It’s Time for Companies to Get Dirty and Help Build Regenerative Agricultural Supply Chains

Rebuilding soil, replenishing water, restoring biodiversity, revitalizing rural communities, and increasing profitability.  Pioneering farmers and ranchers are finding that the strategic combination of regenerative farming practices deliver these and other important benefits.  Their efforts are turning around the long-told story that depicts agriculture as the source of environmental and social challenges – flipping to one where agriculture provides solutions.  

Hope from regenerative approaches comes at a critical time.  The climate has warmed 1-degree Celsius with consistently more climate disasters, from droughts to floods and wildfires to hurricanes.  Climate trends point to notable reductions in crop production in our future, such as a 20 percent drop in corn by 2050.  At the same time, farmers are getting a smaller share of the consumer’s dollar, severely limiting the capacity of farms to provide the food products needed by a growing global population.

Leading companies such as Wrangler and The North Face are stepping up to this challenge and are supporting on farm solutions.  Pure Strategies’ report, Connecting to the Farm, features companies on the forefront of this movement.  Our report describes how leading brands and retailers can deliver on the promise of regenerative agriculture. 

Wrangler learned from its cotton producers that improving soil health impacts long-term producer productivity and profitability, while reducing agricultural greenhouse gas emissions and improving water quality.  Soil health is a cornerstone of regenerative agriculture and our future food and fiber supply. At least 95 percent of our calorie consumption is derived from soil.  Yet, roughly half of U.S. soils are degraded.

Innovative farmers have proven that soil building practices work - including cover crops, organic soil amendments, complex rotations, and conservation tillage.  These tools help soil absorb carbon, serving as a carbon sink and helping to mitigate climate change.  These practices also reduce the need for fertilizer and irrigation and lessen soil erosion and water pollution. 

The North Face supported early research by the nonprofit Fibershed to evaluate these soil health building practices in wool production. With promising results, Fibershed developed the Climate Beneficial Wool standard and The North Face sourced the certified wool for the Cali Wool Beanie that sold out on their online store during its first year in 2017.  They have since scaled the Cali Wool Collection to include a scarf and jacket sourced through regenerative agriculture farming practices.

Wrangler partnered with experts, including E3, the Soil Health Institute, and others to encourage the adoption of soil health practices in their cotton supply chain. The company purchased cotton from farms implementing these yield-improving and soil-enhancing practices as a part of a special collection of Wrangler denim jeans.

Brands and retailers have an important role in advancing soil health and regenerative agriculture.  Companies need to connect with farmers and ranchers and provide tools, resources, and a market for products grown with these practices.  Given the challenges facing agriculture and those posed by a rapidly warming planet, our future depends on it.  Let’s look back in ten years and remember the day we pushed ourselves down this path, rather than regretting that we waited too long to start the journey.    


This article originally appeared in the USA Today special supplement: "Digital Supply Chain" on December 14, 2018.

Written by Tim Greiner

Tim  Greiner

Tim Greiner, a Pure Strategies Co-founder and Managing Director, has pioneered approaches to building environmental and social integrity into products, brands, and businesses. His experience spans the spectrum from developing sustainability strategy, drafting sustainability goals, designing product sustainability programs, creating approaches to transform sustainable supply chains and fostering collaborative mechanisms to lift the sustainability performance of entire industries. He is currently working with several progressive businesses on developing science-based targets and comprehensive climate strategies. He is a co-founder of the Chemical Footprint Project and has guided sustainable chemicals management strategies for companies across diverse industries. He has also led regenerative agriculture projects with food brands and retailers. Current and former clients include Annie’s, Walmart, Seventh Generation, Ben & Jerry’s, The North Face, Stonyfield Farm, MilliporeSigma and U.S. EPA.

Tim holds Masters’ degrees in Environmental Policy and Business from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a Bachelor's degree in Materials Science Engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. He is a founding member of the Massachusetts Toxics Use Reduction Planners Association and a former Board member and President. He is also founder of the Cape Ann Climate Change Network and is a Research Associate at the Lowell Center for Sustainable Production. Tim has experience in industry as a Process Engineer for Fairchild Semiconductor. He also worked for the Massachusetts Office of Technical Assistance as Project Director and Chief Engineer.

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