What is Regenerative Agriculture?

Another topic that is becoming more popular is the concept of regenerative agriculture. 

Regenerative agriculture is a key instrument in reducing damaging greenhouse gas emissions and combating climate change because this method ensures that carbon is absorbed from the atmosphere into the soil.

Regenerative agriculture is a holistic land management practice that uses the power of photosynthesis in plants to sequester carbon in the soil while improving soil health, crop yields, water resilience, and nutrient density.

What is Regenerative Agriculture?

Regenerative agriculture is a relic of organic farming. However, there is a greater focus on improving and restoring the farm’s ecosystem by focusing on the soil’s health. To achieve this, Regenerative farmers eliminate non-natural practices in agriculture, including removing or reducing tillage, reducing synthetic fertilizers, utilizing the sustainable management of livestock and grazing, and promoting biodiversity with multiple species cover crops. 

For instance, if you purchase organically grown strawberries with the label that the strawberry hasn’t been cultivated using synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. Still, you won’t know for sure that the soil on the ground it was cultivated is healthy. This is the significant difference between regenerative agriculture as well as organic farming. When you use regenerative agriculture, you can be sure that the soil on which it was harvested becomes healthier by applying techniques for restorative farming.

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Regenerative agricultural practices improve the resources it uses rather than destroying or depleting them. But the ultimate goal is an organic farming system that is regenerative to move beyond sustainability and strive to improve and expand our resources. This is achieved through a holistic approach to farming that encourages continuous innovation and improvement of environmental, social, and economic measures. It places farmers in the lead of the fight against climate change, and they are actively protecting their livelihoods, creating a win-win-win. It’s an approach that leads to better, more resilient crops grown using sustainable methods that simultaneously fight a crisis that threatens all agriculture.

Regenerative agriculture is an array of agriculture practices that aim to enhance the soil’s natural quality. That is, to improve the fertility of depleted or diseased soils. These methods are mostly built on ancient and natural agriculture practices across the globe and modern research and developments advancing the field of sustainable agriculture.

Regenerative agriculture is especially beneficial in dry areas where the soil was exposed to the rigors of conventional agriculture. It also plays a significant part in fighting climate change since it helps keep CO2 in check and sequester it.

Instead of using harmful inputs such as pesticides, toxic fertilizers, and fumigants or GMOs to increase the cultivation, the regenerative agricultural system utilizes the principles of agriculture to create food and a better world. In essence, it helps improve resources rather than depleting them.

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Regenerative Farming Vs. Conventional Farming

Traditional agriculture includes the cultivation of seeds that have been genetically modified through a range of breeding techniques that are traditional that exclude biotechnology. They aren’t certified organic.

There are a lot of traditional tiers of agriculture before we get to sustainability. The USDA Organic Certification has indeed made its mark. In addition, Organic sales have increased across every food category.

Regenerative practices – as well as meat and produce – go the process further. Apart from reducing pesticides and resulting in a better and more nutritious harvest, when you purchase items grown sustainably, you are helping contribute to the reverse of climate change as well as the recovery of our oils. 

Another factor is untreated soil. If soil is depleted is a problem since there is no photosynthesis taking place as you are not feeding soil microbes. If you don’t feed the soil, it’s the basis of your food web. Without a food web, it is more difficult for plants to flourish and microbes to make nutrients available.

Importance of Regenerative Agriculture

The loss of the planet’s rich soils and diversity, as well as the loss of indigenous seeds and knowledge, could pose a grave danger to our survival. Based on the findings of soil researchers, at the current rate of soil degradation (i.e., desertification, erosion, decarbonization as well as chemical pollution) within the next 50 years, we will not just suffer severe health problems because of a qualitatively diminished food supply, characterized by a decrease in nutritional value and loss of crucial trace minerals. But also, we will literally not have enough arable topsoil available to provide for our needs. 

