Investing in Regenerative Agriculture and Food

261 Chris Tolles – All the venture capital in the world can’t make soils change faster

November 14, 2023 Koen van Seijen Episode 261
Investing in Regenerative Agriculture and Food
261 Chris Tolles – All the venture capital in the world can’t make soils change faster
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

A conversation with Chris Tolles, founder of Yard Stick, about soil carbon and the connection to changing agriculture practises, insetting vs offsetting, where in the hype cycle the soil carbon market is and why more companies should get really good at doing one thing instead of saying yes to every opportunity.

How difficult is it really to measure in field, instant, accurate and cheaply? Yardstick just raised $12 million, mostly VC climate money, to commercialise their technology. Warning! This is super difficult and won’t go as fast as many of us wish or want it to go.

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Speaker 1:

There is some real basic science we have to do in regenerative agriculture before we can make all these grand claims. True, that doesn't mean it isn't interesting and that doesn't mean we can't deliver on all these amazing promises. But we just don't know. For example, soil carbon and the connection to changing agriculture practices, or, better say, the connection between agriculture practices, the changing of them and the increase of soil carbon. How difficult is it really to measure in-field, instant, accurate and cheaply? The company we talked to today just raised 12 million, mostly from climate VC money to commercialize this technology. But also warn this is super, super difficult and won't go as fast as many of us wish and wanted to go. We discuss in-setting versus offsetting, where we are in the hype cycle of soil carbon and why more companies should really get good at doing one thing instead of saying yes to every opportunity. Enjoy, this is the Investing in Regenerative Agriculture and Food podcast, investing as if the planet mattered, where we talk to the pioneers in the regenerative food and agriculture space to learn more on how to put our money to work to regenerate soil, people, local communities and ecosystems, while making an appropriate and fair return. Why my focus on soil and regeneration? Because so many of the pressing issues we face today have their roots in how we treat our land and our sea, grow our food, what we eat, where and consume, and it's time that we as investors big and small and consumers, start paying much more attention to the dirt slash soil underneath our feet. To make it easy for fans to support our work, we launched our membership community and so many of you have joined us as a member. Thank you. If our work created value for you and if you have the means and only if you have the means consider joining us. Find out more on comroadcom slash investing in Regen Ag. That is, comroadcom slash investing in Regen Ag, or find the link below Welcome to another episode Today with the founder of Yardstick measuring soil carbon accurately, instantly and affordably with Yardstick technologies. Welcome, chris Howdy. Thanks for having me, and let's start with the Yardstick. I'm going to ask you to describe it visually as well, because we're in an audio medium, but you've been walking around on stage. I remember last year in Denver at RFSI with a big drill and any Yardstick or a stick on top of that. But we're going to go into the latest iteration of that. You've raised a bunch of money, so it might have changed, I'm guessing, but I think the mission is still the same, as I just read out. So I would love to start with a personal question we always like to start with here is what made you end up focusing on soil In this case? You're very literally most of the time focusing on soil. So what made you look into that from all the other career paths and all the other different paths you could have taken, which are many for many of the lucky of us but you decided it's soil and it's soil carbon.

Speaker 2:

Mostly by way of my now co-founder and a soil scientist researcher that we work with closely. I had sold my last company in early 2020. Summer 2020 was not a great time for networking. We were otherwise occupied, if you will, and so I On Zoom.

Speaker 1:

You could reach a lot of people that only had time to and I did.

Speaker 2:

And we did so. It was a Slack group really that did it for me. I joined Jason Jacobs, my climate journey.

Speaker 1:

My climate journey. That's where we met as well, I think.

Speaker 2:

Likely. Yeah for sure. I mean that was my primary climate community for a very long time and my GM is science commercialization. So the last company I sold I was the business guy alongside a co-founding scientist and I wanted to do that again. So pretty literally I was pawing around the MCJ community to be like, hey, who's got a thing? Because I'm the business guy, I focus on commercial execution. I don't really have my own ideas. The point is that scientists have great ideas. Many of them have been working on them for decades and I'm trying to bring stuff from the lab to market. So soil is a happy accident. Of the friends I made in that summer, particularly, my now co-founder is guy Kevin Meissner, who's in Oakland, california, and no disrespect to Kevin. Most more importantly, this woman, dr Christine Morgan, who's the chief scientific officer of SHI Soil Health Institute. Kevin had already built a relationship with Christine and I came along and I was like, hey, I think this could be a company. So I have no background in soil or ag or anything, which means I'm probably a big dummy compared to most of your listeners, but I've had the great privilege of learning from Christine along the way.

Speaker 1:

And what triggered you to? Because I'm imagining there were multiple ones, multiple interesting things like conversations, like deep dive rabbit holes, whatever you want to call it. And yet you could have been electric airplanes, could have been biofuels, could have been a lot of other things in the climate space where there is a scientist or there are scientific solutions that are waiting for quote, unquote your term dummy to pass along and make it into, turn it into a business. Why this one?

Speaker 2:

Yeah. So a few things. Number one inseparable from any entrepreneurial success, is like co-founder chemistry. I love Kevin Meissner. He's an awesome dude and you're going to be in the trenches together for some time, so certainly feeling a deep connection to him as a person, and then similarly a deep connection to Christine. She is the rare scientist who understands that for her work to have impact, it needs to happen in the real world, and that means she needs to hand her baby to somebody else, and it's really hard to hand your baby to somebody else. So I was really encouraged that she basically already knew like hey, yeah, this is a chance for my work to really matter. In order to do that, I need to get comfortable with somebody else being in charge of at least significant pieces of it. Soil also shows up pretty compellingly in a lot of the carbon removal conversations that we're just starting to pop off in a lot of 2020. There's a very famous plot of different CDR technologies by cost, which we can include in the show notes, and the x-axis is gigatons and the y-axis is cost.

Speaker 1:

Was McKinsey? No, who made it? There have been so many people that have done the same analysis.

Speaker 2:

It could be McKinsey data this one was from a firm called Vivid Economics, writing for UNDP, I think and the bottom right part of that chart is what you want, right? You want a lot of tons and you want them cheap. And there's a box in the bottom right hand corner that is labeled Soil Carbon and Kevin and I both looked at that box and we're like what's holding that box back? One measurement to oversimplify is at least one thing really holding it back so I could get religion around it being a big opportunity for climate impact and a good fit for the specific technology that I was looking at, namely Christine's work in spectroscopy. And then the third thing is, as always, timing is important. 2020 was a great year for Indigo's visibility, and so there's a lot of tailwinds around the potential of soils. They've done a lot of amazing things. They've obviously struggled in some key ways as well, but the timing was great for us to be talking to folks in fall 2020 who were like, hey, if Indigo is going to succeed, what other technologies need to be part of the equation? And our case was being made that the measurement was critical path.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, I think they raised for sure, because they've been raising every year and they had some good videos out as well.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, great work, very, very, Very very.

