General Mills today announced a strategic sourcing agreement with Gunsmoke Farms LLC to convert 34,000 acres of conventional farmland to certified organic acreage by 2020. The farm, located west of Pierre, South Dakota, will grow certified organic wheat and other organic rotational crops. General Mills will use wheat grown on the farm to make Annie’s pasta products, including its signature Mac and Cheese.
“Investing in such a big acreage transition is a first of its kind for General Mills and is another step in growing our organic supply chain,” said John Church, chief supply chain officer at General Mills. “We continue to seek ways to partner with land owners to make organic ingredients more accessible for existing and innovative new foods that our consumers have grown to expect.”
In 2016, General Mills announced a similar transition agreement with Organic Valley, the largest organic cooperative in the U.S., to help dairy farms convert to organic dairy production.
Advancing Regenerative Practices
As part of this agreement, General Mills has partnered with Midwestern Bio Ag (MBA) to provide on-the-ground mentorship for the farm operators to advance leading regenerative soil management practices such as no till, crop rotation and cover cropping. Healthy soil is showing potential to sequester carbon and regenerate the land.
In addition to healthy soil, pollinators are critical to sustain the ecosystems on which our food and lives depend. But their habitats are under threat. Agricultural landscaping can increase biodiversity and help a variety of pollinators, including bumble bees, squash bees, honey bees and butterflies. Upwards of 3,000 acres of pollinator habitat will be planted throughout Gunsmoke Farms in cooperation with the Xerces Society. Such habitat can also improve water quality, reduce soil erosion and protect game and songbirds.
“We recognize that agriculture practices contribute to some of today’s most pressing sustainability challenges, and we are hopeful that regenerative agriculture practices can provide large-scale solutions for restoring healthy soil and a healthy ecosystem,” said Carla Vernón, president of the Annie’s operating unit. “Our brands like Annie’s, Cascadian Farm and Epic are committed to improving soil health by supporting farmers to adopt and advance regenerative farming practices. Together with growers, we want to revive our ecosystems, reduce levels of global greenhouse gases, and produce food to sustain a growing population for generations to come.”
MBA will also offer on-farm skills-based learning programs, which will serve as a regional educational hub for farmers to learn how to implement organic and regenerative agriculture practices. Gunsmoke Farms is owned by TPG, a private global investment company with a long-term capital approach to socially and environmentally beneficial investments.
Healthy Soil at the Forefront
“Gunsmoke Farms is a unique property with special challenges and opportunities for how to scale organic farming,” said Gary Zimmer, founder of Midwestern BioAg and author of The Biological Farmer. “We crafted a specific rotation and soil-building program to allow this property to be farmed organically at this scale. This involves tools and practices like mixing together wheat and legume crops to build nutrient-dense, carbon-rich soil.”
Soil health is a growing focus for General Mills sustainability efforts. General Mills has contributed more than $3 million to partners advancing soil health on U.S. agricultural lands, such as The Nature Conservancy, the Soil Health Institute, the Soil Health Partnership and the National Wheat Foundation. This includes research and education outreach on soil health practices to benefit 125,000 farmers in the Great Plains States.
A Leading Producer of Organic Foods
General Mills has made sizeable investments to meet growing consumer interest in natural and organic foods. Today, General Mills is the third largest U.S. producer of natural and organic foods with brands including Cascadian Farm, Muir Glen, Liberté and Annie’s. The company expects its natural and organic portfolio in North America to reach $1.5 billion in net sales by 2020.
Increasing demand for organic products continues to outpace the supply of organic ingredients, especially in North America. In the U.S., acreage devoted to organic agriculture is about one percent of total cropland, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Over the last decade, General Mills has been working to increase the organic acreage from which it sources ingredients by 160 percent and has become one of the top five organic ingredient purchasers in the North American packaged food sector.