

Photo: TurnedNews.com

And climate change does nothing to improve things. Last summer, a historic drought hit Western Canada. Yields have declined by 30-40% and these kinds of extreme weather events are expected to increase in frequency.

Climate change and its effects are no longer abstract models or distant assumptions. We are already facing extreme weather events […] and they impact people’s lives and our ability to produce the food the world loves.

A quote from Jamie Bastian
The soil cracked by the drought no longer manages to store the water which then falls.

The historic drought of the summer of 2021 took a toll on agricultural producers on the Canadian prairies.

Photo: TurnedNews.com

Alain Olivier, who is also the author of the book The agroecological revolution, takes a positive view of this awareness of the industry. For me, it is a positive element that large companies are thinking about soil regeneration, it is a good step forward, but we should not stop there.

Among other things, he underlines the crucial importance of moving away from monocultures in order to bring back biodiversity to fields and to the edges of fields. Planting trees and shrubs in windbreak hedges, and landscaping riparian strips with flowers, these are all ways of creating habitats suitable for a host of animals, birds and insects.

The more biodiversity there is, the greater the productivity. We often put in opposition sustainability and productivity or biodiversity and productivity. However, there are more and more studies showing, in all kinds of contexts on the planet, that the more diverse an agricultural ecosystem or a forest ecosystem, the higher the yield.

A quote from Alain Olivier

Riani Lourens knows that the transition will not happen overnight. Soil degradation on his farm has occurred slowly over several years, so it will take time for the land to recover. And even if she is just starting out in the profession, the young farmer has her eyes turned to the future: We don’t just want to improve our soil for our family, but for all the generations that will succeed us.

And to cynics who would see the initiatives of the agri-food giants as simple attempts at greenwashing, she answers: Regardless of the approach of the big companies, or their motivations, in the end, cultivating the land this way, it works and it is the right way to do it.

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