Suppose we don’t protect and regenerate the soil on our four billion acres of cultivated farmland, eight billion acres of grassland, and 10 billion acres of woodland. In that case, it will be nearly impossible to sustain the world’s population and limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius or stop the decline in biodiversity.

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Regenerative agriculture is a method of farming that

  • Improve ecosystem services
  • Improve the quality of water
  • Enhance the amount of biodiversity
  • Incorporate soil nutrients
  • Climate change reverse 

As a matter of the community, regenerative farming improves the health and vitality of those who live within the community. It’s healthier for the land as well as for us.

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Principles of Regenerative Agriculture

If we create the idea of a permanent pasture while cultivating annual crops, we can begin to reverse the degrading process. The five principles of regenerative agriculture to adhere to are:

  1. Do not disrupt the soil.

Soil is home to a vast network of fungal hyphae, wormholes, and a maze of tiny air pockets surrounded by soil particles. In the event of a disturbance, ploughing, large doses of fertilizer or sprays will cause the system to fall back.

  1. Plant a wide variety of cultivars.

Ideally, at the same time, such as in meadows, monocultures are not common in nature, and soil creatures thrive off variety. Combination crops (two crops are planted simultaneously and separated following harvest) are a viable option. Cover cropping (growing the crop that isn’t harvested but serves to protect and nourish the soil) can also provide the positive effect of taking in sunlight and feeding it to the subterranean realm at a point when traditionally, the soil would have been barren.

  1. Maintain living roots deep in the soil.

In an arable cycle, there are times that this will be hard to achieve; however, living roots in soil are essential to feed the animals at the bottom of the soil’s food web. They feed the fungi and bacteria, which serve as food for protozoa, arthropods, and other creatures higher up in the food chain. They keep mycorrhizal fungi alive and flourishing. Symbionts are essential for the nutrition of most plants and therefore provide an unpaid fertilization and watering service to plants.

  1. Make sure that the soil is covered.

The force of raindrops or the sun’s burning rays or frost could all damage the soil. A duvet made of crops growing or stubble residues will shield it.

  1. Return grazing animals to the farm.

It’s more than a reference to the analogy of a permanent pasture that lets arable farmers put their land to rest for one, two, or more years and then graze multispecies leys. This is excellent in their own way to feed the soil, but when you add the benefits of mob-graze livestock, it increases the impact on soil.

Regenerative Agriculture Practices 

Regenerative agriculture practices differ according to the region, context, as well as time. The following strategies are ones that ranchers and farmers can use most appropriate to their particular land’s history.

No-Till

Let’s go back to carbon. In conventional farming, it is common to till and turn the soil. Tilling causes soil to break up into aggregates and disturb organic matter while also exposing it to oxygen. When it is oxidized, the carbon and oxygen create CO2, which is then released to create the atmosphere. Tilling can cause problems.

The context is crucial when you are considering tilling. You will find plenty of people proclaiming “no-till” agriculture, which is the ideal solution for low disturbance farming; it is rarely the case when you’re dealing with an area that’s been neglected for many centuries.

To begin the right way, minimal tillage or low-till is best; other reasons are the apparent reason to till. For instance, a farmer might choose to do a one-time tilling session that could increase the yield. For example, a rancher might do single tillage to break up a hardpan to ensure their cover crop will sprout. When you cultivate (or decide not to till) the soil you are in, the context is the primary aspect, and there isn’t a definitive and unchanging method.

Crop Rotation

It is the practice of not growing the same crop each year, which can become a common ground for insects or diseases to alternate crops to ensure that the soil stays in good health.

Crop rotation is a good option; however, there may be alternative ways to keep soil healthy and continue cultivating the same crop repeatedly. The way a farmer might decide to begin ultimately depends on their soil’s condition. They will know if they examine their soil and find out for sure. Most people will find that the soil is not as healthy, and crop rotation is a simple method to move forward.

