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Soil, Health & Scaling Regenerative Ag

Luke Woodard, Ethan Watters | November 8, 2023

Impact | The Originate Initiative

Applegate and its research partners are laying the groundwork for a supply chain that incorporates climate-positive practices for better human health.

Without taking a look at the nutritional information panel on any package of your favorite food in the supermarket, it can be tough to make an educated guess about the amount of vitamins and minerals it contains. Overall, two products can look very similar, but the differences in nutrition levels can be dramatic.

Thanks to cutting-edge research led by the Bionutrient Food Association and supported by the Hormel Foods brand Applegate, consumers may soon have more information about the nutritional density of the meat they buy and feed their families.

Our goal at Applegate is to invest in people and planet and scale sustainable systems, like regenerative ranching, so that these products will be available to a broad segment of the population.

Carolyn Gahn, Senior Director of Mission and Advocacy, Applegate

The interconnectedness of soil health, plant diversity, regenerative farming practices and animal well-being have been central to Applegate’s philosophy from the company’s founding. “The ultimate hypothesis is that when you take care of the land and the soil, you get healthier plants which feed healthier animals,” says Carolyn Gahn, senior director of mission and advocacy for Applegate. “Put all those things together, and the result should be a healthier product for humans to consume.”

Applegate is helping to drive scientific research into some critical questions: What ranching practices create the most-nutrient-dense meat? How does eating more-nutrient-dense meat impact the mental and physical health of humans?

It’s intuitive that the nutrient density of meat is connected to the characteristics of the environment where it was raised. Nevertheless, understanding precisely how different practices impact the nutritional value of meat is a complex scientific question.

“Our goal at Applegate is to invest in people and planet and scale sustainable systems, like regenerative ranching, so that these products will be available to a broad segment of the population,” Gahn says. “Meat raised regeneratively should be on everybody’s plate.”

Promoting Regenerative Agriculture

Scaling regenerative agriculture practices is one of the goals set by Hormel Foods in its 20 By 30 Challenge, a series of environmental and social goals to achieve by 2030. Applegate has long been an industry leader in helping consumers understand and appreciate the connection between sustainable agriculture and nutrition. In particular, Applegate has supported regenerative ranchers throughout the world. Regenerative agriculture refers to a set of ranching practices that help restore the natural balance between livestock and their ecosystems. Cattle, often underestimated contributors to soil health, play an indispensable role. Their hooves aerate the soil improving water retention, while fresh manure fosters both biodiversity and vibrant microbial communities. Regenerative ranchers employ careful grazing strategies mirroring natural wildlife patterns to ensure the land becomes richer over time. Another common technique in regenerative agriculture is no-till land management. Farmers sow their crops without plowing the soil, allowing natural soil processes to proceed while organic matter accumulates on the topsoil.

The goal is a holistic approach where healthy soils promote robust plant growth, which can support diverse diets for livestock. This diversity in diet can further enhance the range of nutrients the animals ingest, resulting in even more-nutrient-rich meat.

Health Importance of Meat

The value of meat to the human diet has been extensively studied. Meat protein is the most satiating of the macronutrients. It has been shown to increase leptin sensitivity, induce weight loss, and promote the body’s ability to control blood sugar. In addition, meat also provides many nutrients that are not available or not easily absorbed from a plant-only diet. Antioxidants in meat, such as flavonoids and carotenoids, play a vital role in cellular protection and preventing cancer-related cell damage.

The importance of meat in our diet holds across all stages of life. In infants, studies have found that animal protein helps maintain a healthy iron level in the bloodstream. In adolescents, zinc, magnesium and omega-3 fatty acids — nutrients and minerals that are found in meat — are critical for building muscle and skeletal health. Even for adults, the satiating effects of meat reduce the likelihood of snacking between meals, leading to a more even blood sugar level.

Increase in muscle mass
among children who got more calories from meat

Researchers have also uncovered considerable cognitive benefits for eating nutrient-rich meat. One multiyear study compared two groups of children who ate the same number of calories per day. One group consumed more of those calories from meat. The children in this group not only had an 80% increase in muscle mass, but they experienced a significant improvement in cognitive function, their math and language test scores improving dramatically. The researchers could see the difference simply by watching the children at school. Those with the added meat were more talkative, more playful and showed more leadership skills.

As researchers learn more about the physical and cognitive benefits of eating nutrient-rich meat at every stage of life, Hormel Foods and Applegate remain devoted to supporting regenerative agriculture as a way to offer sustainable, healthy and delicious food. Whatever the health benefits prove to be, both companies believe they should be available to all.