NRI Retrospective 2023

A note from Sallie Calhoun on 7 years of NoRegrets

We are now almost 7 years into the No Regrets Initiative, and I have been doing some reflecting, partially prompted by an update of the NRI website.  When we started work on the site 7 years ago, conversations around healthy soils, regenerative agriculture, and climate change were rare. One of our main goals was to highlight the significance of soil as a carbon sink that could be important in climate mitigation.  We created a primer to share many of the resources that we knew of about healthy soil, which we had been unable to find anywhere else.  Our target audience was philanthropists and investors because of the small amount of funding that was flowing into the space. To say that the world has changed would be a dramatic understatement.

Regenerative agriculture and healthy soils have moved into the mainstream conversation, both inside and outside of the ag world, in ways that we did not anticipate.  Talk is everywhere – from giant food companies, to nonprofits, to large ag chemical companies, and the USDA.  There is widespread understanding of the importance of soil as a carbon sink and rapidly changing scientific understanding about the complexity and ecology of soil.  There is much interest in moving capital of all types to support this transition. We never anticipated that the talk would get so far ahead of change on the ground, which is moving more quickly than we ever anticipated, but still has a very long way to go.

On the whole, this is good news. There is some of what looks like co-opting by large corporations, including through the use of the term “climate-smart agriculture” in an attempt to keep doing the very same things that have brought us to this place.  But if the movement was going to scale, this had to happen. There is also much change happening in farm fields and on ranches that is meaningful and lasting.  More and more producers feel comfortable talking about healthy soils and regenerative agriculture, especially as they realize that they are on the front lines of climate change, and resilience and adaptability are key to economic survival.  In some places, willingness to entertain change is coming from policy change, as in the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, in California, or from ongoing drought, flooding, and heat. It is a challenging and exciting moment in agriculture.

So, what does this mean for the No Regrets Initiative and our work in the world? 

At the micro level, it means a revamp of our web site. There are now many websites, films, and articles about the importance of healthy soils and nature-based carbon sinks.  We will be removing most of this content from our site, and working to highlight the good work that we are supporting, along with our thinking about integrated capital and how to best accelerate the transition that is currently underway to an agricultural system that regenerates ecosystems.  The site will still serve philanthropists and investors who are interested in financing the transition.

At a macro level, it means lengthening our timeframe, refocusing our efforts in the west, and working to ensure that the transition is based on a true paradigm shift.  If we just change a few practices and call it good, we will have missed a huge opportunity to address climate change and many of the other crises facing us today.  This is our work for the next 8 years, and the subject of another post.