As a long-time employee of General Mills, Tom knew that a shortage of organic grain was limiting the company’s ability to meet increasing consumer demand while also driving prices beyond affordable levels. As an agronomist with expertise in integrated pest management, he understood the challenges organic farmers face in the battle to grow (and store) clean, high quality, weed-free crops. For him, and for General Mills, investing time and money into the Prairie Organic Grain Initiative was a natural fit. “We wanted to help make existing organic farmers more profitable and better stewards, but also bring new farmers and acres into the mix,” he says.
With roots in rural Minnesota (where he still owns shares in a farm), Tom holds a PhD from the University of Wisconsin. He joined Green Giant in 1995 and stayed on when it was bought by Pillsbury and then by General Mills in 2001. Now leading the General Mills agronomy sciences group, Tom says POGI’s work dovetails nicely with his team’s recent focus on regenerative agriculture, in which intercropping, cover crops and livestock grazing are used to build up the soil and reduce the need for tillage. Many conventional farmers have reduced their tillage to preserve their soil’s structure, permeability, and drought resilience, he notes, but for organic farmers, who don’t use herbicides as a weapon against weeds, the shift is harder. “If we could figure out no-till organic, that would be the thing.”
Thanks in part to POGI, General Mills is benefitting from an expanded supply of organic grain. The company has more than doubled its organic intake and is the second largest natural and organic food company in the United States, with more than US$1 billion in net sales.
What Makes Tom a Champion?
Tom brings a valuable cross-border perspective to both the Canadian organic scene and POGI’s role within it. He represented General Mills on the advisory committee guiding POGI’s optimization stream and on an ad-hoc committee formed to review proposals for on-farm trials. An effective team player, he listened with interest and respect to both farmers and researchers while providing instructive and encouraging feedback. Besides helping to develop POGI resources, Tom has championed POGI and its tools on both sides of the border. He genuinely cares about POGI, about the growth of organics, and about the farmers involved.
“One of the things that really impressed me about the Prairie Organic Grain Initiative was the diversity of the team around the table. Besides growers, food companies and universities, all three of the provincial governments were actively involved. We implemented some really great projects, such as the Green Manure Tool Kit, the POGI website and on-farm research. POGI took very hands-on and practical approaches to communicating what organic is all about and to supporting growers. Besides making existing organic farmers more profitable, we also met our goal of bringing in new farmers and new acres.”