How does Steward define sustainable and regenerative agriculture?

Steward Team Updated by Steward Team

The short answer

All agricultural businesses that receive Steward loans must follow “sustainable farming practices.” But what does that actually mean? 

Steward supports agricultural businesses that adopt agricultural practices that are self-sustaining and environmentally regenerative. Businesses should be using a systematic approach to focus on soil health and ecosystem management, which do not include using synthetic pesticides or fertilizers.

Steward and its network of borrowers maintain a commitment to techniques that protect the environment, public health, human communities, and animal welfare.

View/Download a PDF of our Regenerative Framework for more details.

The long answer

We know that there are many different types of farm management systems and ways to approach holistic management of a piece of land. There is such a diversity in types of farms and growing systems that it is hard to define all of the types of operations that encompass the term sustainable or regenerative agriculture. But in a nutshell, projects must be self-sustaining and environmentally regenerative. 

The word sustainability encompasses environmental, social and economic components. This means agricultural businesses must have ecologically sound practices, socially responsible policies and also have an economically viable business model. 

In terms of specific practices that fall under our definition of sustainable and regenerative agriculture, we have found it easier to define practices based on what Steward will NOT support:

  1. Industrial commodity crop production: Industrialized agriculture is a type of production where the primary goal is to increase yields and decrease costs, which often leads to monoculture farms that are forced to become larger and more input-intensive to stay in business.
  2. CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations-Feedlots): CAFOs are defined as agricultural enterprises where animals are kept and raised in confined situations and feed is brought in to the animals rather than allowing animals to graze in pastures, fields, or rangeland. 
  3. Exploitative labor practices: Exploitation of labor is the act of using power to systematically extract more value from workers than is given to them by an employer. Agriculture has historically been an industry where minority groups have been marginalized and oppressed and Steward is committed to investing in businesses that are reversing that trend.
  4. Synthetic fertilizer and pesticide use: Synthetic pesticides and fertilizers are man-made inorganic compounds used in our high input commodity agriculture system. Sustainable and regenerative agriculture systems often adopt a multitude of strategies to combat pests and disease including: companion planting, natural pesticides, and a focus on soil health.
  5. Abusive farming practices that disregard soil health, water degradation, and the importance of biodiversity: We believe there is a way to farm the land regeneratively, with practices that help rebuild soil organic matter, restore soil biodiversity, and improve the water cycle.

You may think this is a long answer, but if you are a producer, you know how complicated these definitions can get and the wide range of opinions that are out there! And if you are a lender - part of Steward’s mission is to educate and share more knowledge about our food and agriculture system.

Steward and its network of borrowers maintain a commitment to agricultural practices that protect the environment, public health, human communities, and animal welfare.

Please reach out with any questions about our definitions. We would love to chat!

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