Cover Cropping

Another option for farmers is to utilize cover crops, using an interspecies cover crop that includes five or four different plant families or eight or more varieties of seeds. You can reduce the rotation of crops. It is a source of food for a variety of soil organisms. They each produce different exudates and flourish in different seasons. There are also nitrogen fixers when they require specific ones, such as legumes. 

If the aim of a farmer is to create alive roots that can be found in soil to support an actual photosynthesis process above ground and absorb nutrients, cover crops play a crucial part in helping to ensure that the soil is well-covered and well-fed by the plants’ exudates.

Cover cropping prevents erosion. If the soil is not well-drained and exposed to wind, it will be blown around and disappear. If you’ve got a cover crop, and the weather is rainy, this absorbs into the soil. This is known within the farming community as “effective rainfall.” A cover crop will prevent erosion. Instead of seeing runoff from pesticides harming our watersheds, the groundwater remains within the soil if it rains.

Moreover, a cover crop keeps the temperature of the air lower. If the soil is not fertile and exposed to the sun, you will experience what’s commonly referred to as the “heat island effect.” Even on a truly 70° Fahrenheit day, if the soil is dry, a common occurrence when it’s not covered – it may reach 130 ° Fahrenheit or even higher based on the sun’s light!

It’s not just bad for microbes. However, the earth’s heat interferes with cloud formation and results in a more humid environment. That means that clouds that are formed across an area that isn’t covered with soil, the cloud will disperse because the heat converts them into water vapor instead of remaining as a cloud.

If we kept our soils covered instead of bare, we’d be doing many positive things for the environment. This is why cover crops are one of the key components of Regenerative agriculture.

Reducing Pesticides

Another problem with conventional farming is the usage of large quantities of fertilizers and toxins, each of which has a negative impact on the soil’s biological processes.

Good soil health aims to sustain as many microbes and as high of diversity as it is. It’s challenging to convince an existing farmer to quit applying pesticides. If they can examine and test the soil, they can begin to notice signs of use. New pests are a prime illustration of the symptoms resulting from “cides.” If a pest targets a plant, this is a sign that something’s wrong. Since if the plant is healthy, it’s more immune to pests, insects, and fungi.

Compost

Composting is a well-recognized practice that is associated with the concept of regenerative living. This is not surprising -In the U.S. alone, over 60 billion pounds of minerals-rich food items end up in landfills yearly, which can be used for composting.

Compost helps to improve the health of your crop. Healthy plants have a greater resistance to diseases and pests and can photosynthesize more quickly and eventually store more carbon in the soil. If we begin adding soil amendments to the rangelands, we will be able to see more productive returns, as well as better soil.

Many farmers who wish to use compost have destroyed the soil microbes. The best way to begin is using small amounts of compost via an extract. This means that you mix compost with water and then dilute it. Farmers can use the inoculation method to apply a coating or diluted drips around it. This is similar to placing an osmobiotic on a tee-seed. 

When the seed begins to sprout, it will do a couple of things. Compost accelerates the process of germination. Seeds are extraordinary in their own ways and know precisely when to start germination, which results in exudates that feed soil microbes. The seed has its own internal microbiome, and they begin to multiply. By adding a tiny amount of compost, a gardener can make their microbiome more varied, which will aid in acquiring nutrients and help protect the plant from other illnesses.

Livestock Grazing

Livestock constitutes a large agricultural land and requires adequate attention and care. The majority of the land is used for traditional grazing. In a conventional grazing system, the rancher fences off a large portion of land – perhaps thousands of acres – and then let the sheep, cattle, or goats roam free however they like.

A lot of ranchers and farmers do not see anything wrong with this scenario as their crops grow and the grass returns after the season. However, with ungated grazing, the grassland’s species begin to change. It’s possible to lose your perennial grasses, which are grasses that do not grow from seeds every year. Perennial plants typically last around two years with roots that are deep and stay green through the drought due to their roots. It is generally advisable to have perennials that are around.

