“Big Business” and Organic

It should come as no surprise to those discerning what should be the appropriate depth and breadth of a NFP (or of a public-private sector NFP Council) that the large agri-food companies have much to contribute to “triple bottom line” agri-food sector outcomes. One example, within the fields of organic production and their value-added products, is found in General Mills’ recent investment in primary organic production in the US.

A press release from General Mills of March 6, 2018, announced the company’s strategic sourcing agreement with Gunsmoke Farms LLC  (owned by TPG, a private global investment company) to convert 34,000 acres of conventional farmland to certified organic acreage by 2020. Midwestern BioAg is in a partnership with General Mills to develop the crop rotation and soil-building program needed for such a large farm to go organic. One consequence: Gunsmoke Farms must spend three years preparing the acres, without growing a cash crop, and nurture the soil to to meet USDA organic production standards (e.g. forgo application of fertilizers made from petroleum-based products and, instead, fertilize through the use of USDA approved organic sources such as mulched cover crops and certain quality of animal manure; regenerative soil management practices such as no till, crop rotation and cover cropping.) In addition to regenerating arable land, another possible societal benefit is the potential to sequester carbon.

This investment can be construed as part of General Mills’ effort to significantly increase the organic acreage from which it sources its ingredients by 2019. In 2016 it made a similar sourcing agreement with Organic Valley, the largest organic cooperative in the U.S. One goal of that agreement: to help dairy farms make the investment required to convert to organic dairy production.

Often the discussion around a national food policy can devolve into a fundamental debate between the radical propositions of agro-ecological fundamentalism and equally “siloed” incrementalism of “big and global  business.” Investment decisions such as those identified above suggest that a nation’s commitment to food security and business competitiveness (among other societal goals) are not mutually exclusive.