A large field with a combine cutting the brown crop plant, and the cuttings being conveyed into a tractor trailer at its side.

As climate change brings longer droughts and larger floods, many point to regenerative agriculture as part of the solution. But how does that translate on today’s modern farms?

Cami Ryan, senior business partner, industry affairs and sustainability, with Bayer, admits that the term “regenerative agriculture” comes loaded with So. Much. Baggage. And so many questions.

“I’m not always comfortable with ‘regenerative agriculture’ because I see how many farmers view it,” says Ryan. She mentions how “organic” is also often in the spotlight, and how both terms can sometimes be met with eye rolls from farmers — eye rolls that often mask skepticism or anger, and Ryan gets that.

“In a lot of ways, these terms have been weaponized,” she says, adding that farmers can feel attacked if they perceive their work is being questioned or devalued.

It’s time to reclaim this language, says Ryan, to recognize that Canadian farmers are, in fact, already regularly doing things that fall under the regenerative agriculture banner, such as minimum and zero-till or growing legumes in extended rotations, and that sustainability is at the heart of most farm operations in this country.

“Canada is one of the top sustainable producers in the world,” says Ryan, “This renewed focus on regenerative agriculture is an opportunity for us to continue to do the good work we’re doing but do more.”

Regenerative ag and Bayer

Regenerative agriculture can mean a lot of different things to different people, depending on where, how and what they farm, or even if they farm at all.

Bayer Global has developed a clear, robust vision for regenerative agriculture: produce more, restore nature and scale it up. Scientific innovation is key in this effort and Bayer believes it is well-positioned to deliver with existing solutions — seeds, traits, crop protection and digital tools — and solutions to come, like specialized cover crops and carbon farming tools, along with the inventive thinking needed to maximize their combined benefits.

Ryan says that, in the current Canadian context, this means data, tools and more informed conversations. “Regenerative agriculture is a powerful concept, but what Bayer is trying to do is create metrics and measurements — the data that shows the value of it,” she says. It comes back to that old mantra: if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.

“With new tools, technologies and products, we can offer farmers ways to do more with less,” says Ryan. Things like digital scripting tools that help farmers lower chemical inputs without compromising crop quality and yield or the further development of FieldView tools to help calculate ideal planting conditions for specific crop varieties, identify land that is better suited to perennial forages than annual crops, acre-by-acre management solutions and more.

Trait and seed technology also have a role to play. Canola with improved pod-shatter traits, for instance, simplifies harvest, while reducing yield loss and the number of volunteers the following year, potentially reducing herbicide use.

“What I’ve learned about farmers is that they want things to be simple, easy and profitable,” says Ryan. “No one likes change but if we can offer up sustainable tools, products and technology that add profit, if we can put numbers behind these things, then farmers are in a better position to adopt them.”

A Caucasian woman leans on a fence near a forest. She is wearing a tan cowboy hat and a vibrant orange blazer.

“What I’ve learned about farmers is that they want things to be simple, easy and profitable”,

Cami Ryan



Understanding the nuances

While new tools and technology are great, they are only half of the equation, says Ryan. “We also need to equip farmers with ways to talk about regenerative agriculture.”

This gets back to the eye rolling. And it’s complicated. “Farmers are deeply aware that they’re getting more attention,” says Ryan. “We are not as removed from society as we once were, and there is a lot of pressure in farming culture to respond.”

Ask 10 people what regenerative agriculture means, and you’ll get 10 different answers: cover crops, composting, companion cropping, green manure, zero-till, mixed farming, controlled traffic farming … the list goes on. The fact is that regenerative agriculture can be all of those things, some of them or none of them.

“There is no one right way,” says Ryan. “We know there are differences, square foot by square foot, in any field, square inch by square inch even. We should be focusing on what works for you, for your land, for your family.”

In other words, while regenerative agriculture is not going to look the same on every farm, the results will. “Soil health, carbon retention — goals like that are measurable, and everyone can get on board with them,” says Ryan. Being able to discuss the nuances of regenerative agriculture will be key in broadening the societal conversation about what these practices can and can’t do, what they look like from farm to farm and how, over time, they benefit everyone.

“There’s an opportunity here with regenerative agriculture to bring people together around this concept,” says Ryan. “It becomes a coalescing term that everyone can get on board with.

“It’s about communication,” she says. “‘This is what I do, what do you do?’ We may be different, but if we put the relationship first then we can have those conversations. There needs to be a willingness to change our minds, given evidence, and that takes a lot of courage.”

An ongoing process

Ryan reminds us that continual innovation has led to ongoing change in farming practice over time in a kind of never-ending loop of discovery and implementation. Regenerative agriculture is part of that loop now as farmers look for new, effective ways to improve what they’re doing.

And farmers the world over recognize the need to do something. In Farmer Voice, a 2023 survey of 800 farmers from eight nations around the world, 90 per cent of respondents noted the weather had changed in their region, with the majority reporting heat and drought as the main issues. Indeed, 71 per cent of farmers said that climate change has already impacted their farms in a big way. And all see technology and innovation as key to helping them meet these challenges and more.

“Regenerative agriculture is a way to mitigate climate change and the impacts of climate change,” says Ryan. “We can leverage product solutions and technology that we already have in place and develop new ones to improve on what we’re doing.”

She knows it’ll be a journey of fits and starts and that her job is to help foster and build the conversations. “Science thinks, public feels, and I help fill the gaps,” says Ryan. “We all struggle with change. But if you think of regenerative agriculture as a doorway to more and better things — if we can just let go of what we thought about this term, get beyond the ideology — we will get there.”