Dan Miller on the crucial role of locally owned processing in regenerative agriculture

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A check in interview with Dan Miller, founder of Steward, to talk about creating a sustainable, equitable, and profitable system that supports regenerative practices. 

LISTEN TO THE CONVERSATION ON:

What has happened in the regen ag movement in the last 18 months of COVID, where the big centralized agriculture and food system have shown to be super fragile? What is needed to build a decentralized system—how do we finance and invest in that? 

The Emergence of Crowdfunding

The pandemic has triggered an increase in local purchasing from farms, which can be attributed to the centralized industrial ag system that can’t support the shortage. Consequently, many people have seen this as an opportunity and became interested in funding (also known as crowdfunding) these local farms, which in turn results in more farmers that can have the support they need to practice regenerative agriculture. Although there was a time when the demand skyrocketed and was hard to sustain, this new trend promotes a stable growth of regenerative agriculture that is impactful for farmers, investors, and other stakeholders. 

“It’s still a tiny part of the market but it’s where the growth is, and I believe that the opportunity is ecologically where it has to be because you have to use the resources that you have available.” – Dan Miller

The Role of Steward 

Steward’s mission is to become a platform to help fund the needs of farmers and ranchers who want to practice regenerative agriculture. One of the biggest demands right now is food systems infrastructure where producers partner with Steward to get everything up and running and to have control over the entire supply chain, rather than having large companies take over. In order for producers to have a ‘decentralized’ system, they need infrastructures, as well as experts and freelancers with various skill sets, which could be a challenge for Steward. 

“One farm can’t supply the contract. But if you have aggregated networks of farms through processing facilities, they can combine their sales to provide reliable output.” – Dan Miller

Processing: Access and Quality 

According to Dan, a good processing facility needs to have both access to big supply and quality that even end consumers would find satisfactory. However, big processing facilities would normally have access to huge contracts, but don’t really care that much about end consumers’ preferences. This is where small facilities can step in, so they can have control over the end product. Dan emphasizes how important it is for processing facilities to ensure quality that benefits producers in the long run rather than to become just a “profit center.” 

“What these smaller facilities do is they give control over access and control over the end product.” – Dan Miller

A Truly Sustainable System

It’s hard for producers to build their own facilities because it could take millions for infrastructures alone, making it difficult to get investment from banks despite the incentives such as loan guarantees. What producers need are funders that really believe that the system being created is viable, and are willing to invest long-term. Dan believes that to create a system that sustains regenerative agriculture, it should be equitable and ownerships should be shared. 

“There’s really a role for anybody interested in this market outside of just becoming a farmer, which obviously is important, but there’s more to create a food system than just producers.” – Dan Miller 

Other Points Discussed 

Koen and Dan also talked about the following: 

  • The types of loans Steward offers 
  • Dialing in all aspects of the business
  • Learning about the  challenges of farmers and getting ahead of them 
  • How track record matters for others to take a risk 

To know more about Dan Miller and Steward, download and listen to this episode. 

LINKS:

LINKED INTERVIEWS:

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Feedback, comments, suggestions? Reach me via Twitter @KoenvanSeijen, in the comments below or through Get in Touch on this website.

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The above references an opinion and is for information and educational purposes only. It is not intended to be investment advice. Seek a duly licensed professional for investment advice.

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