MINNEAPOLIS — General Mills, Inc. has signed a sourcing agreement with Pierre, S.D.-based Gunsmoke Farms L.L.C., paving the way for the companies to convert 34,000 acres of conventional farmland to certified organic acreage by 2020.

As part of the agreement, Gunsmoke Farms will grow certified organic wheat and other organic rotational crops on its farm near Pierre, and General Mills will use the wheat to make Annie’s pasta products.

“Investing in such a big acreage transition is a first of its kind for General Mills and is another step in growing our organic supply chain,” said John Church, chief supply chain officer at General Mills. “We continue to seek ways to partner with land owners to make organic ingredients more accessible for existing and innovative new foods that our consumers have grown to expect.”

“We continue to seek ways to partner with land owners to make organic ingredients more accessible for existing and innovative new foods.” — John Church, General Mills

In addition to the sourcing agreement with Gunsmoke, General Mills has partnered with Midwestern Bio Ag (MBA) to mentor farm operators to advance regenerative soil management practices, including no till, crop rotation and cover cropping. The MBA will provide on-farm skills-based learning programs, which General Mills said will serve as a regional educational hub for farmers to learn how to implement organic and regenerative agriculture practices.

“Gunsmoke Farms is a unique property with special challenges and opportunities for how to scale organic farming,” said Gary Zimmer, founder of Midwestern BioAg and author of “The Biological Farmer.” “We crafted a specific rotation and soil-building program to allow this property to be farmed organically at this scale. This involves tools and practices like mixing together wheat and legume crops to build nutrient-dense, carbon-rich soil.”

Annies organic pasta, General MillsThis is not the first time General Mills has embarked on such a venture. In 2016, the company announced a similar transition agreement with Organic Valley, the largest organic cooperative in the United States, to help dairy farms convert to organic dairy production. At that time, General Mills said it would help 20 dairy farms add approximately 3,000 acres to organic dairy production by 2019.

General Mills is the third largest U.S. producer of natural and organic foods through its Cascadian Farm, Muir Glen, Liberte and Annie’s brands. The company expects its natural and organic portfolio in North America to reach $1.5 billion in net sales by 2020. Over the past decade the company has worked to increase the organic acreage from which it sources ingredients by 160%, making the company one of the top five organic ingredient purchasers in the North American packaged food sector.