Speaker 1:

A big conference, not that year for sure, but I remember SLIC, youtube and the YouTube videos of a couple of minutes Carbon, et cetera. And then I mean we're recording this October 2023. They had another massive round, but a massive down round as well. So they've been struggling, but they've even if they end here they've served us all, hopefully not by scaring away too many investors, but served us all by pushing the conversation further.

Speaker 2:

Absolutely. Yeah, I mean, especially as a founder, like it's always easy to poop on a different entrepreneur who had to decide something years ago. I have only the greatest respect for them and like, yeah, they messed up in some keyways. We all do, I do right.

Speaker 1:

Someone's going to be laughing at us in a few years. They got money from FedEx and they were early, crazy early, yeah, they're actually back to MCJ.

Speaker 2:

They're one of the earliest MCJ episodes is a big part of how I got excited about it. And then the last bit was soil and, I guess, ag more broadly. I'm in the US and so the political and cultural dimensions of climate change are really material, and I liked that agricultural represented a potential kind of gap bridging opportunity where, rather than climate change being oftentimes, I think, rightly criticized as sort of like a coastal elite concern, it was neat that like hey, here's a way to enroll a huge part of the population, a huge part of the economy. That's complex, you know we have not yet accomplished that, but it certainly offered a whole bunch of opportunity. That was exciting for rallying, like the country, around a problem in a way that it's hard to often.

Speaker 1:

And so we're now say autumn, depending where, autumn in the Northern Hemisphere 2023. Just closed a series eight and point six million Congratulations with some really interesting names.

Speaker 2:

I'm just going to make 12 million by the time this episode airs.

Speaker 1:

So congrats again with that, thank you. The Toyota Ventures, climate Innovation Fund of Microsoft, nature Conservancy, lower Carbon Capital, breakthrough, energy Ventures, spillr VC, like a series of interesting names. Where is what is yardstick now, as we speak? And then we're going to talk in the future, of course, but as we speak now, at the end, middle to the end of 2023, how would you describe yardstick?

Speaker 2:

So the purpose of the round is to represent a turning point from 80, 20, our energy being on probe R&D, our spectral probe, which we'll talk about more in a second, I imagine to not quite 80, 20 commercial deployment, but like a bigger percentage on commercial deployment, 50, 50.

Speaker 1:

What would be the? Yeah, I don't know.

Speaker 2:

I mean, I think our tech team would be like oh, even that's a little aggressive, and our business development team would be like I think that's a little modest. So I don't know exactly what the numbers are.

Speaker 1:

So when you say team, how many people just understand?

Speaker 2:

We're 20 people.

Speaker 1:

Okay.

Speaker 2:

Well, in the US, I'm the only one here in Boston. We're a remote first company, again owing to our circa 2020 creation moment. We have a hardware team in the Bay Area in Oakland alongside my co-founder, kevin, but that's our only office. Everybody else is spread out around the US.

Speaker 1:

And now you're going into commercial deployment bigger than you were doing before.

Speaker 2:

Exactly so. One thing that I think we've done well over the last few years is acknowledge that we can't do or at least we shouldn't do Pro-BarnD exclusively. We need to show demand in parallel to showing Probe efficacy, and there's a whole bunch of technology at your stick that's not strictly our spectral probe, so, hey, do those things. In parallel means we've been selling soil carbon measurement services for two and a half years now. We've just been doing it conventionally. So each piece of point data has been via labs and the premise has been as our spectral probe matures, we'll be able to swap out laboratory analysis at each point for spectral quantification.

Speaker 1:

Okay, let's unpack that a bit. So you've been doing soil carbon analysis, which means you take a probe, you dig a small tube, you down the soil to a certain depth, send it to a lab, that results come to you, you share that with the client and you're now trying to starting to replace it more and more with a probe, which is basically a longer stick with a sensitive sensor at the tip, Exactly, and that will tell you the same, but in an instant and much cheaper, of course without sending it to a lab without having to deal with all of that.

Speaker 2:

Yep. So the total tech required to deliver stock reports is way broader than just our spectral probe, and so our approach has been build everything out at the same time, acknowledge that we can't rely on spectroscopy for point data in the interim, and then, as we are able to start doing that, Because what gave you confidence that you knew you were going to get like that?

Speaker 1:

the spectrometer tech would develop soon enough not 10 years but three years or two years to get to that point.

Speaker 2:

We didn't have confidence. The nature of startups is you take a bet. I mean I trust Kevin and I trust Christine and they said, we'll get there. But I would say even our definition of pro-performance three years ago is completely different from how we even describe it today we are. What we're trying to do has never been done before by anyone, Never mind just done commercially. So even defining the boundaries of how we characterize pro-performance has been a learning effort in its own right? Ultimately, no, I think that was mostly a product of deciding to pursue it rather than necessarily having confidence that it would work.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, no, but now you feel confident to scale up the commercial deployment, which I'm taking a guess here, is not going to be a mostly lab-based, because that's just very costly and that wouldn't be fun to use investor money for that. So you're confident, that you're at a point okay, we can scale up using the tech, not the lab.

Speaker 2:

Yes and no, it's both. So when we talk about laboratory analysis, there's two different things going on here. The first is taking conventional soil samples for the purpose of stock quantification. That's what we want to eliminate. The second is using laboratory analysis to train our spectral probe. That will continue. So our probe must be able to identify individual soils when we go into a new area. Most of our experience, for example, has been in the Midwest in the US so far. When I go to Florida there's completely different soils from the Midwest. So we will still continue to take additional conventional samples for the purpose of training our probe on that specific soil. But we're availing ourselves of all the other training data we've taken to date. So you can imagine, quote, unquote, just a few additional samples to sort of true up on a new landscape. That will continue for the foreseeable future. That's been a known part of the playbook from the beginning. We're scoping a project in Brazil. Right now we're scoping a project in Kenya. Those soils unsurprisingly look very different from the Midwest. So always is a long time. I try to not always say always, but for the foreseeable future we'll continue to take conventional samples for the purpose of training data, even as we stop doing that. First one, and that's really where our cost advantage comes from Yardstick will happily bear the cost of additional training data in order to then deploy spectroscopy at scale, which means the per acre price that my customers enjoy is going to be way, way more compelling.

Speaker 1:

And so how does it currently look, let's say, for the Midwest, where you have done those investments, because at the end they are investments. Who are your customers? Is the farming side? Is it the corporate side? Who calls you? Let's say normally and say okay. And why do they call you in terms of soil analysis?

