Industrialized agriculture is a major contributor with deforestation, responsible for around 25% of all human-created greenhouse gas emissions.
Regenerative Agriculture is a way of farming that considers and works within the natural ecosystem cycles of nature. It can be used as a way to off set and even reverse the flow of greenhouse gas emissions with a deeper understanding of natural ecology and soil regeneration, regenerative agriculture can develop a large scale sequestering of carbon in the soil. More and more farmers are adopting this method of farming for future agriculture that combines deep ecology, indigenous knowledge with western science and technology nurturing a more ecological relationship between humans, crops, animals, soil, and ecosystems.
Adopting alternative farming methods could have a positive effect on reducing land-used emissions, improving overall soil health and avoiding the destruction of carbon-rich forests for crop cultivation. It is a farming method that gives back to nature to keep in harmony with the natural carrying capacity. Current farming methods have massive negative impact on soil and pollutants.
Whereas regenerative agriculture promotes food security instead of waste by:
Rebuilding organic carbon
Regenerating topsoil and strengthening its health and vitality
Improving the water cycle
Increasing resistance to climate change
Regenerative Agriculture is not a new idea.
While the use of the term has increased dramatically, the concept goes back millenia. It’s a paradigm shift from an emphasis largely on production to recognizing multiple ecological priorities to keep agriculture sustainable by not exhausting the soil and encouraging biodiversity and working with the ecological cycles, by following indigenous knowledge, combined with modern research, adaptive learning, and a deep respect for old techniques in farming. Regenerative Agriculture is not a well-delineated set of practices, a certified type of farming, or solely based on a series of metrics such as concentrations of soil organic carbon and water quality. It is better thought of as a bridge toward solving multiple crises.
The Benefits of Regenerative Farming
Regenerative farming encourages a world of plentiful food and fibre production, restored and nurtured ecosystems, well-functioning water and carbon cycles, flourishing communities, and a just, equitable and thriving food economy. According to Edmund Williams, there are several methods that are currently being used all over the world. Holistic Planned Grazing uses the animal impact of large ungulates on grassland to restore them back to a natural condition, even regenerating deserts back into grasslands. Permaculture provides a set of tools that focus more on the plants and their interrelationships. Food forests, in particular, are beneficial, being a constructed multi-layer forest with plants that work together with each other and produce food at every level, both for humans and for wildlife.
Plants absorb carbon dioxide during photosynthesis and convert it into carbohydrates, which they use to grow leaves, stems, and roots. Any excess is sequestered in surrounding soil and feeds microbes and fungi, providing nutrients for the plant. This soil organic carbon is the main component of soil organic matter and offers structure to the soil.
This carbon can remain stored in the soil for thousands of years, however conventional farming methods such as ploughing or tillage release valuable carbon back into the atmosphere. This leads to infertile and dry compacted soil that is hostile to soil microbes. Low or no-tillage practices minimize soil disruption and increase levels of soil organic matter, meaning healthier and more resilient soil.
Straw mulch helps to suppress weeds without disturbing the soil. Soil health can also be improved by increasing plant diversity. Different plants release different carbohydrates and nutrients into the soil via their roots; microbes feeding on them release nutrients to the soil and the plants. Greater diversity leads to richer and varied soil nutrients allowing larger crop yields.
Plant diversity goes hand-in-hand with crop rotation. When the same crop is grown in the same field, year after year, some nutrients become severely depleted negatively impacting soil. In comparison, rotating crops prevents this and helps replenish soil nutrients. Plan successions. Careful planning can decrease the time between crop successions. When transplanting, aim to pull one crop and plant another in the same day, both increasing your overall yield potential and decreasing the amount of time soil is left exposed.
When a field of crops is harvested and the soil is left bare the soil erodes and valuable nutrients are lost, adding to soil infertility and erosion. Whereas, when farmers plant cover crops, they can protect the soil from erosion or being washed away. Allowing permeation with nutrients and increase of soil organic matter. Some cover crops, like clover, field peas and vetch feed nitrogen into the soil, while the roots break up compacted soil. Grasses and cover crops grow pulling carbon into the soil through their roots.
Pathways can leave soil exposed. Seed them in annual rye for a green pathway that requires minimal maintenance, smothers weeds, and increases organic matter. Straw or leaf mulch in pathways and on beds helps retain moisture and increase nutrients in the soil. As they break down, they will also add organic matter. Landscape fabric or plastic mulch helps retain moisture and cover the soil, and may be a more time efficient option for larger farms.
Other practices farmers can adopt include recycling farm waste and adding composted material from sources outside the farm to their fields.
Future promising technological solutions include alternative ways of cultivating rice to generate less methane and dietary supplements for livestock that decrease harmful emissions by up to 95%.
Regenerative farming incorporates beneficial species that play significant roles in natural ecosystems, insects, birds, and other animals. It helps farmers gain more sustainability in their business, it encourages food security by rebuilding organic carbon, allowing soil restoration and increasing biodiversity, and reducing atmospheric carbon.
References and Further Reading
Colarusso, S. (2021), Reducing Farming Emissions With Regenerative Agriculture, EarthDay.org, https://www.earthday.org/reducing-farming-emissions-with-regenerative-agriculture/. Accessed 9 April 2021.
Schaufler, K. Regenerative Agriculture-Regenerative Agriculture: Growing Techniques to Build Soil and Sequester Carbon