Advance Your Climate Goals: An Interview with Paul Sheetz

What is regenerative agriculture and what is ADM's regenerations program?

Our definition of regenerative agriculture is based in indigenous ways of farming and based and adaptive to physical and local cultures. We have five main principles of regenerative agriculture.

  • Minimizing soil disturbance
  • Maintaining living roots year round
  • Continuously covering bare soil
  • Maximize crop diversity, either through a crop rotation of three different crops over five years, or also edge of field practices like pollinator strips or riberian buffers.
  • Responsibly managing inputs like fertilizer, herbicide and pesticide

In our program, ADM's regenerations program, we really scaled up our efforts last year. It is inclusive of 19 states in the U.S. That's built around a lot of the facilities and the farmer relationships that we've built over the last decades, 120 years of existence. It really focuses on making sure that we incentivize farmers for adopting regenerative agriculture practices that mainly focus on cover crop adoption, conservation, tillage, and also fertilizer efficiency. We pair up direct incentives with two farmers with also technical assistance support.

This is an initiative we can't do on our own. We have some core competencies that include really strong relationships with farmers, upstream and downstream customers as well. But agronomic expertise around conservation ag is something that we need a little help on.

Across the U.S. we have several different partnerships with conservation companies like Practical Farmers of Iowa and Nebraska, Minnesota Soil Health Coalition in Minnesota, Kansas Association of Conservation District in Kansas, American Farmland Trust in Illinois, Ducks Unlimited in Indiana and Michigan, and Flint River Soil and Water Conservation in the southeast.

Because we know cutting a check isn't the only opportunity to ultimately incentivize farmers, we have to give the technical assistance support to make sure that the practice is done successfully for long term adoption. We make sure we partner with those companies that have that expertise, that have been around for 10 to 20 years and have advised on best practices. Another partner we have in our programs as well is a data collection partner that is Farmers Business Network.

We have to make sure that we're measuring the impacts of these programs and we feel comfortable about what we're ultimately reporting, either internally or with downstream customers as well. We have a unique partnership with several different entities that all have aligned goals on trying to make positive impact on the environment and trying to create financial opportunities across the whole supply chain.


What benefits come from the practices that are implemented with the regenerations program?

The great thing about the majority of the regenerative agriculture programs in the that they're multidimensional. They aren't necessarily just focused on greenhouse gas emissions. If you take cover crops for an example, they obviously have an opportunity to store carbon in the soil, but they also improve water quality and biodiversity and soil erosion.

That goes for tillage practices and fertilizer efficiency as well. We want to make sure that we're incentivizing practices that have multiple positive impacts on the environment because we don't want to just stay narrowly focused just on greenhouse gas emissions. We want to make sure that we're looking at the farms that we ultimately originate, the commodities that we make ingredients and sell to downstream customers in a holistic approach, and make sure we're addressing multiple concerns at once, whether that's soil degradation or whether that's water quality.

Critical is net greenhouse gas emissions from the field level that is made up from farms that ultimately send us commodities that we turn into ingredients that go to downstream customers.



Why is ADM investing in expanding the regeneration program and how does it affect, impact, and benefit customers?

We were deliberate about vetting the opportunities around sustainable ag and regen ag. We didn't just start engaging farmers and understanding what the environmental impacts were last year.

We've been doing it for the better part of the last ten years because we understand that not every practice works at every field level. We wanted to get a large scale feel for what farm operations exist today, what farming practices trends are being adopted today, how do we not dictate farm practices, but how do we accelerate the
adoption of regenerative agriculture practices that will ultimately lead to the positive environmental impact.

We've spent the better part of the last ten years vetting and trying to develop what is our ADM regenerations program today. And the biggest reason on why we're engaging investing in this space is because the majority of our business today is dependent on the land that is farmed across all the regions that we ultimately exist.

Adopting regenerative agriculture practices lead to a more resilient crop. ADM has been around for the last 120 years, and we want to be around for the next 120 years as well. So it's good business to invest in regenerative agriculture programs. 

Additionally, we're not alone on making scope three mission commitments and scope three emissions tend to be the majority of them are focused on field level emissions. A lot of our downstream customers have made the commitments as well. But we're uniquely positioned where we have really strong relationships with farmers that have been going on for decades to where we can have an open and transparent conversation of why we're doing this and also hopefully lead to financial benefits across the whole supply chain as well.

So, the one thing that we realized is that a lot of our downstream customers in the food, fuel and feed and industrial space were looking for solutions, but they didn't necessarily have that engagement factor that preexisting relationship with farmers. And since we're uniquely positioned between both, we thought it was a really good opportunity to be able to create, manage and execute turnkey solutions that ultimately fulfill our downstream commitment, our downstream customers commitments, and then our internal commitments as well.


What is the current scale and future of ADM's regenerations program?

This past year, we enrolled 1.2 million acres across the U.S. That was a really big increase from the previous year, where we were less than 300,000 acres total. It took a lot of investments and partnerships that I had mentioned a little bit earlier.

But we showed that we can get to scale relatively quickly. Not that it was all easy, there was a lot of hurdles to overcome. This space is a little noisy and it's really new to specifically a lot of our farmers. So it wasn't just one conversation and getting farmers to enroll, it took multiple conversations. It took specialists on the ADM side that had a different type of conversation with farmers because we spent the last several decades focusing on buying their grain, giving them fair market value for their grain, setting delivery periods, creating demand.

We wanted to change that conversation to being able to incentivize farmers for environmental benefits as well. And we were able to scale up to 1.2 million acres, which covered 1,900 farmers. So relatively large scale.

And then our future goals is that we plan on getting to 4 million acres by 2025. And we also don't want to just be focused in the U.S. We are a global company, so we are standing up programs right now in EMEA and LATAM as well. Then we expect to expand even more in future years as well. So all the work won't be done in the U.S, but we will use the playbook, the template that's been created in the U.S.

Every region tends to have a different opportunity, a different solution. So we'll take that same thought process in other countries and make sure that we're striving towards impact in several different regions across the globe.