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CIBO Certified Crop Advisor Pathway:

What is Regenerative Agriculture?


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Anne Fairfield-sonn

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

  1. Build soil fertility and health for the future
  2. Increase water retention and decrease nutrient runoff
  3. Increase biodiversity, ecosystem health  and resiliency
  4. Carbon sequestration by capturing and storing atmospheric carbon dioxide

How to Do Regenerative Farming

Reduced Tillage

Tillage practices break up the soil which results in increased carbon dioxide emissions and carbon loss. The farming practice can also result in more water runoff and soil loss. Minimizing soil disturbances helps keep carbon stored in the soil and maintains healthy microbial ecosystems. Building in 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 tilling soils, reduced requirements for fertilizers, and more efficient use of water resources.

Reduced Chemical Use

Artificial and synthetic fertilizers can create imbalances in the structure and function of soils depleting the ecosystem and creating weaker, less resilient plants. Fertilizers also contribute to climate change by polluting the water and soil, disrupting soil microbial communities, and accelerating the decomposition of soil organic matter. Reducing dependence on chemical inputs helps growers increase margins and reduces their environmental impact. Soil fertility is  increased in ecosystems through cover crops, crop rotations, compost and animal manure which can return plant nutrients to promote better soil health.

Cover Crops

When farmers just use cash crops, the soil is left bare which can lead to loss of soil fertility and quality, soil erosion, loss of water retention, and more. Keeping the soil covered and maintaining a living root protects soil and reduces the risk of erosion and runoff. Cover cropping is used to keep the soil protected with plants that may or may not be used as an additional cash crop. 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.

Crop Diversity

Using a single crop of a field leads to reductions in the natural diversity of native plant balances. With the increase in the use of a single crop each year, this diversity disappeared, creating imbalances in our soils.  The imbalances led to the need for increasing specific nutrients in the form of fertilizers, the degradation of healthy balanced soil biology, degradation of soil structure, and rapid depletion of soil organic matter. 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.

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