In dry seasons when cows are free to graze on huge land areas, they eat just the greens. The greens grow shorter and cannot absorb sunlight and photosynthesis as well as they did in the past since grass cannot keep up. In the end, the cows remove the green stub completely, including the roots and everything, until it is gone.

Due to this, most conventional grazing plots are now filled with annual plants. This is decades, and the perennials go away, which means that the soil biology is reduced, and farmers see fewer and fewer plants growing. The result is desertification. It is not possible to cultivate cattle in the area at all.

In a regenerative system of grazing, instead of releasing thousands of animals onto the vast area, the rancher fences them off into smaller areas that will be impacted heavily for a short duration. There, animals pee and pee, dispersing seeds and breaking the crust of the soil, benefiting soil biochemistry in the long run. The rancher also doesn’t allow them to return to the area for an extended period, meaning grasses are allowed to be reintroduced to a specific length.

The animals grazed naturally are generally healthier as they’re not given antibiotics or dewormers and can eat fresh, healthy foliage free of chemical substances. Healthful intake and fit and healthy poop. The best part about healthy poop is that it attracts an array of insects, and dung beetles reduce it to fertilizer. It is evident that poop is beneficial when it breaks down, disappearing entirely from view.

Suppose you implement a planned livestock grazing system. In that case, you’ll see more significant numbers of perennials – which means more green in dry seasons, healthy cattle, a more fertile soil, more incredible biodiversity, and a greater capacity to absorb carbon.

Silvopasture

Silvopasture is a step in the direction of livestock grazing. It takes one step further by introducing an intentional practice of integrating livestock grazing and trees into one agricultural operation. Imagine a tree crop, whether to produce timber, fruits, or nuts, is incorporated with livestock (perhaps sheep or ducks, chickens, turkeys, or even pigs) that are grazing under the trees.

The main thing to consider if you are operating a silvopasture business is diversity. Both animals and trees benefit from one another in a symbiotic relationship. The trees receive nutrients from animal fertilizers, and the animals gain from windbreaks, shade, and other foliage. For instance, chestnut or walnut trees have a bounty of nuts that drop to the ground and which wildlife can eat.

Agroforestry

Agroforestry is similar to silvopasture in regards to mixing elements in restorative methods. Agroforestry integrates row crops and tree crops. The trees provide shade, windbreaks, and habitat for other species (improving the diversity) as well as the trees are benefited because the crops ensure a high level of soil biodiversity. Furthermore, the trees aid the soil and reduce erosion, as well as water loss because of wind, and also help to keep temperatures cool. If you do your agroforestry correctly, you will have better infiltration rates and a better nutrient cycle.

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How can regenerative agriculture help farmers?

The first thing the regenerative agricultural system does is improve the quality of soil, which is the thing we should be focusing on to create more carbon into the soil. Once farmers have put carbon first, an incredible sequence of events occurs. 

The carbon gets created through photosynthesis. Then, that photosynthesis releases carbon into the soil. Once that occurs, you increase your capacity to hold water, your nutrient cycling, and your plant’s health. When plants are healthier, they can photosynthesize faster and feed microbes into a positive feedback loop. One of the benefits of better-performing plants is a higher yield. The cycle repeats.

Three factors affect gain and loss that the regenerative agricultural system should take into consideration:

1. Enhance the yield as well as the quality of the yield.

2. Make more money. 

3. Reduce the cost of farm inputs.

How can Regenerative Agriculture Benefit the Environment?

Our food, fiber, flora, and energy – the foundation of our existence – depends on healthy soils and provides life for the farming and ranching communities. Regenerative agriculture, when it addresses the food chain from top to bottom, will bring the basis for survival back.

Improves Soil Health

The health of soil begins and ends with a varied microbiome. The concept of restorative agriculture is based on the process and philosophy of re-installing, encouraging, promoting, and building an enviable microbiome on our soils. 

