Agriculture is entering a transformative era. Although the green revolution has been successful in feeding a rapidly growing human population, it has also depleted the Earth’s soil and its biodiversity and contributed to climate change. These extractive practices are not sustainable. We must move quickly to transform agriculture by employing a suite of practices known as regenerative agriculture.
What is regenerative agriculture?
Regenerative agriculture (RA) is an outcome-based food production system that nurtures and restores soil health, protects the climate and water resources, and enhances farms’ productivity and profitability. It comprises a range of techniques, supported by innovative technologies, which can combat the challenges cause by climate change by restoring the health of soil and protecting the land’s ecosystem.
Regenerative agriculture is an evolution of conventional agriculture, reducing the use of water and other inputs, and preventing land degradation and deforestation. It protects and improves soil, biodiversity, climate resilience.
What are the principles and practices behind regenerative agriculture?
The agricultural sector needs to transform, and regenerative agriculture can enable this transition through building up soil organic matter and nurturing its health. But it is not a one-size-fits-all solution – instead, each unique context requires a different set of farming approaches to maximize productivity while restoring soils and biodiversity. Different regenerative practices suit different regions or even individual farms depending on the conditions, although they are underlain by a common set of principles.
MINIMALIZE SOIL DISTURBANCE
• Principle: Minimizing soil disturbance benefits the soil and the climate • Practice: No-till or reduced-till techniques
When soil is plowed or tilled, it’s structure is damaged, leaving it vulnerable to wind and water erosion and microbial decomposition. Tilling lessens the soil’s ability to retain water, devastating crops during increasingly frequent droughts. Farmers practicing regenerative agriculture greatly reduce or stop tillage and instead plant seeds directly into the residue of the previous crop. With this, the soil contains more organic matter and is less prone to being blown away by wind or washed away by water.
PLANTS IN THE GROUND ROUND THE YEAR
• Principle: Year-round plant coverage prevents soil erosion and increases carbon inputs
• Practices: Growing cover crops, double cropping
Soil health improves when crops are kept in the ground year-round. Regenerative agriculture farmers plant a different crop immediately after harvest, often alternating cash crops and cover crops. This green cover shades the soil and the roots dig into it, increasing moisture.
DIVERSIFY CROPS IN TIME AND SPACE
• Principle: Diversifying crops in space and time supports resilience, productivity, and diversity.
• Practices: Crop rotation, interseeding, relay planting and biodiversity strips or agroforestry.
Planting the same crops on the same fields, year after year, strips soil of nutrients and allows pests and weeds to flourish. In regenerative agriculture, farmers rotate different types of crops over time. This helps limit pest infestations and nourishes beneficial microbes in the soil with a more diverse diet. Rotating between nitrogen-fixing crops like soybeans and nitrogen-hungry crops like corn can reduce the need for fertilizers.