One Friday I was sitting at my desk doing my usual morning tasks when an email landed in my inbox. It was from a McCain Food’s communications person, and they said the company would be making a big announcement the following Monday. They sent me the release under embargo, meaning I could write the story in advance and have it ready to post online for Monday, if I promised not to tell anyone the news beforehand.

The big news was McCain Foods was pledging all the potatoes it bought would be grown using regenerative agriculture practices by 2030. When I first read it, my jaw dropped, how could potatoes, a crop which required tillage, be grown using regenerative agriculture practices?

My mind jumped to my own knowledge of regenerative agriculture. From what I knew about regenerative agriculture it required livestock grazing and extremely little soil disturbance — the exact opposite of potato growing.

When I later talked with Jess Newman, McCain’s senior director of agriculture and sustainability, she explained they were viewing regenerative agriculture as practices such as cover cropping and reducing pesticide usage. Hearing this made much more sense to me and lined up with what potato growers repeatedly told me they were already doing on their own farms.

When the news became public and I saw reaction on Twitter, I realized most people were just as confused as I had been about what exactly this announcement included. I did some more research and found out PepsiCo, who owns FritoLay, had also recently made a regenerative agriculture promise. Between the two announcements, I thought it required a deeper look, the result of which is “The Regenerative Ag Debate for Growing Potatoes, is it Possible?”.

Researching this story was really interesting, I talked to a lot of people and learned just how confusing the world of regenerative agriculture is. Everyone has their own definitions of what regenerative agriculture includes, which is what was causing growers stress.

I’ve never met a grower who doesn’t care about their soil and doesn’t want to improve and help it in any way they can. Most are already doing work on their own farms, not because companies are asking them too, but because they want to conserve the soil. Meaning a lot of growers are already doing what companies such as McCain’s and PepsiCo are asking them to do.

As I talked to people for this story, one underlying theme emerged: almost everyone would just love it if there was one overarching definition of regenerative agriculture. Some companies are taking this work into their own hands to make a definition such as McCain and PepsiCo, while others, such as J.R. Simplot Co., are supporting and working collaboratively with industry groups such as the Potato Sustainability Alliance.

At the end of the day though, no matter how they’re approaching it they’re all working towards the same goal — conserving land in order to grow the best food. Or at least that’s what my conclusion is. There’s a lot of fancy words out there but at the end of the day, I think we’re all on the same page.

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