What Is Regenerative Agriculture?

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The definition of regenerative agriculture is a system of agricultural principles and methods applied to the production of agricultural products that enhance biodiversity, soil fertility, water circulation and enhancement of ecosystem services.

The growing interest in organic products and the increasing penetration of large corporations into the world of organic farming have led, for example, to the cultivation of monocultures in large areas of organic farming and to meet the necessary certification standards. Such occurrences within organic agriculture, in the opinion of the pioneers and architects of the organic movement, lead to a weakening of organic standards.

Soil, biodiversity and animal welfare have always been at the core of true organic farming, so various groups and associations dedicated to maintaining the integrity of organic agriculture have launched a movement called Regenerative Agriculture, which represents evolution, raises organic farming standards and safeguards the integrity of the entire sector.

Regenerative agriculture goals

Regenerative agriculture aims to sequester atmospheric carbon into soil and biomass (positively affecting the trend of harmful atmospheric accumulation), increase the biodiversity of agro-ecosystems, increase and maintain soil fertility, and establish, maintain and manage cycles of nutrients, water and soil organic matter. At the same time, it offers comparable economic impacts, resilience to climate instability and health and prosperity for the farming community. Based on decades of scientific and applied research into global agroforestry, agro-ecological, and permaculture communities and Holistic Management.

Regenerative agriculture principles

It is based on four principles:

  1. Progressive improvement of entire agro-ecosystems (soil, water, and biodiversity)
  2. Designing for the context of specific individual plans with Holistic Management that fulfills the “purpose” of each farm.
  3. Ensuring, developing and implementing fair and reciprocal relationships between all system participants.
  4. The continuous growth, development, and evolution of individuals, farms and the community.

Regenerative agriculture approach, solutions, and certification

Regenerative agriculture is an approach to resource management in agriculture, which builds on existing ecological certification systems, but is an upgrade of requirements, in terms of sustainability and regeneration. It provides solutions to the problems of generally accepted chemical agriculture and science-based response to soil destruction today and also includes high standards for animal welfare and social justice. This is a new standard and includes a commitment to conscious and responsible work on soil recovery and regeneration, as a basic instrument of agricultural production.

The certification of such production targets the most responsible producers, on the one hand, and the most responsible consumers, on the other, who, through their behavior, choices and awareness, create the opportunity to change the concept of agriculture that does not exhaust but rather heal the soil and the community

Regenerative agriculture techniques/methods

The principles are manifested in different production systems, such as:

  • Intensive Organic Vegetables (Elliot Coleman, Charles Dowding, J.M.Fortier, Curtis Stone, Neversink Farm, Ridgedale Permaculture Farm)
  • Multicultural fruit growing (Food Forest, Mark Shepard – New Forest Farm, Permaculture Orchard – Sobkowiak; Miracle Farm, Ernst Götsch)
  • Extensive Livestock (Joel Salatin, Allan Savory, Ridgedale Permaculture farm, Mark Shepard – New Forest Farm)
  • “No-till” crop farming with cover crops and intermediate crops (Gabe Brown – Cover crop, Colin Seis – Pasture cropping)
  • Plant nutrition with compost and compost tea, biomass, bio-coal and animal integration – (Allan Savory, Elaine Ingham)
  • Agroforestry – inter-row pastures in permanent crops, inter-row farming in permanent crops, windshields, hedges, coastal buffers (Riparian Buffer)
  • Organic beekeeping
  • Outdoor mushrooming
  • Syrup production – (Maple, Birch)

What are the methods of regenerative agriculture?

These include agro-technical measures such as no-till tillage, leaving organic material on the ground, precursors, plant cover, green fertilization, keyline sloping, crop rotation, increased use of perennial crops in combination with seasonal crops (mixed crops among trees; alley cropping), intensive rotational grazing, and agroforestry and silvopasture principles.

These measures represent an opportunity to cultivate sufficient amounts of calories, carbohydrates, proteins, oils, medicines, energy and fibers necessary for human well-being while supporting the soil’s ability to support crops individually

Regenerative agriculture systems

In addition to regenerative agriculture, complementary systems are:

  • Permaculture
  • holistic management
  • “soil food web” approach to plant nutrition
  • “Keyline Design” Landscape Management Methods
  • agro-forestry

Change with only 11% of agricultural soils as a function of regenerative agriculture

In addition to reducing emissions, ie acting on a cause, the soil is extremely important in mitigating the effects of climate change. Depleted soils cannot absorb or retain water, which reduces the capacity of the soil to mitigate the effects of droughts and floods. We could see this a few years ago when the water kept afloat for weeks after heavy rains. Is this soil potential underestimated in the debate on adaptation to climate change?

It is absolutely underestimated. The latest exploration of life into agricultural soil not only creates more stable ecosystems that directly affect agricultural production and the quality of the food we produce but also restores the soil’s ability to store atmospheric carbon for a longer period of time. Research shows that if we practiced soil-sustaining agriculture globally on only 11% of agricultural land, we could restore atmospheric CO2 levels to stability levels. Also, due to compaction, agricultural soils do not have the capacity to absorb water.