Speaker 2:

So we don't sell direct to almost any farmers or ranchers and that's because this information is expensive to collect, even with the cost advantage of yardstick, and is not obviously economically valuable. So we sell to offset project developers, like in Indigo. They've got CarSept VM42, whatever they have their soil carbon measurement obligations and we're a service provider. We're the same service provider as a regular sampling company. We're just doing it with spectroscopy but a drop in alternative. The second bucket are so called insetters. Exactly yeah, and cheaper. The second bucket are insetters or scope three folks. So a good example here is Organic Valley. They're doing many of the same things as an offset project developer in terms of incentivizing management practice changes, but they're doing it within their own supply chains. So whereas Indigo is going out and saying farmers and ranchers of the world, who wants to work with me? Organic Valley is doing the same thing.

Speaker 1:

It's a massive cooperative owned by the farmers. But for people that don't know, this is not a small cooperation with four farmers. I think it's one of the same ones that Mark Shepard, I think, was one of the first ones in, if I'm not remembering wrong. Anyway, it's a massive player that now is starting to work with their co-owners and with their suppliers, which are the same Exactly.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, and that's what's cool is its direct decarbonization of their own dairy supply chain, which is better. Like, for all the criticism of offsets that we agree with, I think we are super thrilled that a good amount of our business is increasingly focused on companies like Organic Valley, who are like hey, we've differentiated ourselves for many, many years on the basis of organic, for example. This is a new opportunity as we start to look at CO2E per court of yogurt, if you will. Today I buy great milk, tomorrow I want to buy great milk that also is lower carbon intensity. And that's also because most food brands their emissions are overwhelmingly scope three. So call it 80 to 90%. That means if you're Cheerios, if you're Organic Valley, if you're a meat brand, you can reduce Do whatever you want with your EDE, do whatever you want.

Speaker 1:

Okay, great Work from home.

Speaker 2:

Yahoo, but it just doesn't matter. The only thing that matters is the carbon intensity of your oats in Cheerios, the carbon intensity of your milk in your Organic Valley yogurt and, to their credit, that means the organic valleys of the world are like wow, we're going to have to directly participate in management decisions or directly influence management decisions if I expect to buy lower carbon intensity milk. So in many ways they are behaving the same as an offset project developer, but obviously they're eating their own tons per se. They're not selling offsets.

Speaker 1:

And do you see that changing practices as well, Like the notion or the measurement that you deliver or make possible? How does that lead to concrete changes on the ground and in the ground?

Speaker 2:

So because we are a young company, it's too early for us to claim that influence. But the purpose of the information we're collecting is to evaluate hey, are the management changes that we made in year zero working or not? So Organic Valley, for example, may have a dairy and then a controlled dairy alongside it. Maybe they're slicing and dicing a few different ways, but one way or another they've got some matrix of different management practices that they believe will result in grams per gallon, tons per 100 gallon of milk, co2e changes, soil carbon changes slowly, so the measure remeasurement windows on many of these projects could be three, four years. That means we have not yet done any stock change quantification because we're not old enough. But the purpose of these efforts is to do exactly that to say hey, when we come back a few years later and I can collect information on amount of diesel burned and amount of feed corn used. The point is to be able to evaluate which of these different permutations of management practices actually resulted in the thing I want to see, which is lower CO2E per gallon, if you will.

Speaker 1:

And after you've been in the, in this soil, carbon space for a bit let's the last three plus years are you as excited, less or more, about the carbon potential of agriculture Because that's the reason you came into my climate journey what's your current take on that?

Speaker 2:

I'm less confident in voluntary carbon market being the primary way impact will be had. I think I believed that three years ago, mostly out of ignorance.

Speaker 1:

Meaning companies that are not, or consumers as well. They're not being forced that they're starting to buy credits and may end up buying soil carbon offset credits and with that help transition a lot of hectares or acres.

Speaker 2:

Exactly yeah, and Indigo is doing many different things, but, like most visibly represented by Indigo as a company saying, hey Barclays of the world, hey IBMs of the world, you need tons, I've got tons the voluntary carbon market is going to be incredibly important. It already is incredibly important and I could be wrong, but I think three years ago I had a greater confidence that that was the primary mechanism by which many management practice changes were going to be incentivized. That's not because I had done great research, it's just because, as you pointed out, indigo had great YouTube videos so a guy sitting in Cambridge Massachusetts could look at those and be like, yeah, that sounds pretty credible. I think that's going to go the distance. It's not binary, right Like. Voluntary carbon market will be incredibly important. I absolutely believe it'll grow, but it's singular importance in the total soil carbon, soil health equation. I have much lower confidence that that's the primary way that a lot of this will go. Instead, I'm greatly encouraged by a lot of European efforts, a CBAM in particular, cross border adjustment mechanism that's basically incentivizing many of these same questions of carbon intensity, but doing so in a pretty novel compliance framework. Even though the US is not EU or European Commission, there's some really neat international trade economics that arise from that. That make, for example, agricultural commodities more competitive if they can defend lower carbon intensity.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, basically it means for the European Union, very generalized but bringing stuff in just because they're getting stricter and stricter regulation in Europe to make sure there's no unfair competition or possible. Everything that comes into Europe in a certain amount, of certain amount of products, commodities, et cetera, will have to also be will be taxed, basically on carbon intensity. Effectively, that means there's a global tax now or there will be a global tax on these commodities without being a global tax.

Speaker 2:

Exactly If you care about doing business with the EU.

Speaker 1:

You want to sell to 400 million people. That's Exactly, it matters.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, and I love that. I love it because then it's just like hey, if you want access to this market, perform, and perform in a way that you haven't had to perform previously. That's a great way to influence American producers, even if our end consumer is in Spain or in the Netherlands. I'm very excited about that. I'm also very excited about a lot of the more fundamental farm economics, especially work done by the Soil Health Institute, christine Morgan's organization, where they're basically like what if this is just like more profitable farming. Soil Health Institute has a rare role of credibility with producers and real science. They have a great report on as we adopt soil health management practices which we can use interchangeably with Regen Ag for the sake of this conversation. What happens to gross margin per acre? Basically like you feed your family with gross margin, right, you don't. You don't feed your family with bushels or with top line. Really shouldn't be about youth?

Speaker 1:

No, sorry. Yeah, and and and you're gonna tell me now that there is a connection between those two, there's a relationship, exactly, and and what's cool is like talk is cheap SHI does the?

Speaker 2:

work, like there's a lot of bullshit in Regen Ag and what SHI does an amazing job of is saying like, hey, here's something anecdotal and let's collect real evidence and some of their work actually doesn't support a lot of the claims of the Regen movement. But, man, on this point, which is profitability on a per acre basis, gross margin on a per acre basis, their work is just incredibly exciting to say. Even if you don't care about climate change, which remember a lot of people in America like don't, or at least they say they don't what an incredible opportunity to just improve the business attractiveness of your farming operation. I find that really inspiring. And what's some?

Speaker 1:

of the stuff they don't.

