General Mills today announced Gunsmoke Farms has received organic certification by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Organics Program. Gunsmoke, a 34,000-acre farm outside of Pierre, South Dakota, had been managed conventionally for more than three decades before its transition to organic over the last three years using regenerative agriculture practices.
The combination of cover crops, a diverse crop rotation, keeping a living root in the ground year round and minimizing tillage were instrumental in restoring the land to a holistic farming system that now grows spring wheat, winter wheat, alfalfa, oats, peas and Kernza.
“General Mills has been on our soil health journey since 2016 and working with Gunsmoke Farms solidified our belief that regenerative agriculture can be a transformative lever for farmers to be a part of the climate solution,” said Mary Jane Melendez, chief sustainability and social impact officer for General Mills.
“This type of long-term, direct contracting is unprecedented for General Mills and the industry. If we truly aim to be a force for good, our role is to give farmers the tools to be more resilient – both environmentally and financially.”
Strategic Sourcing Enables Holistic Farm Management
In 2018, General Mills engaged in a strategic sourcing arrangement to transition the land to organic. The agreement stated the company would partner with Gunsmoke Farms to invest in the transition and then source organic wheat from 10,000 acres for its Annie’s Mac & Cheese pasta products.
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The process of certifying the land as organic involved a three-year prohibition on the use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, a detailed plan for how the land will be used in the future. The farm is now certified as organic by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Organics Program.
“General Mills has made an important commitment to fight climate change, protect our ecosystem and foster good soil health by elevating the importance of agriculture and working with farmers to incorporate more organic practices. Their work with Gunsmoke Farms in South Dakota to convert thousands of acres of conventional farmland to certified organic acreage is an example of that commitment,” said Laura Batcha, CEO and Executive Director of the Organic Trade Association.
“We applaud General Mills for being good stewards of our environment and congratulate them on this successful initiative.”
Healthy Soil at Core of Regenerative Agriculture
Soil health is the foundation of General Mills’ sustainability efforts. The company believes healthy soil has the potential to sequester carbon and the ability to regenerate the land to a more holistic state — one that is more environmentally and financially resilient for farmers.
For more than three decades, Gunsmoke Farms was farmed with no diversity and experienced declining soil health. General Mills has learned about the importance of crop rotations, minimizing tillage, incorporating biodiversity, and maintaining cover crops through its work with The Nature Conservancy, the Soil Health Institute, the Soil Health Partnership and many other collaborators all focused on improving the soil quality of our agricultural working lands.
In the future, the farm managers will work to develop plans for 3,000 acres of pollinator habitat to encourage thriving above and below ground biodiversity. Well-planned pollinator habitat can invite beneficial insects to agricultural landscapes and help a variety of species, including bumble bees, squash bees, honeybees and butterflies. Such habitat can also improve water quality, reduce soil erosion and protect game and songbirds.
General Mills has contributed more than $5.5 million to partners advancing soil health research and education on U.S. agricultural lands, including The Nature Conservancy, the Soil Health Institute, the Soil Health Partnership, the National Wheat and National Corn Growers Foundations, Grain Millers, the University of Minnesota’s Forever Green initiative and Kiss the Ground.
A Leading Organic Food Producer for Two Decades
Since 2000, General Mills has steadily expanded its natural and organic business, including through brand acquisitions, to meet growing consumer demand but still only one percent of total cropland in the U.S. is farmed organically.
Today, one of out of every six products in the company’s North American portfolio is certified organic or made with organic ingredients and General Mills is the second largest U.S. producer of natural and organic foods with brands including Annie’s, Cascadian Farm, EPIC, Muir Glen, and Liberté . In fiscal 2020, the company’s natural and organic portfolio in North America was more than $1 billion in net sales.
“Annie’s was founded on a commitment to better the world and today, we’re focused on advancing organic and sustainable farming,” said Emily Thomas, vice president, managing director of natural and organic at General Mills.
“Later this year, through the purchase of our Annie’s Mac & Cheese pastas, consumers will enjoy organic wheat grown at Gunsmoke Farms, support local farmers and contribute to the health of our planet through regenerative agriculture practices like soil health and biodiversity.”
For more information on General Mills ambitious commitment to advance regenerative agriculture on 1 million acres of farmland by 2030 and long-standing support to advance soil health, visit the company’s 2020 Global Responsibility Report and Taste of General Mills blog.