General Mills has pledged financial assistance to a soil health initiative at the University of Minnesota. The University’s Forever Green Initiative, a joint program from the University and the USDA Agricultural Research Service that was first launched in late 2016, endeavors to develop ways to build soil health, including developing new winter-annual and perennial crops that would reduce the need for tillage.
Jerry Lynch, chief sustainability officer for Golden Valley, Minnesota-based General Mills, recently told Minnesota Public Radio News that healthy soil research is essential for the future of our farming system.
"We take the output of Mother Nature and farming communities, we transform it into products for consumers to get the nutrition they want in the midst of their busy lives, and we market it to them," Lynch said. "If the front end of that engine — Mother Nature and farming communities — starts to break down, our business becomes either really expensive to operate, or sometimes impossible to operate because we can't get what we need in order to make those products.”
General Mills has made several such investments in recent years, a trend that the Star Tribune attributes in large part to its 2016 acquisition of Epic Provisions, a producer of grass-fed meat-based protein bars.
“This area of regenerative agriculture has really gotten a lot of attention and we’ve been on our own journey over the last three years,” Lynch told the Star Tribune. “We’ve done a lot of work both understanding it and also in trying to help measure it.”
General Mills has invested a total of $3 million in soil health research in the past few years, according to Minnesota Public Radio News. In March, the company announced a partnership that would help transition 34,000 conventional acres in South Dakota to organic by 2020; in the same month, the company also announced a five-year, $125,000 investment to further research into improved soil practices.
In 2016, the company partnered with Organic Valley to help convert 3,000 acres of conventional dairy farms to organic.
The Star Tribune reports that company is currently one of the top five purchasers of organic ingredients in the U.S. and the second-largest buyer of organic fruits and vegetables in the North American packaged food sector.
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