Speaker 2:

Nutritional content relationship with management practices. Yeah, I mean, the Regen Ag world loves to talk about how this food is so much more nutritious and blah, blah, blah and like there's very thin evidence that that's the case. Now, to be clear, there's not a lot of evidence that that is not the case. So this is like lack of evidence, not evidence of lack, but nonetheless, if I pick up another farmers market, you know lettuce that says phytonutrient 7x, blah, blah, blah, I'm gonna scream. And they haven't looked at it maybe two years. But SHI has done some remarkable work to be like right now, no evidence basis for those claims.

Speaker 1:

We just did a almost 20 part episode series on that. But, yeah, there's a lot happening lately Totally, which is good. Yeah, I know Absolutely. And there's a lot of amazing.

Speaker 2:

There's a bunch of yardsticks for that exact same question, right, Dear friend Eric Smith runs a cool company, Adatius, like awesome, awesome, real science, real science behind this question.

Speaker 1:

So are they interesting scientists there? Yeah, absolutely.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, and and I in many ways, like I think that's a big part of what I admire so much about Eric is we have a shared perspective on super inspiring claim. Is it supported by the evidence? Wow, there's a real gap there. Let's fill it.

Speaker 1:

And let's make it marketable yeah or yeah business.

Speaker 2:

And to be clear that means, like, as we answer some of these questions, the answer will be disappointing sometimes, like that doesn't mean you know, yardstick fully expects that a huge chunk of our customers will be wrong, that management practices X influence carbon intensity or soil outcomes Y. But unless we've got an independent science led voice to answer the question, then all we're doing is just talking in an echo chamber. That means it'll be a bummer, right, because some of my customers will go out of business or shut down those programs, but it means we'll be focusing resources on things that actually work and that's essential considering the urgency and the moral import of the problem.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, with the nutrient density or quality piece as Eric likes to call it. It's so early to measure and, connected to me, we have seen a few papers and very small sample size. Very interesting outcome. But also there, I think in the organic echo chamber a lot of people are going to be very disappointed because I remember I just looked it up for the video course we're redoing, which might be out at this time depends when this is released and when you're listening to it. But anyway, on cabbage, where they compared organic tilled cabbage with, let's say, regeneratively grown or, let's say, soil focus for the last 10, 15 years and the differences in magnesium and such were massive and that makes you question your organic cabbage wherever that ends up, or whatever soil came from. Was it a no dig market garden or a heavily tilled organic soil? And the differences are scarily large and good luck, and not even a conventional piece that was way out there on some other chart Totally and good luck being a consumer, even understanding what any of those words mean yes, no. Nutrient density is an interesting funny word but horribly not descriptive at all. And so where would you say we are now in the soil, carbon piece, three years or three plus years in with the art stick where very early on, like, are we getting to that? I hate to call it a tipping point, but where would you place us in the soil? Where would you place us in the, maybe also in the hype cycle, a bit of that famous hype?

Speaker 2:

cycle. Are we there in the soil?

Speaker 1:

Traffical illusion? Are we delusion? Are we building up again? Are we still going down Like the down run in the go? Does that trigger? Is that the depth or the deepness we're going to hit, or are we going deeper?

Speaker 2:

I don't know. I don't pretend to understand bigger sector dynamics like that. I can speak for our work, which is that we're earlier than anybody wants us to be. We lack measurement tools, which means how the hell are we supposed to understand impacts at scale? One of the most incredible things about working with great scientists again particularly SHI is they will pound the table every time we talk. That place is inseparable from any questions of soil or agriculture. Think of the insane complexity of the soil types of the world, by the crops of the world, by the irrigation contexts of the world. You have infinite permutations. Will Practice X translate to a different location? Man, that's a hard thing to answer. That, for me, encourages me that Yardstick is working on an important technology. If I were a company responsible for choosing management practices that are likely to result in a set of outcomes, I would be really worried about the evidence base on which I were making that decision. Now the alternative, to be clear, isn't weight. That's how you find out as you go do stuff. But many investors that look at Yardstick especially folks who come outside the agricultural sector they're shocked by how weak these causal relationships are. A lot of that is a product of just the insane complexity of agricultural systems and really any ecological ecology.

Speaker 1:

How is that done with the investors? You've got on board the list I mentioned to Yoda and Microsoft Low Carbon Breakthrough Energy Ventures. I think they're all climate focused, not much more on the engineering piece. Let's build the most efficient, say, car battery factory or a carbon removal, but very linear and cost dropped by X because we have Moore's Law and all of that which, all of it doesn't seem to work in a biology world or a natural world. But that shock in this case didn't make them not invest, luckily for you. But how much of that was an educational journey for them through you. Basically, this is not a battery factory.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, to be clear, lower carbon is an entire fund that's on fusion, so they've got appetite for things that are nonlinear and highly uncertain. I will say, though, that your general premise of contrasting some of the engineering predictability, however modest it is, with the unpredictability of agricultural systems definitely was an educational experience for some of them.

Speaker 1:

Because they said, okay, this is just not. Let's focus on the fusion piece and all the other things that we're just way more comfortable with. But also we're a measurement company.

Speaker 2:

So it's kind of like the exception that proves the rule right. So the reason BEV first got involved in yardstick is because they're like wow, soil, carbon, incredible climate opportunities.

Speaker 1:

Bring the energy ventures just for that.

Speaker 2:

Exactly yeah. Yeah, they were like soil is an incredible opportunity and we haven't been able to do any deals because nobody can measure any of this stuff. So that means like we're a great fit for BEV because they've realized, wow, measurement is an existential threat to the whole set of solutions. But it also means that in parallel, they're not investing in a whole bunch of other soil stuff Because they're like, hey, you got to figure out measurement before we've got the conviction to invest in any individual companies. Lower carbon has a different culture and a different appetite for some kinds of science risk. So lower carbon has definitely invested in a number of agricultural climate startups. Loanbio out of Australia is a very visible example.

Speaker 1:

Undo.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, undo, absolutely Exactly which we invested in as well. Yeah, toyota, though, would surprise you, their fund is split between a kind of core business fund and then their second core fund.

Speaker 1:

Which is not your fund, which is not us? No, we are not core business to Toyota. Very soon, in your new Toyota, there will be a small pro.

Speaker 2:

I wish I got a discount. No, that's unfortunately not a perk of the fund.

Speaker 1:

No, including your new Land Cruiser. You can just wherever you drive through your farm, you can just drill down, there you go.

