Danone North America, in partnership with the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF), announced a unique multi-year agreement aimed at improving the economic resiliency and soil health of farms, including those within Danone North America’s supply chain. The new public-private partnership will leverage state and federal funding from USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) for soil health. The commitment is in addition to Danone North America’s previously announced investment of up to $6 million in soil health research over the next four years.
America’s farmers are stewards of the land. When they care for their soil well, better yields are achieved with fewer inputs, the company said. By unlocking available public funding from NFWF and NRCS via a new concept in matching investment proposed by Danone North America, farmers now have more access to seeds and incentives to plant cover crops, which is critically important for nutrient balancing and overall soil health.
Danone North America, based in White Plains, N.Y., and Broomfield, Colo., said it will begin working with farmers in Kansas and Ohio before expanding to other states named in the application for NRCS funding, which include key dairy sheds. The company is working with NFWF to develop an application process to leverage the $3 million of USDA funding to expand its soil health program with farmers. The grants are in effect “in escrow” and will be dispersed directly to farmers based on specific criteria — for example, agreeing to implement certain land management activities such as cover crops.
“Soil is the foundation of our food system, with an estimated 95% of food directly or indirectly reliant on soil,” said Tina Owens, senior director of agriculture, Danone North America. “As America’s largest maker of organic and plant-based foods, as well as yogurt, we saw an opportunity to initiate this breakthrough collaboration to benefit the farms on which we rely to make great food.”
Jeff Trandahl, executive director and CEO of NFWF, noted that some of America’s “most important conservation efforts” are voluntary efforts focused on soil-health, agricultural-practices and habitat improvements.
“This new partnership with Danone North America will generate additional resources to drive innovative and collaborative conservation efforts that will help dairy farmers become even better stewards of the land,” he said.
In 2018, Danone North America announced its commitment of $6 million to soil health research, and this new collaboration builds on that commitment, adding strong partners in the public sector. In addition to the evaluation of soil on farms of growers that provide feed for cows, the long-lasting relationships Danone North America has with its growers and dairy farmers — who have a passion for change and strive for continuous improvement — have empowered the company to launch its soil health research program.
Now in its second year, the research program has nearly doubled to approximately 50,000 acres, of which about 80% of the acreage added in 2019 is certified organic, Danone North America said. This includes 23 dairies in 10 states across 692 fields with 28 varieties of cover and cash crops.
Over the next two years, Danone North America said it hopes to expand the research program up to 100,000 acres as it looks to verify the environmental and cost benefits of employing better practices such as cover crops, and continue its study of other practices including improved conservation tillage, crop rotations and nutrient management. This work requires collaboration to make a meaningful impact, and the company said is excited to bring together uniquely skilled partners to continue its ambitious research project.
The aim of Danone North America’s soil health initiative is to identify ways to help regenerate soils by enhancing organic matter and soil fertility, and drive long-term economic and environmental benefits — such as soil carbon sequestration, reduced chemicals use, soil water holding capacity, and increased biodiversity — to improve the economic resilience of farmer communities. Key activities with participating grower and dairy farmer partners and third-party soil health experts include soil sampling, review of yield, grower engagement, data collection and analysis, and field days with farmers to provide training around soil health best practices, Danone North America said.
The company also announced a partnership with rePlant Capital, a financial services firm dedicated to reversing climate change. Over the next several years, rePlant will invest up to $20 million dollars to support Danone North America’s farmer partners with expenses related to converting to regenerative or organic farming practices. These practices increase biodiversity, enhance ecosystems and enrich soil, as part of the company and its partners’ broader commitments to addressing climate change.
As a Public Benefit Corporation and the largest Certified B Corp, Danone North America said it works tirelessly with partners across its value chain to support its farmers, lessen the impacts of its business on the environment and protect natural resources for the future. The partnership with rePlant is another example of Danone North America’s commitment and demonstrates how the company thinks differently about the role of business, valuing social progress and sustainability alongside business growth.
“As a company that is passionate about climate activism, we are pleased to be partnering with rePlant to support our farmers and bring new, innovative financial solutions to address climate change,” said Mariano Lozano, CEO of Danone North America. “Providing these loans mitigates the financial stress that transitioning to regenerative and organic farming practices places on our farmers and allows them to focus their energy on driving sustainable agriculture on their farms.”
The first of these loans was provided to Kansas-based McCarty Family Farms, a partner of Danone North America for almost 10 years and co-owner of MVP dairy LLC, winner of the International Dairy Foods Association’s 2020 Innovative Dairy Farmer of the Year award. McCarty family farm owners and fourth-generation dairy farmers Mike, Clay, David and Ken McCarty will use the loan to install moisture probes on cropland surrounding their dairy, where water access issues are of concern, to reduce the amount of water used on crops that provide forage for the dairy cows, Danone North America said.
In addition to reducing water usage on their own farm, McCarty Family Farms is working with their local feed partnerships as well as the local watershed authority to see how this program may be expanded to other farms in the region to improve water consumption and aquifer longevity within the Ogallala aquifer.
“Our livelihood depends on the health of our natural resources,” said Ken McCarty of McCarty Family Farms and MVP Dairy LLC. “We’ve always made caring for our land, air and water a top priority, so we are excited to receive the rePlant loan to help us continue to reduce water consumption on our farms and make a real impact in water conservation efforts in northwest Kansas.”
One of the first funds of its kind, rePlant brings together a range of impact investors and family foundations to tackle some of the greatest challenges created by climate change. At an invitation-only event held at MVP Dairy, LLC — a Danone North America partner co-owned by the McCarty and VanTilburg families — in Celina, Ohio, earlier this month, the company’s senior leaders gathered farmer partners and rePlant’s investor network to discuss how these groups can further collaborate on funding opportunities that help farms during the period of transition to regenerative or organic practice adoption, Danone North America said.
“At rePlant, we are dedicated to investing integrated capital into food companies operating from soil to shelf in order to reverse the effects of climate change,” said Robyn O’Brien, co-founder, director of partnerships at rePlant Capital. “When we look at the work Danone North America and its network of farmers are already doing in the area of regenerative agriculture, it is clear they share our commitment to improving soil health. We are very excited to work together to make conversions to regenerative and organic farming practices more accessible for Danone North America’s farmer partners and drive sustainability across American farms.”