The trees and plants on our planet sequester carbon in the soil, absorbing it from the air and releasing oxygen in its place. If you stir the dirt, it releases that carbon back into the atmosphere. Even though this is how it’s been done for generations, at its core, this basic concept explains why industrialized farming is a primary contributor to carbon release and the resulting climate change.
Creating a solution for this problem is in direct contrast to traditional tilling of the land as a means to prepare the soil when growing crops. But there is a solution and it comes in the form of truly traditional, small-scale farming practices. Recently dubbed regenerative agriculture, the concept is simple.
What is regenerative agriculture?
Regenerative agriculture describes farming practices that create a cycle of caring for the soil through responsible grazing and land management. It’s a general term that encompasses a range of practices from composting to pasture cropping. The primary goal of regenerative agriculture is to enhance and retain the biodiversity in soil that has been continuously stripped for generations.
“Kiss the Ground,“ a documentary describing regenerative agriculture, explains the difference between dirt and soil. The documentary emphasizes that once soil has been stripped, it can never return to its complex and nutrient-rich composition.
Why do we need regenerative agriculture?
The need for a conversion to regenerative agriculture is clear: higher temperatures and water shortages are impacting the food supply around the globe. Desertification, erosion, flooding and wildfires are other indicators of poor soil health. The causes of this soil damage are many and varied. They include the use of pesticides, fungicides and other chemicals, as well as overgrazing of the land and damaging crop planting practices.
A transition to regenerative agriculture means investing in small farmers who work the land with a variety of old school practices like growing organic crops, timed grazing of livestock animals, so they benefit rather than harm the land, and planting practices that avoid tilling the soil when planting.
All of these practices work in conjunction to create farms that bring a host of benefits. Imagine replacing industrialized crop production with smaller and well-managed farms with an emphasis on healthy land management. Considering around one-third of our planet is used in food production, this is a swap that can provide better soil for future generations to come.
What are the benefits to regenerative agriculture?
Supporters of the movement are confident regenerative agriculture can not only slow, but reverse climate change. Regenerative agriculture rebuilds soil organic matter and restores degraded soil biodiversity, which controls carbon sequestration and improves water efficiency.
In addition to supporting smaller farmers around the world and protecting the soil for the future, regenerative farming results in the same or improved food yields, the elimination of fertilizers and other chemicals and practices that don’t require expensive and damaging equipment. That means more hands-on jobs, shorter transport distances and higher profits.
The truth is, the planet cannot support our current rate of food production if we continue to use the same processes that have changed the makeup of the soil. Even beyond the decrease in fertile soil and biodiversity that marks health, there’s another concerning factor for the future of agriculture: the loss of knowledge in regards to how to manage land wholesomely. Since regenerative agriculture happens on a small scale, it’s a lifestyle. The knowledge base can then be passed onto the next generation.
This is an issue that can’t wait for the next generation before addressing a solution. Soil scientists estimate that with the current rate of indigenous seed loss and soil destruction, we will be facing serious natural food shortages within 50 years. Rather than investing heavily in lab-made foods, regenerative farming and grazing can not only protect the land, but also the rest of the environment suffering damage due to climate change caused by carbon release.
“Without protecting and regenerating the soil on our four billion acres of cultivated farmland, eight billion acres of pastureland and 10 billion acres of forest land, it will be impossible to feed the world, keep global warming below two degrees Celsius or halt the loss of biodiversity,” according to Regeneration International.
What is considered regenerative farming?
Some of the types of permaculture and organic farming practices that fall under the umbrella of regenerative agriculture include: aquaculture, agroecology, agroforestry, biochar, compost, holistic planned grazing, no-till management, pasture cropping, use of perennial crops and silvopasture.
Although the movement offers promise, the need is urgent and immediate. In order for regenerative agriculture to swiftly derail climate change, it needs to be a coordinated global approach. The good news is that many areas already have a system in place. Others are seeing the benefits and making the change. As a consumer, buying from local farms at the farmer’s market and looking for the Fair Trade label when buying from other parts of the world ensure environmental, economic and worker protections.
“Support regenerative agriculture by buying or growing organic foods, boycotting factory-farmed foods, compost, buy Fair Trade products, create or join a community garden, introduce and support policy changes,” said Regeneration International.
Lead image via Pexels