Speaker 2:

But their second fund is 100% climate, so it doesn't have to have any direct connection to the business. Toyota basically realizes I mean, we're a gigantic hard to decarbonize sector and I've got a great plot that's like kind of the whole story of the business which we can link to in the show notes that basically plots total emissions by corporate profit per ton of emissions and, unsurprisingly, companies with very small emissions have a ton of profit. So, like Stripe, you know very visibly a ton of folks putting a ton of money into CDR, especially engineered CDR. When you have small emissions and a lot of profit, you can afford engineered stuff, which means, yeah, maybe durability becomes everything to you. The other end of the plot is a shit ton of emissions and very small money and that's every hard to decarbonize industry in the world and that's 85% of the global emissions. So Toyota fits squarely in that bottom right box of yeah, cool, they're a car company and they're doing EVs. But remember, these are these Japanese Kuretsu's, these like holding companies. They do a ton of stuff well beyond cars and they're looking at their carbon balance sheet and saying, holy moly, the only way we get there is low cost and high rigor, and that means nature based solutions with an MRV backbone.

Speaker 1:

And large quantity.

Speaker 2:

And large quantity, and that's exactly what Yardstick intends to enable. So I've got no beef with engineered CDR as a complementary approach.

Speaker 1:

Engineered. Cdr is just very generalizing large carbon sucking machines in Iceland and other places.

Speaker 2:

Direct air capture. Dac is the most visible example. That's good. Frontier is good. Tell the CDR story, Love it, love it, love it. And take a look at this plot. People Like nature based is going to be all the volume for the next 20 years maybe, and that's why, despite Toyota being an unexpected name, when you really look at the kind of carbon they know how to build stuff that helps. Oh yeah, and my goodness, you know who knows sensors. Toyota, right Like your car, is basically just like one million sensors driving around for a million miles at a time. So there's a whole bunch of strategic fit points, even well beyond the core carbon story, which fits exceptionally well. So, each of these different investors, they have a completely different lens, but they share a belief that nature based solutions are critical. Path measurement rigor is going to be essential to making it all happen and that's obviously what we represent.

Speaker 1:

And was it difficult, like it's not been the easiest fundraising year of the history of the planet, especially not the last 15, compared to the last 15 years, how was the fundraising journey for you? Of course you did. I think a seed or something earlier where it was easier. Now the last year and a half has been brutal for me.

Speaker 2:

How was?

Speaker 1:

that different? Is it good work?

Speaker 2:

Yeah. So we did both our pre-seed and seed in 2021, which was like go-go, you know, you think you're like a really good founder and then you're like, oh no, it was just a hot market, whereas, as you point out, for a lot of folks especially not white men folks different periods have been very different. It wasn't hard in the timeline sense, but it was definitely scary in the uncertainty of the outcome sense. We had planned to kick it off early Q2, and SVB went under, and that was a moment for a lot of folks.

Speaker 1:

Silicon Valley Bank. Yeah, I remember I was at the moment Andu was closing and I think I just wired even A few thousand just for people. But still that scary moment of, yeah, we're taking away, we're trying to move all our money, and I was like I just send it.

Speaker 2:

That's not good. This is not okay. I'm sending it to the place you're trying to remove it from. Yeah, that cannot be a good thing.

Speaker 1:

Then of course, got saved, etc, etc. But there were. That was a really weird moment and we just had almost the same with Metro Bank in the UK, like one of the companies that just said don't send it because our bank might be going down.

Speaker 2:

Which is like good that they're paying attention and scary.

Speaker 1:

Nonetheless, I was happy I didn't send it this time, but still so when that happened, do you then feel immediately, is that just a delay? Or just everybody else goes like, ooh, that's way yeah.

Speaker 2:

I mean, the problem is that's the future and nobody knows. So at the time there were folks that were saying, hey, this is going to come back quickly. There were folks, I mean, with a large group of people you have every kind of opinion. Nobody knows, nobody has a freaking clue right. So to their credit. Lower carbon was like hey, any portfolio companies like need a loan, and they really got way out in front of it from a portfolio support perspective, which is which is amazing.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, because many people use it to pay people salaries, everything like everything stopped for, in this case a week, but nobody knew it could have been months, oh, totally, and you're done.

Speaker 2:

Oh my gosh, it would like there was.

Speaker 1:

There was like real, real uncertain Now thankfully the bank that everybody in Silicon Valley banked with. Let's be here and raised Absolutely yeah.

Speaker 2:

And now, thankfully, yardstick was the exception to that rule. So we we banked with Mercury who's amazing. So we were a little insulated. But then you get into the second and third order effects of like, oh, does my payroll processor use SVB? So like, yeah, my money's fine, but like, if the company that helps me pay my employees uses SVB as an intermediate bank, you got problems. Anyway, the point is SVB was scary, macro stuff was scary. So we waited, we delayed kicking it off until more like May, and we knew that we were going to go out with a relatively narrow scope of like this is what we do today, and we were going to ignore the siren song of do everything at the same time. And that was scary because I didn't know whether anybody would like like that and, unsurprisingly, a lot of people didn't like it. Right.

Speaker 1:

They were like what? What is the siren song in this case? What would they have liked to hear from you that you also feel like places, or yeah, okay we're going to sell tons right If and think about it, intent it.

Speaker 2:

Oh, of course. Yeah, I mean like it's, it's quote, unquote, obvious, right, if you're measuring the thing, like, why don't you just sell the thing right, like why would you and be a service provider to somebody else who's going to get 25 to 75 bucks a ton, why don't you just get that whole revenue for yourself and the?

Speaker 1:

short answer is shovels are exactly yeah, exactly yeah, and some people love picks and shovels businesses and some people don't.

Speaker 2:

Ultimately, like I, didn't have confidence that we could do that other thing.

Speaker 1:

Well, it's a completely different set of capabilities and my prior point I think we're earlier than many people hope in our understanding of what's going to see big, big sales, Like I was at Grantswell in June and asking a few of the marketplaces, let's say the sellers, and it was like who's buying big quantities? And the constant answer was nobody.

Speaker 2:

Okay, that's scary.

Speaker 1:

I had to send a drilling and this, then the measurement piece. I get this, but I was like, okay, I'm probably more interested in the picks and shovels at the moment, not the sellers, because if they're no buyers, what are we going to do?

Speaker 2:

Exactly, and that's where Indigo is both a great example of a really brave company that got out in front of a lot of this and they're kind of the exception that proves the rule of soil carbon project developers at scale Right. How many others are there that you can name off the top of your head? Now there's some companies that are doing novel technologies for soil CDR, like Undoo, but like Undoo has and they've announced a lot of ton spread. But you know there's a modest number of actual purchase clarity, volume, ton details in the sector and they'll all tell you that it's right around the corner and like of course it is and of course like it might not be. So I've heard that for a while, yeah totally, that's exactly what Indigo was saying three years ago. And again, like I don't begrudge them that and like all these companies were mentioning, like I respect them all and many of them are personal friends, like I want them all to succeed and ultimately they've decided that that's the existential risk that they are willing to face. And as yardstick I was just like what the hell do we know about project development? Like, what do we know about that? Not much.

