A conversation with Martin Reiter, former senior manager at Airbnb and Wayfair, and prior to this at McKinsey and Groupon, about what excites him about regeneration, where are the Steve Jobs and Elon Musk of regenerative agriculture going to build companies, and how can we help more talent flow into the space?
LISTEN TO THE CONVERSATION ON:
Why did Martin, after he grew Wayfair’s European Business by 100x over 8 years and led Airbnb’s International Expansion, read more than 50 agriculture books and all the papers he could get his hands on, plus he is doing Create with Nicole Masters, one of the most deep regenerative agronomy courses?
According to Martin, if more capable, relevant people knew common knowledge, we would get drastically more opinion leaders involved in what is the largest and most efficient lever we have to fight global warming and climate extreme events.
WHY REGENERATIVE AGRICULTURE MAKES SO MUCH SENSE
The scientific understanding of what went wrong is now in place, which wasn’t the case 10 years ago. We now understand the soil food web, the second-order effects of fertilisers, and the potential to make carbon effective.
”Time is running out, and a lot of the levers to stop global warming are just plainly not there yet. So, what can we do now to buy us time? It’s agriculture.” – Martin Reiter
”When you think of the revenue top line of a farm, let’s say you make $100,000 in revenue, typically $30,000 goes to inputs, which are particularly chemical inputs like fertiliser, pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, anti-parasites, or medication for livestock. We now know that you can basically get to more or less zero without any loss in output; there’s a little bit of output lost, depending on the quality of your soil, which is often degraded after all this use. But over time, you’re quite good. So, if I tell you I have an alternative business model that saves you 30% of the cost, suddenly that flips an industry absolutely. I think that’s quite compelling.” – Martin Reiter
”I think there’s a financial solution. But the underlying problem is industry-specific. I think that it has to do with cycle time […] I think there’s a financial solve, if we think that the risk is manageable of transitioning, then we can underwrite that risk and share that risk with the farmer. Agronomy can reduce your learning costs quite dramatically. And I think that helps with the underwriting. But I think one of the solutions is underwriting.” – Martin Reiter
WHAT NEEDS TO HAPPEN TO UNLOCK THE TRANSITION TO REGEN AG
If Martin had a billion dollars to put to work, he would spend 5% of it on research and lobbying to make sure we understood the actual cost of agriculture in a factual way.
”If we would just do a simple, proper accounting of what our society’s taxes spend on current agriculture, they would say, ‘This is so expensive, we cannot afford that.’ So, that’s the first part of that; you might need less than that amount. The second part is, as I love building companies, I would just build a company. I would build a fairly vertically integrated company of a network of farms that would follow a certain playbook with proper accounting so that we can also open source the profitability changes of those things. And then you build a regional processing and you build a few consumer brands out of it. […] We do have this impetus today; we need to basically save our population from decay. They’re eating food that makes them infertile, obese, unproductive, and unhappy and depressed. So, with this large impetus, there is a role for building a new company.” – Martin Reiter
”We would need to build plans to transition, and there’s plenty of money going around to help them. If we stop paying them massive subsidies for the wrong practices, we can use that money to help them during the transition.” – Martin Reiter
HOW DO WE GET MORE TALENT TO FLOW INTO THE SPACE
There is top talent from other industries, like consulting or finance, going into farming. His hope is that we are reaching a tipping point where this is really accelerating.
”I think the first one is to understand it all well. I think managing from above is not a good idea. So first, understanding where we are at and looking at it with a, let’s say, neutral eye. We are lacking a lot of knowledge in some areas, but we have a lot of knowledge in others. Right now, it is codifying a little bit. Not everybody has the time to spend two years going that deep. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t a lot of people who can still be incredibly helpful. So, maybe just building a little bit, helping with my eye and my background, to shed light on what is going on here to attract other people to join in. And then I think we can take it from there.” – Martin Reiter
HOW DO WE GET MORE MONEY TO FLOW INTO THE SPACE
What Martin would tell his investor friends, or people who manage either their own or other people’s resources.
”You can save the world and make money” – Martin Reiter
”I will tell them, how many of you folks do like to eat shitty food? And how many of you and your families care about what you eat? I think that a lot of hands will go up. So, I said, why don’t you just start bringing those together? You know, there is demand. And you know, we can produce supply that caters to demand a lot more margin- friendly than what we do today.” – Martin Reiter
”How do you make nature investable? Great. What do you need in a non-naive way to tap into institutional money? There are reinsurance companies saying, look, we are picking up the bill anyway, why don’t we spend some of that money in advance to avoid the fact that the bill is that big? So, there is interest out there. But nobody has built the bridge to allow them to invest in a way they can put on their corporate books. And so that is the work that needs to be done. And I think once we do it, we can actually increase the inflow of capital into the ecosystem quite dramatically.” – Martin Reiter
OTHER POINTS DISCUSSED
Koen and Martin also talked about:
- Why healthy soil might just be the unsung hero in our fight against climate change
- Economic incentives that could spur a green revolution in farming, discussing how shifting financial and consumer landscapes are priming the agriculture sector for a seismic shift
- How we, as a collective society, can overcome the psychological and systemic barriers that have kept regenerative agriculture from hitting the mainstream limelight
- Pressing health and environmental challenges of our modern diet, from the dominance of grain-fed meats to the implications of ultra-processed foods
- Regenerative agriculture and its potential to promote animal welfare
- Strategies to attract investment into sustainable agriculture, ensuring that profitability aligns with planetary health
- Lack of anchor investors and need for specialized knowledge
- Agricultural Primer 2024 by Martin Reiter
- The Structure of Scientific Revolutions by Thomas Kuhn
- Ultra-Processed People The Science Behind Food That Isn’t Food – Book by Chris van Tulleken
- What your food ate – Book by David R. Montgomery & Anne Biklé
- The Landbanking Group
- Anne Biklé and David R Montgomery – After studying more than 1000 papers the definitive answer, we are what our food ate
- Dan Barber, great flavour, health benefits and healthy ecosystems can only come from healthy soils not a lab
- Nicole Masters and Abby Rose on how tech can enable an army of creative thinking farmers
- Millán Millán – Farm water at its proper scale
- Sara Balawajder – Building Lukas Walton’s impact first food and ag portfolio
- Benedikt Bösel, updates from the 3000h German farm in transition
- Will Harris – Why one of the largest pasture raised company in the US doing really well but still barely making any money
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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.