What Is Regenerative Farming?
Regenerative agriculture, a term coined by organic farming researchers at the Rodale Institute in the 1980s, consists of holistic farming practices that aim to improve soil health and reverse climate change by expanding biodiversity, improving the water cycle, increasing organic matter in soil structure, and transferring carbon from the atmosphere to the soil. Proponents of regenerative agriculture avoid using chemical pesticides and advocate for methods like crop rotation, livestock rotation, composting, no-till farming, agroecology, and agroforestry. Regenerative agriculture increases the amount of arable topsoil, which results in a healthier, better food system.
4 Basic Regenerative Farming Practices
The following regenerative agricultural practices aim to improve the well-being of our environment by increasing soil fertility, biodiversity, water retention and cleanliness, and soil carbon sequestration.
- Promote biodiversity. Cover crops and crop rotation are two of basic principles of sustainable agriculture that lead to greater biodiversity. Farmers plant cover crops with no intention of harvesting them in order to protect the soil. Without cover crops, soil is vulnerable to weather erosion, which causes beneficial nutrients to dry out and wash away or blow away. Farmers rotate crops by growing a different type of crop in the same location each growing season. This ensures that nitrogen-fixing plants like legumes can add nutrients to the soil that other plants absorb.
- Eliminate or decrease tillage. Creating healthy soil is one of the predominant goals of the regenerative agriculture movement, and decreasing tilling is one of the best regenerative practices for improving soil. Tilling simultaneously causes soil erosion and releases substantial amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Eliminating tillage increases carbon sequestration—a process wherein plants transfer carbon from the air into the soil—and helps reduce global warming.
- Reduce the use of artificial fertilizers. Synthetic fertilizer is not conducive to regenerative systems because it creates an imbalance of microbes in soil, impeding the natural processes by which plants absorb nutrients. This results in an agroecosystem with weak plants that become dependent on artificial fertilizer. In addition, artificial fertilizer worsens the climate crisis due to the negative effects of chemicals seeping into water sources and the atmosphere. In general, a regenerative farming system aims to preserve a completely natural relationship between plants and soil organisms.
- Use regenerative grazing management for livestock. Traditional livestock feedlots lead to increased water pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, and low nutrient forage. Instead, a regenerative grazing system mimics the natural grazing patterns of animals. Methods like time control grazing ensure that rangeland has sufficient time to regenerate between grazing periods. This results in an increase in soil carbon deposits, water retention, plant and insect biodiversity, and improved pasture conditions.
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