Speaker 1:

What do we know about management? So a lot of investors were like, okay, this is not some hot new marketplace that I've seen others invest in and maybe missed about there, and you saw that that's Ireland. They were missing some of that. A lot of investors by definition.

Speaker 2:

When you choose to do a narrower thing, your Tam gets smaller. Like that's just arithmetic, right, and this is market creation. This is like a really risky, weird, emergent field. So to be a company that's tackling an emergent, weird, risky field and to say we're quote unquote only going to do a small piece of the total puzzle, that's tough math as a venturebackable company. Now, to their credit, toyota saw that the opportunity is like do a narrow thing well and you earn the right to do all that other stuff. So yardstick might sell tons in the future. But like it's in the future, it's not in the today. Especially when you think about it from an integrity perspective, like the moment yardstick makes money, selling tons. Who the hell is going to believe our measurement technology? Right, like, give me a break. Whereas today you could still argue like well, yardstick, you get paid by project developers who themselves make money, and like, yeah, that's right. I'm sure you could argue that's a conflict of interest as well, but it's a fundamentally different one. So what we were more concerned with is play the long game. Startups drowned. They don't starve. I say this four times a week at yardstick. All my employees are sick of it. Do a narrow thing. Well, have integrity, build trust, especially within the soil science community who is not convinced in a lot of this soil carbon hand waving and earn the right to continue to exist for long enough to let this market mature. And that's not. That's not. We work right. That's not like YOLO swing for the fences, san Francisco bullshit, but it's what I believe and it's what I think most of the people who work here believe and that's what that's how. That's why I would describe it as like not necessarily difficult from a timeline perspective, like it did go like quite quickly in an encouraging way and we raised way more than we intended to. But it was very scary because I didn't know if that story would resonate. And it's even as someone with, like all the privilege and resources that I have. It's scary to go to market with a kind of counter market approach. That's that's a self conscious moment where you don't know if it's going to land.

Speaker 1:

And what would you tell investors? Of course without giving investment advice, but would you tell investors, if we would? I'd love to ask this question in a way. If we were recording live somewhere at Grantswell, at RFSI, somewhere on stage, and we have a room full of investors that are excited, interested, cautious maybe as well, what would be the main message you would give them? Is that that back the picks and shovels the long game in, but in regenerative ag in general, to be your main message you would like them to remember. Of course, they should be excited and cautious after our talk, but if there's one thing that should be stuck in their head, what should it be?

Speaker 2:

Speaking as a coastal elite tech bro. In many ways I think a common problem in investor mindsets is a misunderstanding of some of the fundamental motivators of land managers. I started Yardstik not because I care about agriculture per se. Obviously I do. I consume food, therefore I care about agriculture. I was motivated firstly by the climate benefit. I think there are similarly many other investors who are excited about the climate angle or the tech novelty angle and forget that there's millions of real human beings with their own independent goals and ambitions and needs on the other end of all of this work. Most fundamentally, I think I'd encourage them to get proximal to actual agricultural communities, whether it's farmers or ranchers or foresters, which I mean like going down and talking to them.

Speaker 1:

Sure, isn't that like a crazy?

Speaker 2:

idea. That's hard right. It's a lot harder to do that than to Google stuff. But ultimately one of the great lessons of much soil carbon experimentation over the last few years is wow, there's a unit economics problem here. If a given acre can't produce sufficient tons at sufficient dollars per ton and then the take rate of a land manager in many cases a farmer isn't competitive with the opportunity cost of that time or energy, you don't really have a business.

Speaker 1:

So I think that's a you mean for the management practices that could lead to carbon, or you're talking about the farming itself, actually also farming itself. Yeah, I mean both In this space, specifically for soil carbon, yeah.

Speaker 2:

I mean the example I'm using, I think is clearer from an arithmetic perspective that soil carbon project development has a gap. Right. You have X tons per acre per year and maybe 25 to 35 bucks a ton. And then I take rate of 25% for a farmer and all of a sudden, if I can farm corn or soy for $600 to $800 an acre, like why? the hell am I bothering with all this soil carbon stuff? And that's an example that I choose intentionally because it doesn't look very compelling. There's lots of opportunities which do look compelling, but the point is that, bottoms up, who is using the land for what purpose? How do I make this compelling, innovative, startup, cool thing actually meaningful to land managers? I think is an often overlooked gap, and again, I say that with all the self consciousness that I'm exactly the type of person who's more likely to overlook the realities of agricultural producers, which is why, especially the Art Stick, we have an amazing field team that can bridge those worlds, who can speak farmer and understand that world and understand how these opportunities are compelling or not. That's where I'd certainly spend a lot more time.

Speaker 1:

For many of the investors that are keen on this sector, and I love to follow that one up with a question to flip the conversation a bit, in a sense of what if you would be the investor and usually use the amount of a billion dollars, which, for sure, some of your investors actually have to put to work? So it does sound like an insane amount of money and at the same time it's not a lot what would you do? What would you focus on? What would be not looking for dollar amounts but your priority areas? What would that be if you had to put a one with nine zeros to work?

Speaker 2:

Would I have to put it to work in order to generate venture scale returns?

Speaker 1:

No, it could be a full portfolio. It has to generate returns and it could be a very long timeframe. So, I'm also very flexible on the timing.

Speaker 2:

Well, we won't do a discounted cash flow on this answer, but honestly, I would put like 40% of it to lobbying in the US and I'd probably put 60% of it behind a program that looks a lot like USDA climate smart commodities. So climate smart commodities is a USDA essentially research effort to better understand the impact of management practices on in their jargon, climate smartness. Climate intensity could be one way to think about that. Fundamentally, the causal relationship between management practices and so carbon soil health outcomes is poorly understood. If that's true, then we got to answer that question before we answer many others and, for all the criticisms that it deserves, I think climate smart commodities is a great example of fundamental research that should be happening. There's some quite basic science that just hasn't been done yet. Your farm, your soil, your crop type as you adopt this practice, what change should you expect? That seems like a very basic question, but it's fundamentally unanswered in most contexts. That's the kind of original research that means we can go from a lot of the hand-waving generality of cover crop and no till to what actually matters in your context. Again, all of this is inseparable from place. Thank you, shi, they've beat that into me. And so if it's inseparable from place. Without understanding the interaction between place and practices, you don't really have any advice to give. Of course, there are amazing agronomists that have a great deal of incredibly well-tuned intuition and that should be paid attention to. That's why so many of these agricultural communities are still driven largely by individual opinions of individual people who have earned the right to have a perspective. But that's a tough thing to do at scale and that's a tough thing to use to understand the total opportunity and that's why, again, I don't know exactly what returns it would generate. But original research, trials across both management practices and more novel frontier technologies, soil amendments, novel seed inoculations, et cetera is where I'd put maybe the 60% of that money.

