Regenerative Agriculture is an approach to farming that focuses on healthy soils and ecosystems. The approach to farming works with the natural systems to repair the landscape, soil structure, ecosystem biodiversity and climate for the sake of long term productivity and sustainability. Regenerative agriculture brings together multiple sustainable agriculture methods to achieve the goal of restoring land health.
Key Goals of Regenerative Agriculture
- Build soil fertility and health for the future.
- Increase water retention and decrease nutrient runoff.
- Increase biodiversity, ecosystem health and resiliency.
- Carbon sequestration by capturing and storing atmospheric carbon dioxide.
Approaches to Regenerative Farming
Tillage practices break up the soil which results in increased carbon dioxide emissions and carbon loss. Intensive tillage can also increase water loss and water runoff, as well as increasing soil loss from wind and water erosion. Minimizing soil disturbances helps keep carbon stored in the soil and maintains healthy microbial ecosystems. Adopting no-till or minimum tillage can help enhance soil aggregation, water infiltration and retention and carbon sequestration. Additionally, there are cost reduction opportunities for growers, including reduced fuel use, reduced fertilizers, and more efficient use of water resources.
Reduced Chemical Use
Applying too much synthetic fertilizer can create imbalances in the structure and function of soils and weaken the ecosystem. Excess fertilizers pollute water sources, disrupt soil microbial communities, and may lead to heavy metal accumulations in the soil. Synthetic fertilizers also represent a significant cost to the grower. Reducing dependence on chemical inputs helps growers increase profit margins and reduces their environmental impact. Growers may choose to plant cover crops, change crop rotations, and add compost and manure to their fields to improve soil fertility while reducing their dependence on synthetic fertilizers.
When a cash crop is harvested, the bare soil that is left behind is vulnerable to nutrient loss, water loss, and soil erosion. A cover crop, grown in the off-season, keeps the soil surface covered and protected. At the same time, the root system of the cover crop holds the soil together, reducing soil erosion and runoff of water and nutrients. In some climates, this off-season crop can also be harvested. Depending on what cover crop is chosen, the crop may also increase soil fertility, by fixing nitrogen. The biomass left over from the cover crop can be mowed or roller crimped to serve as mulch and to recycle nutrients back into the soil. Studies have found that cover crops can significantly increase yields. Positive impacts on soil regeneration include improved soil structure and ability to retain water, increased availability of soil nutrients such as calcium, magnesium and potassium, healthier and more biodiverse soil microbiology and increased carbon sequestration with potentially useful impacts on global warming.
Planting a single crop year after year can lead to biological imbalances, where specific nutrients are stripped from the soil, and pests that feed on that crop increase their populations. This can lead to increased reliance on synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides. Increasing crop diversity can reduce needs for chemical inputs and provide natural protection against pests. Crop rotations add to the diversity of soil microorganisms and create soils that assure crop resiliency and optimum yield over time. This practice of incorporating plant diversity also aids in the development of soil microbiome diversity, key to soil health and regenerative agricultural practices.
Why Regenerative Agriculture is Vital to Prevent Climate Change
According to Regeneration International, “The loss of the world’s fertile soil and biodiversity, along with the loss of indigenous seeds and knowledge, pose a mortal threat to our future survival. According to soil scientists, at current rates of soil destruction (i.e. decarbonization, erosion, desertification, chemical pollution), within 50 years we will not only suffer serious damage to public health due to a qualitatively degraded food supply characterized by diminished nutrition and loss of important trace minerals, but we will literally no longer have enough arable topsoil to feed ourselves. Without protecting and regenerating the soil on our 4 billion acres of cultivated farmland, 8 billion acres of pastureland, and 10 billion acres of forest land, it will be impossible to feed the world, keep global warming below 2 degrees Celsius, or halt the loss of biodiversity.”
Farming plays a critical role in businesses across the globe but agriculture can take a toll on the environment and the ecosystem. Regenerative agriculture aims to change that and help growers make a positive impact.
How CIBO Helps Farmers Implement Regenerative Agriculture
CIBO believes in helping each farmer connect with land in a new way. We’ve developed technologies that help farmers reap the benefits of doing the right thing. With the CIBO REAP (Rapid Enrollment, Annual Payment for the regenerative practices that produce carbon) program, farmers are able to generate income from carbon credits resulting from the adoption of regenerative agriculture practices.