As the world population continues to grow and the amount of arable land decreases, it becomes increasingly important to find sustainable ways of producing food. Regenerative agriculture is one promising solution that has been gaining traction in recent years, as it not only can help make agriculture sustainable, but it can even help to fight climate change. This article will walk you through what regenerative agriculture is, the benefits of regenerative agriculture, and why you’ll likely see more major companies supporting it in the future.
What is regenerative agriculture?
Regenerative agriculture is a way of farming that focuses on rebuilding soil health and ecosystem function. Regenerative practices work together to improve soil health by increasing organic matter (the amount of plant, fauna, and microbe material in soil), rebuilding soil structure, increasing soil nutrients, increasing soil’s ability to store carbon, and improving water infiltration and storage. In addition, regenerative agriculture supports biodiversity by creating habitats for a variety of species.
Regenerative agriculture can help to reverse the trends of climate change, land degradation, and desertification. And because it relies on natural processes and avoids synthetic pesticides, it is also more economically and ecologically sustainable than traditional methods of farming. For these reasons, regenerative agriculture is gaining attention as a promising solution to the global food crisis.
With the increasing popularity of sustainable agriculture, the term “regenerative agriculture” has been used more and more frequently in recent years. It’s important to note that the term doesn’t have an exact definition, and has been used to describe a number of different practices. In fact, some in the agricultural sphere argue that the term is overused and thus its meaning has become unclear.
For example, many definitions include practices that may not lead to the many outcomes that regenerative agriculture purports to have. Additionally, some scholars are concerned that the overuse of the term “regenerative agriculture“ has led to two opposite goals, with some farmers practicing regenerative agriculture with ecological sustainability as their end goal, and others, including major corporations, pushing to use regenerative agriculture to further intensify agriculture.
It’s important to understand that regenerative agriculture is still being defined, and does not always refer to a specific set of practices. The benefits and practices described below are thus referring to a broad definition of regenerative agriculture that may still be refined in the future.
Benefits of Regenerative Agriculture
Unlike conventional farming practices, which can deplete the soil of its nutrients and lead to erosion, regenerative agriculture improves the health of the soil. This is achieved through a number of practices, described in more detail below.
These techniques help to build up the levels of organic matter in the soil, which in turn leads to higher levels of fertility and more resilient plants.
In addition, regenerative agriculture can help mitigate the effects of climate change by sequestering carbon in the soil.
How Does Regenerative Agriculture Work?
Regenerative agriculture includes a wide variety of practices that increase soil health, reduce biodiversity loss, fight food insecurity and combat climate change. Here are a few examples of regenerative agriculture practices and how they work:
A cover crop is a plant that is planted among the “cash crop” (the main crop, meant to provide profit) to improve soil health. The main goals of using cover crops are to reduce erosion, improve fertility, and promote biological activity in the soil. There are many different types of cover crops, and each has its own benefits.
For example, legumes such as clover and alfalfa add nitrogen to the soil, while grasses like rye help to increase organic matter. In addition, some cover crops can act as “living mulches,” suppressing weeds and conserving moisture.
Crop rotation is a technique that helps improve soil health and increase crop yields. The practice involves growing different types of crops in succession in the same area. For example, a farmer might plant wheat one year, followed by soybeans the next year.
By rotating crops, farmers can reduce the risk of disease and pests, while also increasing the amount of nutrients in the soil. The practice of crop rotation dates back centuries, and its benefits are still being discovered today. As our understanding of regenerative agriculture continues to grow, crop rotation will likely play an increasingly important role in how we farm.
No-till farming produces crops without the need to disturb the underlying soil. Also known as no-dig farming, the process allows the insects and other microorganisms in the soil to distribute vital nutrients that contribute to healthy crops. No-till farming also keeps the soil ready for planting without the excessive erosion that tilling causes.
Eliminating artificial fertilizers
Although they bring an increase in farming yield, synthetic fertilizers can release excess amounts of synthetic nitrogen into the environment. This can cause an increase in greenhouse gas emissions and contribute to ozone layer thinning. As excess fertilizer runs into waterways, it can also cause eutrophication, an excess of nutrients that leads to a deadly lack of oxygen in lakes and ponds, and worsen the effects of ocean acidification. Focusing on alternatives such as using composting or other natural fertilizers can offer the same benefits while also creating demand for food scraps, discarded paper, and other materials that would otherwise end up in landfills.
Regenerative grazing generally describes any type of regenerative agriculture that focuses on restoring degraded soils through shifted livestock grazing practices. It is based on the principle that plants and animals can work together to create a more sustainable ecosystem. Grasslands are particularly well suited to this type of agriculture, as they are home to a wide variety of plant and animal species.
Regenerative grazing can actually help to improve soil health, increase water retention, and promote biodiversity. In addition, this practice can also help to sequester carbon, making it an important tool in the fight against climate change. With the right management, regenerative grazing has the potential to transform the way we think about food production.
Major companies supporting regenerative agriculture
The environmental benefits of regenerative agriculture are becoming increasingly well-known, and major companies are beginning to take notice. From food producers to fashion brands, firms all over the world are supporting regenerative agriculture in various ways.
One example is Patagonia, the outdoor clothing company, who has been working with ranchers to implement regenerative grazing practices on their land. The result has been an increase in soil health and carbon sequestration, as well as improved water retention and drought resistance.
Meanwhile, General Mills, one of the world’s largest food manufacturers, has committed to sourcing all of its oat products from farmers who use regenerative agriculture practices. Kering, a major French luxury goods company, has started the Regenerative Fund for Nature, which provides funding to farmers and other agricultural practitioners to create regenerative goods for the fashion industry.
This is just a small sampling of the many companies that are now supporting regenerative agriculture. As awareness of the issue continues to grow, it is likely that even more businesses will begin to adopt similar initiatives.
How you can support regenerative agriculture
Supporting regenerative agriculture is a great way to contribute to environmental sustainability as it encourages and enables farmers to produce in a more environmentally-friendly way. Holding food producers accountable for their practices starts by looking for farmers that adhere to strict standards for sustainable growing, often shown through sustainable labels such as organic, Regenerative Organic Certified, or GLOBALG.A.P. labels (a set of standards that ensure sustainability in addition to food safety and ethical working conditions). Additionally, buying locally-grown food helps build a closer relationship with the people that grow your food while also supporting small businesses that are making important, but sometimes costly shifts to sustainable agriculture.