Interview with Yves Leclerc, Chair of the Regenerative Agriculture Programme

13th March 2023

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“It is only by working together collectively to build an industry aligned solution that we can truly transform our agricultural production system.”

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Yves Leclerc is Global Director of Agriculture Sustainability at McCain Foods. A biologist and agronomist by training, with a PhD in Plant Physiology and Biotechnology, he started his professional career as a seed-potato farm manager. It is this wealth of industry and agriculture experience that he brings to this newly elected role as chair of the Regenerative Agriculture Programme Steering Committee for 2023.

The purpose of the newly elected Steering Committee, consisting of nine founding member representatives, is to provide expert direction and guidance in alignment with members and industry needs. We caught up with Yves to find out more about the urgent need to transition to a more regenerative food system and how he plans to lead SAI Platform’s Regenerative Agriculture Programme in achieving its goals and objectives.

Why has transitioning towards regenerative agriculture become such a priority for the food and drink industry?

Yves Leclerc: Regenerative agriculture is crucial to the food and drink industry because there are a multitude of challenges facing agriculture today and this requires us to be innovative. As an industry, we need to change the way we think, from a linear thinking process where issues are individually addressed to adopting a more holistic approach to farming.  A favourable approach would be one that considers the key ecological processes of nature and the restauration of functional carbon, water and nutrient cycles which are modulated by our ability to improve the biodiversity of soils, crops and farm ecosystems. 

Why is regenerative agriculture important to McCain Foods and to you personally?

Yves Leclerc:  Regenerative agriculture is a top priority for me and McCain Foods considering the multiple challenges faced by the agricultural industry. It has become evident that the methods of farming we have used for the past half-century are no longer sufficient to ensure the productivity and sustainability of our cropping system. The impact of climate change, the stagnation of yields, increasing water scarcity, the loss of biodiversity and the increase in cost of inputs are challenging the status quo. We must clearly define a new path for agriculture which improves the resilience of our cropping system.

What are the main challenges for our members and for the industry at large?  

Yves Leclerc:  The breadth and scope of the work that needs to be done can seem overwhelming for many global food companies when they first start to engage with growers about implementing and measuring regenerative agriculture within their complex supply chains. It has become apparent that it is only by working together collectively to build an industry aligned solution that we can truly transform our agricultural production system. 

What is your vision for how SAI Platform members can leverage the Regenerative Agriculture Programme to support the transition towards a more resilient production system? 

Yves Leclerc: By creating a comprehensive cross-commodity and industry recognised Regenerative Agriculture Programme, SAI Platform can play a leading role in the transition towards regenerative agriculture globally. Our programme will provide members with the necessary tools and implementation guidance to support grower transition towards regenerative agriculture, while offering companies a mechanism by which to report and verify progress. The integration of this programme into SAI Platform’s existing industry solutions including the European Roundtable for Beef Sustainability (ERBS), the Farm Sustainability Assessment (FSA) and the Sustainable Dairy Partnership (SDP) will provide a time and cost-effective solution for the industry, while maximising efficiency and avoiding duplication of effort. 

And finally, as the new Regenerative Agriculture Programme Steering Committee Chair, what do you aim to achieve over the course of your term? 

Yves Leclerc: Building on the ground-breaking work that was accomplished last year, the new Steering Committee has a clear and precise roadmap of what needs to be done to advance our collective regenerative agriculture agenda. We will continue to enable agility and ensure timely progress is made throughout 2023.

My ambition, as chair of the Steering Committee is to make sure that we complete our programme implementation plan on time and deliver a best-in-class programme for SAI Platform members. A programme that will become the industry standard for regenerative agriculture.