Our planet is at risk, and the global food system is part of the problem.
Thanks to industrial farming, half the world’s topsoil was depleted in the past century, and future predictions aren’t much better. If current rates of farmland destruction continue, the earth will become critically short of fertile land within 60 years.
Since giving up eating entirely isn’t an option, improving how food is produced is critical for global sustainability. And it turns out, taking care of farm fields yields impressive benefits for the rest of the planet, too. Farmers and scientists alike are finding that improving soil health has lasting impacts on every level of the ecosystem and that sustainable farming might be one of the best ways to combat soil erosion, biodiversity loss, and even climate change.
As an alternative holistic land management philosophy, regenerative agriculture is disrupting the industrial food system and improving soil fertility, one farm field at a time.
But what is regenerative agriculture, and how is it different than other sustainable farming techniques? We’ve addressed these questions below.
What is Regenerative Agriculture?
Sometimes referred to as carbon farming, regenerative agriculture is a farming philosophy that views restoring soil health and sequestering carbon dioxide from the atmosphere is just as necessary as making a profit.
‘Regenerative’ refers to any process that naturally improves or restores the system that it’s part of, rather than harming it. The phrase ‘regenerative agriculture’ was first used by the American farming nonprofit the Rodale Institute in 1980 as a way to define their soil health-focused sustainable farming practices.
In this way, regenerative agriculture works to rebuild depleted soil by restoring its nutrient levels so that it can grow better crops. Regenerative farmers also strive to reduce erosion, improve their soil’s capacity to hold onto water, promote biodiversity, and produce more food in smaller spaces.
In this way, the principles of regenerative agriculture are designed to create a system of mutually beneficial relationships where outputs become inputs, waste is minimized, and resources are reused as much as possible.
How Does Regenerative Agriculture Work?
When farmland becomes overused or eroded, it loses most of its carbon content, which is a valuable form of organic material. To combat this concern, regenerative agriculture works to restore soil to its naturally robust, carbon-rich state. A fundamental principle is that land should be tilled as little as possible, which allows it to regain fertility through biological methods like cover crops, compost, and managed animal grazing.
Adding organic material to farmland has other benefits, as this healthy soil becomes a carbon sink. This means that the ground holds more carbon than it releases, leading to a net loss of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. These low-tech, low-cost techniques can be implemented on all farms, and they are especially suited for small farms.