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Dishing the Dirt on Soil Health

Many companies and consumers today are asking what if? What if farming could help solve climate change? What if we could create healthier products through regenerative and sustainable farming practices? What if we could decrease our carbon footprint by helping the soil rebuild?

Regenerative agriculture is about creating a virtuous cycle of cropping systems, soil health, and erosion control that builds upon itself. Regenerative ag rebuilds the soil and restores the resiliency of farmland. Farm management practices such as cover cropping, low and no-till, crop rotation and adding new kinds of crops to the mix through extended rotation or double cropping all work to help restore soil health. But what does that mean?

Regenerating soils means, in large part, rebuilding soil organic matter. While the percentage of organic matter in soil varies from region to region it typically ranges from between 2% – 10%. Each 1% increase in soil organic matter helps the soil retain as much as 20,000 gallons more water per acre.1

Soils richer in organic matter with better water retention dramatically reduce erosion. This keeps the soil in place and allows it to continue building up rather than just being replaced. Soils with better water retention are more climate-resilient. They perform better in dryer years due to their better water retention and, even in wetter years, their increased capacity to retain water as well as their looser construction allows excess water to penetrate deeply into the soil rather than pool and runoff; taking valuable topsoil with it.

As healthier, richer, water-retaining soils build-up, healthier crops are produced. As soil depth increases, nutrients are increasingly available at the root zone of crops. The plants are able to put their energy into producing robust, nutrient-dense crops rather than siphon off energy and nutrients to staying upright or fighting off opportunistic disease and pests. This increased nutrient availability also decreases the amount of additional inputs, like chemicals and fertilizers, that are required which has the effect of reducing costs for the farmer and reducing or eliminating passes over the land with machinery which can compact the soil.

Regenerative practices that increase soil organic matter also increase soil organic carbon which is well over half of soil organic matter.2 Scientists have identified numerous best management practices for drawing down atmospheric CO2 into terrestrial carbon sequestration. These are:

  • Reduction or elimination of mechanical tillage and adoption of no-till (NT) or minimum-till
  • Use of crop residues or synthetic materials as surface mulch in conjunction with incorporation of cover crops into the rotation cycle
  • Adoption of conservation-effective measures to minimize soil and water losses by surface runoff and accelerated erosion
  • Enhancement of soil fertility through integrated nutrient management (INM) that combines practices for improving organic matter management (in situ), enhancing soil biological processes involving biological nitrogen fixation (BNF), and mycorrhizae, and additions of organic wastes (biosolids, slurry) and synthetic fertilizers
  • Conservation of water in the root zone to increase the green water component by reducing losses through runoff (blue water) and evaporation (greywater), and increasing use efficiency through the application of drip irrigation/fertigation techniques
  • Improvement of grazing systems that enhance the diet of livestock and reduce their enteric emissions
  • Better use of complex farming systems including mixed crop-livestock and agroforestry techniques that efficiently use resources, enhance biodiversity and mimic the natural ecosystems.3

All in all, regeneration is about creating healthier, more climate-resilient soils. This in turn creates healthier, more nutrient-dense crops and improves the resilience of the land, especially in face of increasingly extreme weather events. These practices can also have a profoundly positive impact on the ROI of growers through cost containment and increased profitability. Regeneration ultimately creates healthier humans and healthier communities.

Come scale regeneration with us and turn what-if into what-is.