Danone North America recently announced an expansion of its regenerative agriculture program on participating dairy farms and almond producers. That commitment is certainly important for its portfolio of brands, which includes numerous dairy products and popular non-dairy alternatives such as Dannon, Honest to Goodness, Horizon Organic, Silk and Wallaby.
The company (and also certified B-Corp) says it is showing a commitment to continuous improvement and transparency by engaging farmers. The company’s ongoing focus on regenerative farming embraces practices that are designed to mitigate climate change, secure resilience and protect water and soil - while enhancing both biodiversity and the environment for pollinators.
“We look at pollinators as part of a wider biodiversity platform, which is an integral part of food security and sustainability,” explains Deanna Bratter, the head of sustainable development for Danone North America, in a recent interview with TriplePundit. “Pollinators contribute to 35 percent of the crops we eat. In the U.S., the decline has been quite rapid. For Danone, we believe pollinators are an important part of regenerative agriculture and the resiliency of our supply chain.”
For example, almonds rely on pollinators; and they need them if they are to remain as a key ingredient in many non-dairy alternatives. California farmers commonly import millions of bees each year to pollinate almond blossoms. Most almonds, say some critics, are cultivated as monocrops, so there are few other blossoms around to nourish pollinators after the almonds have bloomed.
At last count, Danone North America’s soil health initiative currently spans 82,000 acres, intending to expand to 100,000 by 2022. One approach is to plant cover crops to enhance organic matter in soil and to practice low or no-till management. Another strategy is to boost plant diversity through the use of cash crops and cover crops. Participating farms plant cover crops on 64 percent of the program’s acreage, compared to the national average of only 5 percent.
The program has also resulted in 25 linear miles of native hedgerows acting as nesting sites and food for native pollinators on participating farms. The interconnectivity of ecosystems, one important part of regenerative agriculture, can help to promote pollinator populations and farm productivity, especially in almond orchards.
The company is partnering with Sustainable Environmental Consultants to perform a field-level sustainability analysis of participating farms. The project involves soil analysis and setting goals in an effort towards continuous improvement.
“We have an understanding of the end goal, but we take a unique approach to meet the needs of that farm, that land, and that soil,” says Bratter. “We then monitor it over time to see if we have the impact we are hoping for.”
“We’re tracking soil health and a variety of indicators and are measuring and monitoring water inputs, water retention, and biodiversity. Soil health is an important indicator.”
Increasing the organic matter in soils can help promote food security and the overall resilience of the supply chain. The results could help suppliers, going as far down the supply chain as the farmer, withstand shocks induced by disruptions such as drought or rapid swings in climate. Further, organic matter is vital to ecosystems, as it can sequester carbon, strengthen biodiversity and boost the soil’s ability to retain moisture. It also helps encourage drought resistance and pollinator habitat.
Ultimately, these initiatives can help increase farmers’ long-term economic viability; Meanwhile, the program is monitoring improved farm yields and efficiencies. The goal is to have regenerative agriculture have a role in ensuring economic resilience by reducing risks and boosting productivity through regenerative agricultural practices.
The program also includes a financing component to help with the cost of implementing these initiatives, including access to grants. Danone North America is also launching a tool to assist farmers in making decisions based on return on investment (ROI), which could help them secure their economic viability and sustainability performance.
Danone North America recently renewed its B-Corporation certification and improved its overall score through a variety of social and environmental indicators, according to Bratter. “We use a stakeholder approach to promote growth and transformation through our brands. We value a variety of stakeholders, shareholders, animals, communities, and the smallest among us, like the bees that pollinate our crops. It shapes how we see our business as a force for good.”
Image credit: Matt Seymour/Unsplash
Sarah Lozanova is an environmental journalist and copywriter and has worked as a consultant to help large corporations become more sustainable. She is the author of Humane Home: Easy Steps for Sustainable & Green Living, and her renewable energy experience includes residential and commercial solar energy installations. She teaches green business classes to graduate students at Unity College and holds an MBA in sustainable management from the Presidio Graduate School.