Agriculture systems are a bit like dominoes. If you strip off animals from an agricultural system, for example, it eliminates the ability of cows to graze grass. This, if done correctly, will allow each grass stalk to reach the level that would allow for the annual renewal of soil. The main difference between restorative agriculture and dominoes lies in the fact that, instead of having the same size and shape, the components of a regenerative system have different sizes and impact each other to varying degrees of impact. This is the reason why restorative agriculture is fascinating to observe.

Although there isn’t one size that is perfect for everyone, a good practice rule is to encourage diversity. 

Greenhouse Gas Reduction

Regenerative agriculture helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions since it causes lower emissions but simultaneously traps carbon and reverses the effects of emissions.

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There are two main gas-emitting aspects of agriculture: animals and plants. If you are talking about the emission of gas from cattle, it’s actually animal feed operations (AFOs) or a concentrated animal feed operation (CAFO). For this post, let’s focus on CAFOs that are smoky dirt pits. At present, the cows of America are in terrible conditions. The United States lives in appalling conditions throughout the day, and so do workers. 

The CAFOs emit vast quantities of greenhouse gases in the soil, but it is not soil. The soil at CAFOs comprises mainly Fecal matter and urine, and you shouldn’t wish for it to be smelly. Methane (CH4) is one of the principal gasses that comes off the CAFO ground.

Cows that are grouped daily are also burping and feigning frequently. One of the side effects of their digestive gas production is methane gas. Don’t blame the cow. There’s a significant distinction between a cow inside a CAFO or a grass-grazing one. If cows are fed the same food they eat in CAFOs, such as soybeans and corn that cows aren’t made to digest, their stomachs get upset. The cows have been able to process grass in contrast to modified corn. Instead of focusing on food sources, the farming industry began to give them antibiotics. This damages the gut biome and is evident in the carcasses we buy. This creates a lot of methane in the manure pits or cows.

In contrast, if we shift into a regenerative state where cows are in open fields and eating grasses that they digest very well, they won’t continuously urinate and feign.

Traditional farmers might use medicines such as dewormers and expensive vet bills that kill the dung beetles. If your farm is in an organic environment with no medicine that kills the beetles, you are in a beautiful environment where the beetles break down the poop. After several days, the poop is taken up by the soil, which acts as a fertilizer. It is amazing to see what nature has to reveal when we let it.

In a regenerative system, cows can move around the grass more frequently, and, if the humans support them properly, it is because they are performing a process known as “tall grazing,” a procedure that ensures that the grass can have enough green matter, which allows it to go through an ongoing process of photosynthesis throughout the year. This will allow it to grow more quickly. This can also help to maintain methane from the soil.

The issue of nitrogen is also a concern. It is used as a fertilizer. But, we make too much of it, releasing gases into nitrous dioxide. 78 % of the air that we breathe is composed of nitrogen. Nature is adept at removing nitrogen from the air and transforming it into plants’ food. Soil microbes convert carbon dioxide into both plant and animal-available nitrogen. Some of it turns into ammonium, nitrite, nitrate, and amino acids, the basic proteins. 

The good news is that we’ll never run out of nitrogen. There are many instances in which farmers have successfully tapped into this fertilizer resource. Farmers can also save money by ensuring they do not use fertilizer and avoid over-using it. This can also aid in keeping nitrogen away from the atmosphere.

CO2 is a different gas being released from the feedlots of animals. There isn’t photosynthesis happening in an animal feedlot. Imagine this. There isn’t one grass blade, and you’ll find absolutely none of the soil biology. Go to the grasslands, where you can see at least 50 species thriving in a pasture. In the pasture, there are all kinds of life, both beneath and above the surface, and photosynthesis is the driving force behind the entire process that diverts CO2 from the atmosphere to the soil and then through to the plant feeding the soil’s life. Additionally, there are carbon-based organisms within the soil, which eventually generate more microbes, resulting in greater root mass and general organic matter, all of which are carbon-based.