By applying simple agrotechnical measures, we can increase the proportion of organic matter in the soil, which undoubtedly contributes to the capacity of the soil to retain water, which is a key feature in dry periods. Also, an increase in organic matter contributes to the circulation and availability of nutrients, which increases yields and reduces the need for artificial support for plant production. So, as long as there is solar energy, there is also the potential to store carbon through a biological system that supports human consumption and regeneration of entire landscapes while respecting all other life forms on Earth.

Biomass is a long-term solution

The soil is connected to all aspects of our lives. It is a source of food, fiber, building materials, energy, etc. For example, construction with natural materials often uses photosynthesis products such as straw, hemp, cellulose fibers, lumber. In order to produce any of these materials, we need healthy soil otherwise the system is not sustainable. It is similar to energy – for example, using biomass as a renewable energy source, we can go through depletion of the ecosystem, so we cut the forest and use it to produce energy, and instead, we can choose a long-term sustainable solution where the cultivation of energy crops is based on rotation.

And again, to grow anything healthy soil is an essential prerequisite otherwise, we remain trapped in an unsustainable fertility loss cycle that we try to replace with fossil fuels. In the case of food cultivation, the importance of soil is more than obvious. No matter what type of food cultivation is involved, healthy soil is a necessary prerequisite. The methods we describe in the manual will be equally useful to farmers who grow industrial cereals, fruit growers, vegetable growers, livestock growers as well as small gardeners and permaculture farmers.

Waste management patterns

It is certainly encouraging to see the increasing determination of an increasing number of individuals that take responsibility for their own bio-waste. Unfortunately, the level of social awareness of how everything is interconnected – the way we cultivate food, how we buy it, how we prepare it and what we do with the rest of the entire production cycle – has not reached the level of the problem. In general, as a society, we are very conformist to resources in general. There is not a sufficient level of collective awareness of consumption and discard, that is, of how much pressure our current lifestyle is putting on the biocapacity of the planet. Food production and waste management, in fact, play a very important role in what kind of future we want to build for ourselves, and what future we prepare for future generations.

Mismatch of agricultural practices with life processes

Most agricultural policies globally have a very conservative approach to innovation. New agrotechnical tillage practices are still not sufficiently promoted, despite the abundant evidence in favor of organic or even more regenerative, carbon-rich agriculture. That is, perhaps the reason for the lack of change lies in the fact that harmful practices continue to be tolerated, and it is, therefore, difficult to expect an increase in biodiversity while tolerating the use of pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, and fertilizers.

How can life be supported if we allow ourselves to use biocides? It is difficult to get rid of established habits and change the way the food system works for generations. Probably the problem of any agricultural policy is the misunderstanding of the functioning pattern of whole living systems, and the mismatch of agricultural practices with the life processes that naturally take place around us.

Creating more stable ecosystems

In addition to reducing biodiversity, one of the areas identified as planetary borders is climate change, and this soil plays an extremely important role.

After the oceans and forests, the soil is the third natural ecosystem that can serve as a carbon storage facility. Carbon sequestration technology is already in our hands and we just need to recognize it and start using it. Our agricultural soil has become a dead and inert mineral due to the constant reversal of layers, plowing and poisoning by agrochemicals. We are constantly consuming organic matter through agricultural production in our soils, and we are trying to make up for this deficit with agrochemicals that are non-renewable fossil fuels. By bringing life back to agricultural soil, we not only create more stable ecosystems that directly affect the agricultural production and the quality of the food we produce but also restore the soil’s ability to store atmospheric carbon for a longer period of time.

A hit among young people – small organic farms can be profitable

A regenerative farm needs to be self-sustaining, and I want to make a good living from my work. This is possible if you follow the logic of the land you work on and nurture it so that it works for you. Most of the time on the farm, especially in the first three years, is devoted to soil restoration, the soil microbiome. I would say not to grow vegetables, but to regenerate the soil to create conditions in which vegetables will grow without much extra work. Also, cultivation must be profitable and labor must pay off.

Quotes

  • “Regenerative organic farming enhances the resources it uses instead of wasting or destroying it. It represents a holistic systems approach to agriculture that encourages continuous innovation on farms for the sake of environmental, social, economic and spiritual well-being.” – Rodale Institute
  • “Regenerative agriculture is any practice, process or management method that serves to enhance the functioning of basic ecological cycles (energy, water or minerals) by encouraging biological functions. In other words, it is anything that makes the land healthier year after year.” – Regenerative Agriculture Foundation
  • “The only civilization that relies on one-year-old agriculture, and has not yet collapsed, is the present one we live in, but even now its future does not look very good, does it? (….) If you destroy that what produces oxygen you breathe and purifies your water, if the wind blows away the soil, if we destroy other benefits that come with our ecosystem, we create deserts.” – Mark Shepard, pioneer of regenerative agriculture