In March of 2019, when General Mills made a commitment to “advance regenerative agricultural practices on one million acres of farmland by 2030,” organic enthusiasts gasped – and we have been holding our breath ever since. No doubt these acres would include some organic production, necessary to fuel the quickly growing demand brought by popular brands like Annie’s, Cascadian Farm, and Muir Glen, all acquired by General Mills in 2014.
Sure enough. In June of last year, the NOP (and certifier QCS) approved certification of Gunsmoke Farm LP, a 30,000-acre piece of land near Pierre, South Dakota. General Mills, in partnership with the farm’s owner, 6th Street Partners, seemed to have the best laid plans for the mega farm—working with renowned scientists to prioritize soil conservation and provide pollinator habitat—to produce wheat, peas, and corn, between plantings of cover crops. But last week’s breaking news (covered by NPR) confirmed our worst fears.
Fifty-three square miles of vulnerable topsoil have been permanently negatively impacted, while General Mills has given organic a black eye. But this debacle is not a failure of organic production. It is a prime example of corporate marketing schemes that are no substitute for the commitment and depth of knowledge used by authentic organic farmers to steward the land.
More questions than answers remain: Did farm managers follow the carefully laid soil conservation plans designed to protect this valuable resource in a particularly vulnerable landscape? Did managers follow production practices detailed in their Organic Systems Plan? Is authentic organic production possible at this scale? Stay tuned as Cornucopia continues to follow this story, answering these questions and more.