The people that bring Cheerios to the world and many other Minnesota-based leaders are rolling up their sleeves to take on some big challenges together.

General Mills, Target, Land O’ Lakes, Inc., Hormel Foods, Cargill and Schwan’s Co., are working together to build a sounder world for future generations.

They’re taking with them groups like University of Minnesota, Agricultural Utilization Research Institute (AURI), Minnesota AgriGrowth Council and Compeer Financial with hopes of success in a new coalition called MBOLD.

“We are primarily focused on the dual challenge of climate change and the world’s increasing demand for food. It’s incumbent upon all of us to tackle climate change and to figure out how we can sustainably meet the nutritional needs of a global population that is expected to grow to 10 billion by the year 2050,” said JoAnne Berkenkamp, MBOLD managing director.

Additional founding members include more powerhouses: Ecolab, Grow North (Carlson School of Management), GREATER MSP and the consulting firm McKinsey & Company. These are companies that know a lot about taking good ideas to scale and bringing new products to market.

An initiative of GREATER MSP, MBOLD is meant to embolden food leaders to work together on issues facing food and agriculture, including climate change and the need to help food systems become more resilient.

These leaders are convinced that more regenerative agriculture systems are needed to build soil health, protect water resources and diversify farm incomes.

Their efforts won’t be limited to just Minnesota farmers either. Leaders from these global companies work with farmers across the U.S. and source ingredients from more than 100 countries worldwide, Berkenkamp said.

They also recognize that Minnesota is the third largest ag exporter in the U.S.

With seed technology, food manufacturing and packaging companies located in Minnesota, the region can dominate the food production cycle from growing to distribution.

These leaders also know about the significant water resources of Minnesota and the surrounding region. The 15-county Minneapolis/St. Paul region ranks ninth nationally for water technology related exports, including to Canada, China and South Korea.

“We have a lot of things that we’re working on and each of our organizations are doing really good work individually in these spaces, but we know that collectively, we can do great work,” said Stephanie Lundquist, Target, executive vice president and president of Food & Beverage. Lundquist is a co-chair of MBOLD.

MBOLD officially launched on Oct. 16 at World Food Day 2020 by Global Minnesota.

Initial projects

MBOLD intends to work with 50 sugarbeet growers in the Red River Valley on improving soil health. Co-led by General Mills, Cargill, and the Wilkin County Soil & Water Conservation District, this project will explore strategies to reduce the tillage involved in sugarbeet production.

“Starting this fall, we’ll be working to engage farmers and University partners in North Dakota and Minnesota to explore how these practices can be adopted, evaluating their impact on farm economics and their impact on yield, soil carbon, and water retention,” Berkenkamp said. “We want to work with farmers on things that they care about.”

The initiative will also work with the Forever Green Project at the University of Minnesota to develop commercial strategies for the cover crop winter camelina.

Another project is a pilot program in the Sauk River Watershed led by the Nature Conservancy and the Ecosystem Services Market Consortium. They are “developing credit mechanisms for compensating farmers for soil and water improvements on their land,” she said.

“There’s a system for developing some carbon and water credits where farmers would generate per acre payments for actual changes in soil and water,” she said.

Jeff Harmening, General Mills chairman and CEO, and co-chair of MBOLD, believes that agriculture can be a big part of the solution when it comes to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

“When soil is healthy, for example, that sequesters a lot more carbon, keeps a lot more water in it. You’re able to use fewer pesticides,” he said. “And so we know that one of the keys to having a more resilient agricultural sector, is great soil health. That’s one of the reasons why that’s one of the pillars that we’re tackling because it’s critical to our success, not only now, but 50 years from now. We’ve lost nearly half of our topsoil here in the U.S. over the last few decades. And we’ll lose the rest in the next few decades if we don’t do something different, so it’s time to do something different. So that’s probably one of the big challenges facing us.”

There are additional areas where MBOLD is exploring initiatives. These include circular economies for packaging (recycling flexible film packaging); innovation and entrepreneurship (encouraging “disruptive” thinking to drive solutions); food insecurity in the face of COVID-19 (finding private/public sector solutions); and talent (developing a world-class workforce).

“We are working with our members to spread the word that Minnesota is a great place to work – whether that’s in rural areas or in urban communities,” Berkenkamp said.

In addition, their platform Bold Open brings together Minnesota’s largest food and ag companies to highlight unique industry challenges and create partnerships that have innovative solutions.

The platform, which is managed by AURI, offers an “open innovation platform and a reverse pitch model to partner with creative solution providers to overcome research challenges.”

Partners in Bold Open include Cargill, Compeer Financial, Ecolab, Forever Green, General Mills, Glacial Grain Spirits, GREATER MSP Partnership, Grow North, Hormel, Land O’ Lakes, Inc., McKinsey & Company, Minnesota Soybean Research & Promotion Council, Minnesota Wheat Research & Promotion Council, Schwan’s Company, SunOpta, Syngenta, Target, Techstars Farm to Fork Accelerator, and the University of Minnesota.

MBOLD members believe that the Upper Midwest is a global powerhouse of food and agricultural industries, research capabilities and non-profits.

“The benefit to our members is the opportunity to think together to accelerate solutions, to have a bigger impact than we could have alone,” she said. “That’s why we’re focused on bringing multiple stakeholders from across the supply chain together to think through how we could collectively create pathways that allow some of these alternative crops to scale up profitably.’

“I think this will bring a different kind of perspective and different kinds of capabilities and expertise to the table to help compliment some of the dialogue that’s gone on for many years, about how to support farming systems that are profitable and climate friendly and resilient in the face of a changing climate,” Berkenkamp said.

“I’m hoping MBOLD can bring in a helpful sense of perspective and expertise to help craft pathways that can be economically viable.”