Is 2024 the Year Regenerative Agriculture Takes Root?

In 1942, J.I. Rodale first popularized the term organic in the U.S. with the launch of Organic Farming and Gardening Magazine. Some 45 years later, in the 1970s, J.I.’s son Robert Rodale introduced the phrase “regenerative organic.” Robert’s goal was to describe an approach to farming that combined organic practices with a more holistic approach to land management and a focus on rebuilding soil health. Yet it’s only been in the past few years that the term has gained more widespread traction.

With the release in 2023 of two full-length feature documentary films, Common Ground and Organic Rising, along with increased adoption among farmers and producers, awareness of regenerative agriculture is set to gain ground in the coming year among large-scale food manufacturers, policymakers, researchers, the general public and more. Today, advocates of regenerative agriculture say it is the best way to produce healthier food and promote local and rural economies. And, by sequestering carbon back into soils, it can also play a significant role in mitigating climate change.

“2024 indeed will be marked as the year of regenerative agriculture. Why? We are closing in on a tipping point of awareness and collective action is being realized on a huge scale. Not only is soil and regenerative agriculture finally making its way as a leading climate, water and health solution, but we are also showing up as one of the biggest economic solutions for rural economies and businesses across the world,” said Finian Makepeace, Co-founder and Chief Strategy Officer of the nonprofit organization Kiss the Ground and Producer of the films Kiss the Ground and its sequel Common Ground.

“With the recent film Common Ground, and many other feature films and shows in this space sharing the story along with the incredible build of awareness brought on by Save Soil and others, we are seeing a dramatic increase in people comprehending the soil solution. With brands and businesses, there are huge commitments around regenerative agriculture for 2030. I believe 2024 will be a year of turning on those actions and increasing the integrity of their proposed programs. Regarding regenerative agriculture, I feel that 2024 will be the year that the world’s regen leaders find common ground and agree upon a definition that will allow for many more to work and support this space functionally,” Makepeace added.

“I do think that 2024 could be the best year yet for regenerative agriculture. While there is still disagreement over the definition, there is significant consensus that it includes a keen focus on building soil health, enhancing biodiversity, humanely integrating livestock and including worker fairness. New certification and verification programs like Regenerative Organic Certified, Certified Regenified, and Soil & Climate Health provide a lot of support and tools for farmers who want to incorporate more regenerative practices,” said Elizabeth Candelario, Director of Strategic Partnerships for MAD Agriculture, an organization that works with farmers and industry to advance regenerative practices.

In addition, Candelario said, “While their motivations may vary — from mission alignment to strengthening supply chains to mandatory ESG reporting — food companies are (finally) paying attention to the agriculture that is producing their ingredients. And food was finally on the table at the recent COP28 climate summit. The conference opened with a declaration on sustainable agriculture, signed by more than 130 countries, and ended with a final agreement that acknowledges for the first time that sustainable agriculture needs to be included in climate change solutions.”

Regenerative Products Sales Take Off

Now, the marketplace is responding. According to the Regenerative Organic Alliance Impact Report 2022 – 2023, sales of Regenerative Organic Certified (ROC®) products grew an average of 22% from EOY 2022 to EOY 2023, with sales totaling nearly $40 million in 2023. Companies including Dr. Bronner’s, Patagonia, Lundberg Family Farms, Manitoba Harvest, Bonterra and others are leading the certification efforts and serving as role models for other brands.

According to the Impact Report and based on SPINS data, revenue from sales of ROC® products in natural and multi-outlet grocers increased by one-third compared to the same period in the previous year. In addition, the number of ROC® SKUs in the market increased nearly forty-fold in 2023, “indicative of continued growth potential,” the report said. “By offering Regenerative Organic Certified products, brands are responding to the consumer desire to have their purchase make a positive impact at every level: environmentally, ethically, and socially,” the report concluded.

Globally, the market size for regenerative agriculture reached US$975.2 million in 2022, and is projected to be worth US$4.3 billion by 2032, poised to grow at a CAGR of 15.97% from 2023 to 2032, according to a June 2023 report from Precedence Research. North America generated more than 37% of the revenue share in 2022, Precedence Research reported.

While regenerative agriculture practices aren’t yet familiar to most Americans (just one in five consumers surveyed by Food Insight in 2022 said they’d heard of regenerative agriculture), 73% of consumers agreed they would be more likely to trust retailers and brands that implement regenerative agriculture programs, and 72% agreed that they would be more like to purchase from them, Supermarket Perimeter reported in October 2023.

Major retailers are taking notice. In December 2023, Whole Foods Market announced that it had implemented new standards to protect pollinator health. As such, the retailer will now require all fresh produce and floral suppliers to implement supply chain practices that help protect honeybees and other native pollinators.

