Regenerative agriculture focus for Churchill Fellowship winner

By Bree Swift
Updated November 5 2021 - 12:37am, first published 12:33am
I-Lyn Loo is the recipient of the prestigious Winston Churchill Trust Churchill Fellowship which will enable her to travel for four to eight weeks internationally to conduct research on regenerative agriculture

CHURCHILL Fellowship recipient I-Lyn Loo will investigate the drivers for regenerative agriculture to incentivise the adoption of these practices in Australia.

Ms Loo, who is the Wheatbelt Development Commission regional development acting director, has had about 15 years of experience in the agricultural and environmental sector, having held a variety of roles within the Western Australian government, including policy development.

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She was awarded the Winston Churchill Trust Churchill Fellowship in November last year, which affords its recipients an opportunity to travel for four to eight weeks to gain expertise from around the world on their topic and apply that knowledge back in Australia in a report.

Despite being unable to travel internationally due to COVID-19 restrictions, Ms Loo said she had already started to undertake her research and make plans for the project, which will include travel to the United States, Switzerland and France to visit big food companies, General Mills, Nestle and Pepsico.

"The project will look at why those big corporations are making commitments to regenerative agriculture and what mechanisms and incentives are available at the moment to help underpin that transition to regenerative agriculture, because when farmers transition their practices there is an inherent risk to it," Ms Loo said.

With the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) creating a grants process to fund projects to help see which regenerative practices work, Ms Loo said she planned to visit the USDA itself as well as a few recipients of the USDA's conservation grants.

"Recently there was a report done in the US about the barriers and opportunities to transition to regenerative agriculture," Ms Loo said.

"One of the things it discussed was having the ability to segregate your products from the conventional mainstream products and there are examples in the US where that has happened.

"For example, they segregate their sustainably produced grains from their conventionally produced grains, so another area I want to look at through my research is their supply chains to understand how that all works."

Ms Loo said the overall aim of the project was to demonstrate to the Australian agricultural sector that regenerative farming was an opportunity they could and should capitalise on by highlighting that the world's major food companies are headed in that direction.

She has already engaged with Nestle and was part of the company's global stakeholder dialogue when it launched a plan and commitment of 1.2 billion Swiss francs to transition the company to using regenerative agriculture practices in terms of their produce.

"Nestle has committed to paying their farmers a premium for regenerative produce and so far they are the only company that I'm aware of that have made that commitment," Ms Loo said.

"General Mills have said no to a premium, but that they will help farmers transition to regenerative farming because that will help lower the cost of their inputs and therefore improve their profitability anyway, without having to pay a premium - so that's their strategy."

Ms Loo said in the global stakeholder dialogue on regenerative agriculture there had been a dichotomy as to whether it should have an outcome or practice-based definition.

"I think the consensus was practice-based is quite difficult as there was acknowledgement that the practices must be tailored to the farm because they are all different," Ms Loo said.

"However an outcome-based definition means things such as we are going to improve the soil health, preserve and increase biodiversity around the farm and increase farmer resilience."

With General Mills conducting three separate pilot trials for regenerative farming in oats, dairy and wheat in America and the results expected next year, Ms Loo said she was hoping to visit each of those trials and travel to the US in about September next year.

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