Speaker 1:

And then? So what, besides the six-soil carbon, the piece you're doing now what are you most excited about in the sector? What else would you? If you wouldn't be doing this, what else would you be doing?

Speaker 2:

That's a great question, which is usually a code, for please give me a second to think. What else would I be doing here? I really struggle to come up with a great answer.

Speaker 1:

Which means you're in a good place.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, I mean honestly, I'm 100% confident that we're working on a meaningful problem and I'm, like, 99% confident that the technology we have is the right one to solve the problem, which is great, because if we fail which, statistically speaking, like we probably will, if we fail, I don't think I'll say, oh shoot, I should have noticed that that wasn't a good use of our time or that wasn't the highest investment.

Speaker 1:

Should have done remote sensing.

Speaker 2:

No, I'm definitely not going to say that, which, to be clear, is like a really important category of technologies. It's just not the one that I'm most excited to advance. If I wasn't doing this, I think I would be. I literally can't answer the question.

Speaker 1:

I wish I could get your answer. You can think about it. Yeah, I'll follow up with you. And how difficult, like the sensor piece on the probe which I saw over a year ago, how much of that still has to be developed or how much of that is done in the software. Like technology speaking wise, like how difficult it is to make an accurate and cheap, of course, but it's not accurate probe that anybody can use. That's not a soil guru.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, insanely difficult, is a short answer. Now we can do that well and we can do that repeatedly ourselves. But that's because we've had three years and a ton of money to figure it out. Calibration itself of a spectral instrument is a total nightmare. The maturity is such that we've been able to demonstrate that the instrument does what it says it can do. Whether what we've said it can do, whether we can take that instrument performance and take it to every other part of the world the way we want to. That's what's still hugely uncertain, because I haven't been to Kenya and so I've got first principles reasons to argue that spectroscopy should provide as much opportunity for low cost soil carbon measurement in Kenya as it does in Illinois. Until I've been there, I don't really know. You don't know. What you don't know I think that's a clear distinction to make is we've had the confidence to take the company to the next level of maturity. We have the confidence to start deploying commercially because we've shown awesome performance in a relatively narrow set of circumstances and our climate impact is going to be proportional to the total variety of soils we touch around the world. So that kind of behooves us to get into Kenya, to get into Brazil before long. Like I said, startups drown, they don't starve. So we need to be cautious and disciplined about how to do that well, but we have very strong evidence, which we'll present at SSSA in a little bit We'll publish on, that shows that the instrument can do what we intended to do in Illinois and now the fund is figuring out what are the boundaries on that performance.

Speaker 1:

Because when you say drown, not starve, what do you mean? Drown in money or drown in attention, in complexities?

Speaker 2:

Yeah, Most startups fail because they're trying to do too many things too fast and they do many of them poorly. There's so much opportunity for ambitious, innovative teams that it's really easy to just grab onto any shiny thing that flashes in front of your eye, especially because you constantly have the VC monkey on your back saying like go faster, do more, right? Oh, I got an email from Indonesia. We should probably go to Indonesia, right, there's a lot of soil there, and I say that again with like all the empathy of a fellow startup founder. But most of the time the answer should be like, no, like don't go, like stick to your knitting, like do a narrow thing really, really well before you aspire to do something way more difficult than only that. And that means that in you know I'm one random ass guy, but in my opinion, far more companies would be better served by narrowing the total scope of things they're trying to do simultaneously, by deploying resources on a smaller set of hard problems, especially when there's science risk involved. And that's why I have been trying very hard to resist the urge to go to Indonesia for a number of years now. I can't promise we won't be international in 2024. Actually, I can pretty much promise that we will be international in 2024.

Speaker 1:

But let's say it took three years longer than I wanted to take.

Speaker 2:

So I'm proud of my restraint.

Speaker 1:

That's a very interesting advice and very, very difficult to do and very fundamental. Well, and also.

Speaker 2:

I think that would. It also represents a tension that few founders appreciate between the ecological timeline of many soil systems, long that is, and the not ecological timelines of most venture capital, which is like short.

Speaker 1:

Ooh, I feel a few revenue coming up, yeah, yeah.

Speaker 2:

And you see, like flavors of this in climate that are different, for sure, but that is an essential characteristic of Regenag as a sector that I think it's often overlooked, especially as, excitingly, there has been so much new money attention in this as a set of opportunities over the last few years. That's good, it's all good, but it also comes at a cost, and I think more companies would do well to be shrewd about how many things are taken on at the same time.

Speaker 1:

It doesn't mean we need other investment structures for not for this sector specifically, but is that what you're hinting towards?

Speaker 2:

Yeah, yeah, I mean I think I'm a little more confident that I understand some of the dynamics of the problem, that I can for sure say what some solutions are. It's easy to be like money should have longer timeline appetite. Right, like money should be more patient. But it's like, okay, like who's you know. I think it's a good rebuttal. But yeah, ultimately I think there are at least some aspects of Regenag as a system that are actually a remarkably poor fit with the timeline requirements of venture capital and there aren't enough people acknowledging that as a real risk of companies like Artstick. Right, I try and be very candid about what I see are the pros and cons of our approach and because of the tech crunch, echo chamber and the climate soil ag, echo chamber it's really easy to feel like this is the only way to do a business or the only way to finance a business, and I think that's a woeful reduction that actually harms a lot of quite cool opportunities.

Speaker 1:

So would you, going back to the 1 billion fund, use some of it for longer term? I mean, of course, deep science is a longer term one, it's quite long term.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, totally, and I mean this is outside of Regenag. But I was talking to a company doing ocean CDR MRV recently, kind of like the yardstick of ocean and it's like incredible CEO, so inspiring, and I was basically like go slow, like like default to like longevity, not to speed, because man, there is a lot of original science to be done here and this person has like ocean CDR VC just banging down their door and I don't know if that's the right kind of money for this problem which has ecological scale timelines of problem solving. It's not. It's not a piece of marketing software, it's not a neat mobile app. You can't all the venture capital in the world can't make soils change faster.

Speaker 1:

I think you just got the title for this interview. Anyway, there we should. A few of these will end up on the t-shirt somewhere and like, if you go to like RFSI, where we saw each other last year and the echo chambers in with all respect and all love for that where do you? Because you mentioned a few things, but where do you mainly think different, where are you contrarian? Like, what do you think to be true about Region Act that others don't? Definitely, taking this question inspired by John Kemp, who asks about. Region Act, about Ag in general, like, where are you very different apart from the fact that you walk around with a drill and say like let, ignoring the visual piece, what's the content side? Where do you think different?