Speaking to executives at Progressive Grocer’s Grocery Impact conference in November 2023, Whole Foods CEO Jason Buechle said, “Whole Foods Market invites you to help us start a ripple effect of change that will fix our broken food system. The decisions we make as a business — even the smallest ones — in how food is raised and grown today can have a profound and lasting impact on nourishing people and the planet for future generations to come. One of the biggest challenges our food system is facing now and will continue [to face] in the future is the climate crisis. If we continue farming in the large-scale, mechanized way that much of the industry currently does, our topsoil is not going to have the nutrient density it needs to grow the foods we know and love today,” Buechle said.

To address this challenge, Buechle reported that the retailer is working with farmers, ranchers, suppliers, scientists and other experts, as well as leading organizations, to leverage regenerative agriculture to evolve the practices used to grow, raise and produce the products that it sells. A focus on regenerative agriculture and responsible sourcing is an essential part of the retailer’s value proposition, which remains strong despite the mainstreaming of natural foods and the effects of inflation on consumer spending, according to Buechle.

Regenerative Food and Agriculture in 2024

In October 2023, Forbes reported that water stewardship will one of the biggest food trends in 2024. “As the tides of environmental consciousness continue to shape consumer choices, it is no wonder that water stewardship is set to become one of the top food trends for 2024,” wrote Senior Contributor Daphne Ewing-Chow.

“The global agri-food industry— valued at $6 trillion— is one of the most highly exposed to water risks, with water stress impacting many of the world’s largest food-exporting countries. Paradoxically, despite mounting perils to both food and water security stemming from water depletion, pollution, and climate-induced droughts, the food and agri-business sector is a chief contributor to the problem, accounting for a substantial 70% of all freshwater withdrawals,” she continued.

According to Ewing-Chow, “Regenerative agriculture plays a pivotal role in enhancing soil health, facilitating nutrient retention, bolstering natural resilience to environmental challenges, and mitigating erosion. This contributes to the conservation of water resources and the enhancement of ecosystem water quality, reducing the volume of water required for farming activities and decreasing harmful water and nutrient runoff from agricultural lands.”

Forbes also reported that in September 2023, SAI Platform, a network comprising 170 major food companies dedicated to sustainability, unveiled a global framework outlining the transition to regenerative agriculture for food businesses. A number of mainstream food brands such as Unilever, Nestlé, McDonald’s, Danone, and General Mills have already committed their support for regenerative agriculture, Forbes reported.

Greater technical innovation and research into regenerative agriculture will continue over the coming year, the Global Ag Tech Initiative predicted in its December 2023 report, 5 AgTech Trends to Watch in 2024. “Essentially mimicking natural process and biodiversity on agricultural land, the ultimate aim of regenerative agriculture is to improve soil health in order to boost yield. To address the challenges of climate change and feed a global population of over 8 billion, regenerative agriculture is vital. Digital tools use accurate, up-to-date data to create tailored regenerative agriculture solutions. These consider soil conditions, weather conditions, microclimates, and current crop growth or land use, as well as individual budgets and local regulations. Platforms offering site specific data will likely reign supreme in 2024. A view of sustainability that extends beyond simple carbon metrics and one-size-fits-all solutions is necessary and will enable the establishment of realistic, actionable objectives for growers, promoting sustainability and formulating strategies tailored to local environments,” the report said.

Beyond Food – Regenerative Fashion Threads the Needle

On the textile and fiber front, companies including fashion leader Mango will begin incorporating regeneratively grown cotton into its 2024 fashion collections, the Fashion Network reported in December 2023. The company has partnered with Materra, a British-Indian company specializing in regenerative cotton cultivation, and said it will be able to ensure complete traceability across the value chain of its cotton, from seed to final garment.

“As a global fashion company, our intent is clear: to contribute to creating a fairer society and reduce the fashion industry’s impact on the environment. This is why we ally ourselves with key partners like Materra, which will help us accelerate our path to ensuring that 100% of the fibers we use are sustainable by 2030,” said Andrés Fernández, Mango’s director of sustainability and sourcing.

Other fashion brands driving regenerative agriculture initiatives include J.Crew, Prana, Terra Thread and other textile and fiber companies that are members of the Regenerative Organic Alliance. “Big fashion brands and independent labels are embracing regenerative agriculture as a win-win solution that could allow them to source climate-positive materials. The challenge is that the concept doesn’t have a singular definition, and without clear standards it risks becoming a tool for greenwashing,” Business of Fashion reported in August 2023.

