Embedding Circularity in the Transition to Regenerative Agriculture

Lettuce planted by students at school in Pantanal

If not implemented with a close eye to impacts to nature and climate, conventional agriculture can negatively affect soil health and the atmosphere by reducing organic matter and releasing carbon. Many practices contribute to unhealthy soils such as monocropping, inefficient or overuse of synthetic fertilizers, pesticide residues in soil, tillage and soil compaction, and erosion. For WWF, regenerative agriculture is a holistic, principles-based approach to farming and ranching that delivers positive environmental, social, and economic outcomes. It is an outcome-focused systems approach, not a “one-size-fits-all” checklist of practices. Regenerative agriculture considers the environmental and social characteristics of a place to improve life and biodiversity, protect water and aquatic ecosystems, build soil health, mitigate and adapt to climate change, and support people and communities to thrive.

Keeping plants healthy and preventing stress helps plants withstand and repair the damage caused by insects or pests. Providing a favorable soil environment that encourages the growth of healthy roots, and increasing access to water and nutrients supports plants to be more resistant to pests and diseases than plants in poor soil. Plants grown in poor soil typically have to rely heavily on chemical inputs and fertilizers to reach the point of maturity for harvest.

As growers and companies transition to regenerative agriculture, for its widespread benefits, we must ensure that the same inefficiencies in terms of crop loss in conventional agriculture—where we see up to 40% of loss on farms for specialty crops and 20% of loss for row crops.

What WWF is Doing

Regenerative agriculture is a holistic, principles-based approach to farming and ranching that delivers positive environmental, social, and economic outcomes.

By focusing our efforts on the implementation of regenerative principles, there is potential to not only improve environmental and ecosystem health but to fully use everything that is produced so that farm systems become more resilient and circular. This has always been the focus of Indigenous Peoples’ food systems, which emphasize efficient natural resource use, and using or recycling everything, to minimize waste. It is still unclear how both yield and on-farm losses will fluctuate as growers adopt new regenerative practices and decrease their usage of inputs.

By regularly measuring loss, growers can better understand the quality and quantity of what’s being left behind in the field (and why). This data can then be used to partner with distributors and buyers to develop new commercial opportunities to better use all of the product that’s being raised to the point of maturity on-farm. WWF has partnered with Cascade Agroecology and key producers of wheat, apples, brassicas and leafy greens, and bananas to collect primary data on the financial and environmental impacts of their regenerative practices, in addition to loss measurements using the new Global Farm Loss Tool. WWF will use this data to develop a business case to help the wider marketplace of growers and buyers to better understand:

  • What the regenerative transition looks like for growers, including the early environmental benefits, major costs, and ongoing challenges;
  • How the transition to regenerative ag impacts yield and on-farm loss, and comparing this to previous on-farm measurements in WWF’s No Food Left Behind research;
  • The key loss drivers and the role that regenerative practices can play to help reduce those losses; and
  • The best practices buyers can adopt to support farmers in transitioning to regenerative agriculture, to reduce on-farm loss, and develop new circular channels for their surplus to use more of what they grow.

For a deeper understanding of embedding circularity into regenerative agriculture, read WWF’s blog post.

The public business case will be launched in September 2024.

Please reach out to [email protected] with any questions.