The methods described reduce the “bad gases” rising into the atmosphere because we can absorb CO2 into the soil and reduce methane and nitrogen emissions into the atmosphere.

The most potent greenhouse gas that many people might not be aware of is water in the form of vapor. As the temperature rises, there is more water in the atmosphere. If you have any knowledge about water, you know that it holds on to the heat. If you can find more water vapor in the air, the water vapor acts as an additional greenhouse gas. At the moment, it’s quite a lot. Let’s get back to healthier soil. Healthy soil has the capacity to hold and absorb more water because of its higher content of organic matter.

Humans can store more water in our soils over all dams, streams, and lakes we own as long as we implement sustainable agriculture and increase the organic matter in our soil.

Carbon Sequestration

Carbon sequestration is the process of capturing carbon from the atmosphere within soils or plants, water bodies, and other geological structures. This process reduces carbon dioxide, the leading cause of global warming. In light of the growing concerns concerning GHG (greenhouse gas) emission, companies have implemented practices that result in carbon sequestration.

Impact of climate change on Regenerative Agriculture

Most farms in America are losing 5.8 tonnes of soil per year while enduring massive losses due to drought and flooding, as well as increasing by 4% the amount of the financial burden each year. In collaboration with nature to restore the soil’s organic matter as well as biodiversity through regenerative agriculture, human beings can not just aid in the reversal of the adverse effects on climate; they can monitor the health and the equity of whole ecosystems, which includes humans at an inter-relational, physical as well as a fiscal scale.

While practiced for several millennia, regenerative agriculture was eliminated from the popular dialect with the dawn of the Industrial Revolution. Government officials and leaders from the industry depended on machines-based farming along with monocropping and synthetic fertilizers. They switched to wheat and corn to feed the masses of hungry people who were fighting numerous world wars. Certain of these developments were highly positive. However, they also created an unintended consequence that deprived plants of their ecosystems’ larger dynamic and deprived soil of its high soil organic matter and diverse microbiomes, two essential elements for carbon absorption, and numerous other climate-balancing actions.

Because of the dominant land management practices and human-induced pressures on the land and water, we are witnessing an ongoing process of degrading and desertification. Rich soil is turning to dust, and deserts that were self-sustaining are now devoid of nutrients. In reality, drylands make up around 46 percent of the planet’s surface, and about 9 percent of these drylands are experiencing extreme desertification.

Regenerative Agriculture – Criticisms

By integrating various farm elements, the regenerative farmer is trying to revive the old model of a mixed farm, which is a crucial aspect to consider in the post-COVID food industry. In order to produce a broader range of food items in one location, farms can cut down on the external inputs and outputs and consequently reduce the risk of contamination.

To practice the regenerative agricultural method effectively, farmers must develop new knowledge and abilities, especially concerning soil management. Also, managing farmers’ expectations of their results could be a challenge since the critics have accused farmers of exaggerating yield and other benefits. 

By not having to till the land, farmers save 30 to 40 percent of their time and also reduce the rate of soil erosion in certain areas; however, the drawback of regenerative agriculture is often that more undesirable plants will grow on the land. Additionally, certain farmers make up for this through greater use of herbicides. It is also possible that the amount of soil degrading is also overestimated. 

The main drawbacks of regenerative agriculture are:

  • Potentially lower yields, based on crop conditions.
  • Certain farmers make up for it by increasing herbicide use.
  • Farmers will have to learn new skills and knowledge.
  • The lack of tilling could result in more undesired plants. 
  • The transition from conventional methods will take some time.

Finally

These are just a few reasons to consider the idea of regenerative agriculture. Indeed, many experts believe that this model is the most convincing. 

Are you excited and inspired to see the potential of regenerative farming come to reality? Take time to learn about the concept of regenerative agriculture and inspire yourself. 

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