 California Could Define Regenerative

Speaking of a definition, beginning in January 2024, the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA), in collaboration with the State Board of Food and Agriculture, will host a series of public listening sessions to receive comments to help define “regenerative agriculture.”

“As interest in ‘regenerative agriculture’ continues to grow, we are seeing the introduction and evolution of the term in California policies and programs,” CDFA said. “Incorporating a definition of regenerative agriculture for state policies and programs provides a science-based criterion for the designation or recognition of the term ‘regenerative’ in agriculture-related policies of the state. By defining ‘regenerative agriculture’ and its associated practices, we are working to formalize holistic methods of farming that are designed to protect, sustain and enhance natural resources on our farms and farming communities throughout California,” the agency said.

Max Goldberg, Editor and Publisher of Organic Insider, commented, “If California codifies or legally defines ‘regenerative agriculture’ … it will certainly raise the profile of this term among consumers and farmers may end up paying more attention to the way they manage their soil, which is a real positive. However, both the opportunity for greenwashing and the consequences for organic could be severe,” he cautioned.

“At its core, the regenerative agriculture controversy stems from the question of whether a farming practice can be truly ‘regenerative’ if super-toxic chemicals, such as glyphosate or dicamba, are applied to the crops. There is no question that the regenerative movement has brought incredible attention to soil health … and that it has led to very important steps forward in farming practices around the world. But with all of the positive developments, ‘regenerative’ is ripe for abuse and greenwashing, and the multinational chemical companies, who have no intention of minimizing the importance of GMO seeds and synthetic pesticides, are eagerly embracing the term,” Goldberg added.

Elizabeth Whitlow, Executive Director of the Regenerative Organic Alliance, which manages the Regenerative Organic Certified program, told Organic Insider that she believes that California needs to act with real caution. “There are many groups and farmers advocating for ‘regenerative agriculture’ that are doing some excellent and extremely vital work. My concern, however, is that if the state defines ‘regenerative agriculture’ and it excludes organic, it could have the unintended effect of actually doing a lot more harm than good. Bad actors greenwashing the term is a real threat, and all stakeholders in California’s organic industry need to be fully engaged and on board with how the state is going to define ‘regenerative agriculture.’ The stakes are very high, for both California and our entire country, and this process cannot be rushed,” she said.

 Woody Harrelson’s Regenerative Reason for Hope

Three-time Oscar nominated actor and environmental activist Woody Harrelson, in a December 2023 Op-Ed in The Wrap, expressed that, after serving as a co-narrator on the film Common Ground, he is “no longer hopeless for the future.”

Harrelson writes:

We stand at a crossroads, facing two paths. One leads to climate chaos, food shortages, deserts expanding and a biodiversity crash. The other involves rethinking our relationship with nature by choosing regenerative agriculture. The regenerative path can give us abundant, nutritious food, thriving ecosystems and a future for generations to come.

 I had a surreal moment when I met King Charles and he said he loved “Kiss the Ground” so much he personally sent it to 1,000 people. I hope the same is true of “Common Ground” – I hope thousands of people send the new documentary to thousands of their friends.

 I’ve never been a big believer in the political process in this country, but I believe in people. Congress is currently debating something called the Farm Bill. There are a lot of good people in America, who deserve to eat clean food, and it would be refreshing to see Washington prioritize communities over commodities.

 I’m no longer hopeless. I’m actually inspired. In fact, I’m committed to using my voice and activism to make the regenerative agriculture movement spread far and wide.

 We don’t just need to support soil in the Farm Bill — we need to make the effort in every way we can, from turning our lawns into food gardens and our food waste into compost, to buying food from local regenerative farmers and ranchers. We all eat and we can all support the people who are doing the hard work to feed the world with healthy regenerative food. We can vote with our dollars.

 One thing is for certain, it’s time for a change. Soil is our common ground. 

 Let’s make regenerative agriculture our priority. 

Learn More

Growing Life: Regenerative Farming and Ranching, by André Leu, December 2021

Food Climate and Nature FAQs, The Nature Conservancy, September 1st, 2023

Regeneration International, a global nonprofit organization and educational resource

44th Annual Eco-Farm Conference, Pacific Grove, California, January 17th to 20th, 2024

Regenerative Business Live, United Nations, New York, NY, May 7th, 2024

Steven Hoffman is Managing Director of Compass Natural, providing public relations, brand marketing, social media, and strategic business development services to natural, organic, sustainable and hemp/CBD products businesses. Compass Natural serves in PR and programming for NoCo Hemp Expo and Southern Hemp Expo, and Hoffman serves as Editor of the weekly Let’s Talk Hemp Newsletter, published by We are for Better Alternatives. Contact steve@compassnaturalmarketing.com.