Why Regenerative Agriculture?
Regenerative Agriculture consists of farming and grazing practices that can reverse climate change by rebuilding soil organic matter and restoring degraded soil biodiversity. The results? Healthier food, carbon sequestration, reduced erosion of soils, and improved water quality, wildlife habitat, and biodiversity.
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. It also can improve eco-system biodiversity; farm and rural community economics; and food security through increased yields and local production.
The world’s soils store several times the amount carbon as the atmosphere, acting as a natural “carbon sink.” But globally, soil carbon stocks have been declining, due to the conversion of native landscapes to croplands, overgrazing and conventional agriculture, which reduces the soil's ability to hold water and reduce erosion of prime and important farmland.
Regenerative agriculture improves the resources it uses, rather than destroying or depleting them.
Regenerative Agriculture's Potential
According to Ohio State soil physicist Dr. Rattan Lal, “A mere 2 percent increase in the carbon content of the planet’s soils could offset 100 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions [currently] going into the atmosphere." How can this be achieved? There are several soil health management systems that accelerate degraded soil into healthy soils and increase the climate, eco-systems and economic benefits. These include:
- Adopting "no-till" practices. No-till avoid disturbing the soil, which reduces erosion . Other benefits include an increase in the amount of water that infiltrates into the soil, soil retention of organic matter, and nutrient cycling.
- Planting cover crops. This slows the velocity of runoff from rainfall and snowmelt, reducing soil loss due to sheet and rill erosion. Over time, a cover crop will increase soil organic matter and improve soil structure, stability, and increased moisture and nutrient holding capacity for plant growth.
- Replacing synthetic fertilizers with organics. Synthetic fertilizers emit fossil fuels when manufactured and release nitrous oxide, a gas 300 times more potent than CO2, when applied to soils.
- Diversifying and rotating crops. These practices help manage weeds and pests, while giving soil microbes different food sources, ultimately making soil healthier.
- Integrating perennial crops and trees Perennials crops and trees can improve soil fertility, help manage water, reduce pollution, and stabilize soils against erosion. Both capture and store carbon.
- Adding livestock to the land. Animals build soil health with their excrement and hoof action, contributing to soil's ability to store and sequester carbon. Managing livestock on perennial and annual forages, and in a way that supports human and ecosystem health, farm profitability, and community and food system resilience.
The world’s soils store several times the amount carbon as the atmosphere, acting as a natural “carbon sink.
-World Resources Institute, May 2020
Can moving from traditional cropping systems to regenerative agriculture be profitable? Yes. According to researchers, there are economic benefits created regenerative agriculture. This study found that farms with regenerative practices were 78% more profitable than conventional plots. This increase in profitability was the result of two main factors: input costs and end markets.
Another study by The Nature Conservancy estimates that for each 1 percent of cropland with an adaptive soil health system, annual economic benefits translate into $226 million of societal value through increased water capacity, reduced erosion and nutrient loss, and reduced greenhouse gas emissions, as well as $37 million of on-farm value through greater productivity.
Barriers to Overcome
Barriers experienced by farmers moving to regenerative agriculture include costs, market forces, and risks of reduced yields. So let's support them! Be sure to buy locally-sourced fruits and vegetables that are grown sustainably. Help educate family and friends about the benefits of doing the same. And, if you are able, work with your church, schools and other institutions to purchase food that is grown regeneratively. Ensuring there is a market is key to ensuring a farmer's success - and the success of a farmers transitioning to regenerative practices can help avert climate chaos by reducing emissions associated with conventional agriculture practices and creating critical carbon sinks.