Speaker 2:

Yeah, so Region Act is not one group of people, so I won't claim that any of these opinions are different categorically, but there's at least significant portions of the Region Act sector that I agree with that I disagree with in a few ways. One is I don't think consumers care about any of this. I don't think there's any evidence that consumers will spend money on anything except taste and price. I used to work at Whole Foods. I like love the idea that there are parallel markets here to unlock. I just I don't see evidence that that's the case. So, especially as a brand guy and a consumer product founder myself previously, that's kind of like sad for me. But whatever the system change is going to be look at the percentage of folks that are vegetarian, look at the percentage of folks that are vegan it's not going to come from consumer behavior. So number one number two I've already alluded to, which is that I sense there's a lot of claims that are way out over their skis vis-a-vis the science, and again, that's exciting copy to write. But I think it's actually a liability because if you make a bunch of claims that you can't substantiate, you lose trust, and when you lose trust, it takes a long time to get it back, and then another is again. This is only a portion of a very big tent. But a lot of people love to shit on industrial agriculture and I think it's actually like one of the most incredible things that humanity has ever produced. It has all the problems that we're talking about, but to pretend like there was some better way of doing things in history that we missed I think is ahistorical. That doesn't mean we shouldn't face the challenges head on and that doesn't mean that transformation isn't important. But saying, as a system, industrial agriculture was bad, net bad, I think is just total foolishness and entitlement and whiteness and I really can't stand that. I think industrial agriculture is an amazing machine and it accomplishes a very narrow set of goals and that's a problem. But in the meantime it accomplishes a very narrow set of goals super, super compellingly and especially with growing populations and increasingly middle class diets, I think the region ag community has a real reckoning to be had with calorie per acre productivity. I think the sort of like farmers, markety, premium worldview is not reflective. Again, there's like a lot of whiteness tied up in it. It's not like the real world of calories for billions of humans and a region. Ag movement which doesn't solve simultaneously for yield as it solves for soil health, I think is doomed.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, we should. Now there's a lot to unpack there. But it's the interesting piece I mean you mentioned before focus on margins and but at the same time that that shouldn't mean let's transfer everything to high end wine growing, or like it doesn't mean you can't, and cucumber so it keeps people alive, and you can argue about what keeps people alive.

Speaker 2:

You're welcome to right. Like produce, a better vegetarian steak, do it, I like really want fake meat to be amazing, right, I want plant based meat to be amazing, I really do. I desperately do. On a CO2 e basis. But, like, until you do, golly day like. This is not, this isn't a produce problem, right, this is a corn and soy and beef problem. Which means, again, if you're not solving for productivity for eight, for calories per acre, if you will, at the same time as solving for these other details like CO2 e, right, carbon intensity, man, I just think you're you're going to be running up against a fundamental problem of land use, of right. Deforestation is one of the largest portions of beef's total climate impact. It's not just about, like, how you raise beef, it's about middle class folks that want to eat beef and we're cutting down the rainforest to make beef. So great, do regen, fancy, fancy beef. But just make sure you're getting the same amount of beef per acre as you were before, because if you're getting less, you might actually be part of the problem rather than part of the solution.

Speaker 1:

So if you had a magic wand that could change one thing, what would that be?

Speaker 2:

One thing is not many, and there are many intersecting challenges here. But if I had to pick one, I would attempt it. I would be tempted to change a pattern in the region X scene of this sort of like great man syndrome. Right Like we have these like paragons of, like individual examples, like great example. What's? The film Common Ground? The sequel to Kiss the Ground just came out and it's like Gabe Brown with a cape on, which is just like yeah, I found, I found the poster.

Speaker 1:

I didn't see the film yet, but I found the poster a bit interesting.

Speaker 2:

It's like dude, like like I'm sure he's a great guy, but like I promise you he's not Superman and also he didn't invent any of this shit, right? Like it's a bunch of white people pretending like they're the one, they're the first ones who thought about XYZ, which again is a historical. I understand why the filmmakers want to do that. It's a great story, it's an inspiring story, but it doesn't. I think there's strong evidence that that cult of personality and a it's gonna hurt us. Yeah, yeah, it's gonna hurt you. And at least right now, it seems to go hand in hand with a lot of like kind of low quality science, which I think is probably going to be a successful short game. Right, like I'm sure they market tested that poster. There's a reason why the poster looks like that. The short game is like get butts in seats for my film. The long game is like systems change, and I don't think a lot of systems change because we think that, like, gay brown is God. Or Superman, yeah, yeah right, sorry, not God I really want to see that.

Speaker 1:

Like, what were the other posters going to be? Like, what's the yeah, who else?

Speaker 2:

The big day's one, I mean like At least give me a few folks right. Yeah, and Yardstick was almost in the film. There's like a fascinating story there about the film itself. I really want to see it. I haven't seen it yet either. I know the filmmakers have good intentions. I know they wanted to face down a lot of this criticism of that they got for the first time. Yeah yeah, I know they were paying attention and yet here we are with this like stupid fucking poster. Drives me nuts.

Speaker 1:

I think, it's ironic. We're gonna ask. I think we'll have them on at some point. The producer.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, maybe if it's ironic it's not landing Run up with the poster.

Speaker 1:

No, which is not good without any success to land somewhere no. If you have to explain the joke, it's not a good one. No, and again, like they're fine people right, like everyone is doing their best.

Speaker 2:

No one here. It's just a materially different perspective on what to highlight and why. And they might be right right, I might be wrong but, man, I meet a lot of people who have devoted their entire science career to these questions and they're like what the heck are we doing? We like, really, we could have a science leg to stand on, but we got to change the conversation, and that's a big part of the brand story. The Yardsticks trying to tell is we're trying to have a foot in the camp of rah-rah, we can do it and a foot in the camp of wow. It's going to take a while. When science is hard and I won't pretend like that's an easy balance to strike I'm not confident that we're striking it right, but in the meantime, I see a lot of very, very talented soil scientists that are frustrated by a marketing story that is playing the short game.

Speaker 1:

I think it's a good end to this conversation and wrapping it up. Thank you so much for coming on here sharing your story and, of course, for the work you do and for sharing your contrarian views etc. Which are not so contrarian but very, very appreciated. And your piece on bringing the science to the la-la land of everything is possible and we're going to turn this agriculture system around. If everybody just would do x, y, z, yeah, and to be clear I think we will.

Speaker 2:

I really do think we will, and I'm one random guy with opinions. I have a degree in furniture making. Anything I believe in this sector I learned from somebody else is much harder work than my three years of Googling. I find myself super encouraged that they're like really are a set of awesome solutions here. I wish I had the confidence to tell you that they were going to go faster. I wish I had the confidence to say that they were going to be easier. But, man, am I ever more confident that they're out there and we can make them real together?

Speaker 1:

Perfect. Thank you so much for that. Thank you so much for listening all the way to the end. For the show notes and links we discussed in this episode, check out our website investing in regendervegaculturecom forward slash posts. If you liked this episode, why not share it with a friend or give us a rating on Apple Podcasts? That really helps. Thanks again and see you next time.

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