Regenerative agriculture is a farming method that works with nature to combat climate change and ecological collapse. Farmers are responding to the environmental damage caused by conventional petrochemical industrial agriculture with a grassroots revolution.
How does it function?
Regenerative agriculture begins by focusing on the rebuilding of organic matter and the natural living biodiversity in the soil. This improves the ground's ability to:
- draw carbon from the atmosphere and store it underground
- hold and clean water
- aid wildlife above and below ground
- produce nutrient-dense food year after year
Regenerative agriculture reduces farmers' reliance on oil and chemicals such as pesticides and artificial fertilisers, while also lowering production costs and proving profitable.
Regenerative agriculture benefits the environment, farmers, and the rest of us.
Why is good soil so important?
"A country that destroys its soils destroys itself." Franklin D. Roosevelt was the President of the United States from 1933 to 1945.
Healthy soils (as shown above) are teeming with life. In a teaspoon of healthy soil, there are more soil microorganisms in the form of fungi, bacteria, and soil microbes than people. These microorganisms, as well as earthworms, beetles, ants, and mites, each have a unique role to play in improving soil and plant health. Healthy soil life collaborates to reduce plant diseases and provide plants with a variety of nutrients and minerals. This feeds wildlife, crops, and other plants, as well as grazing livestock.
Soil life is undervalued in conventional agriculture. Instead, pesticides and artificial fertilisers are used to grow the food, which kills these beneficial organisms. When combined with traditional farming practises like ploughing and planting single crop varieties, this degrades the farm's soil and water cycle, reduces natural productivity, fertility, and biodiversity, and releases large amounts of carbon from the soil into the atmosphere.
Regenerative farming, on the other hand, values soil health. It regenerates and builds the soil before protecting and nurturing the soil's life by working with nature rather than against it. As the soil's health improves, it becomes naturally fertile and productive, allowing soil life to return and thrive. This stabilises the farm ecosystem, prevents soil erosion, adds soil, improves water infiltration, and increases the farm's ability to absorb and store carbon from the atmosphere.
What exactly is Regenerative Agriculture?
Although the term "regenerative" is new, the principles behind it are not. As a farming system, it draws on a wide range of modern and historical expertise from around the world. Among the most important practises are:
Reducing or eliminating tillage
Ploughing and discing disrupt underground microorganism communities and disrupt soil aggregation, resulting in increased carbon emissions and soil erosion. Reducing or eliminating mechanical disturbance aids in the rebuilding of the soil ecosystem.
Cover crops, companion crops, crop rotation, and animal manure application
Without the use of chemicals, these techniques improve soil fertility and health. They also improve water retention, the soil ecosystem, and carbon drawdown and storage in the soil.
Soil inoculation with composts or compost extracts
This is to improve soil population, structure, and functionality. Instead of using chemical fertilisers, regenerative and organic farmers use composts to keep the soil from degrading and losing nutrients.
Planned rotational livestock grazing
This technique (shown below) boosts pasture and grazing productivity, increases water retention and carbon drawdown from the atmosphere and storage in the soil, and improves the soil ecosystem. This results in increased above- and below-ground biodiversity, lower CO2 and methane emissions, and naturally healthy animals.
Tree agriculture (agroforestry)
Silvopastoral agroforestry (combining trees and livestock); silvoarable agroforestry (combining trees and crops); and the use of hedgerows, shelterbelts, scrub, and riverside buffer strips are the three main practises. Better crop and livestock productivity, elimination of soil erosion, increased biodiversity and soil carbon, and climate change resilience are all advantages.
All of these practises improve soil health.
"The soil is the great life connector, both source and destination. We cannot live without proper care for it." Berry, Wendell
Who is responsible?
To address environmental and soil degradation, regenerative agricultural techniques have been used successfully all over the world. In the United Kingdom, there is a growing recognition that conventional agriculture has degraded our soils and environment, and as a result, many farmers are now opting to practise regenerative agriculture. There are only a few (but growing) regenerative farmers in the High Weald, and those who have made the switch don't want to go back.
Is Regenerative Agriculture a good fit for the High Weald?
Our intricate and intimate mix of woods, hedgerows, and fields is ideal for regenerative agriculture. Our smaller, permanent grass fields surrounded by hedges and woods are ideal for holistic livestock grazing, with the grass, trees, and hedges providing nutrient-rich forage for cows, sheep, and other livestock. Regenerative agriculture techniques benefit our clay soils by encouraging good grass and crop growth even during prolonged dry spells and allowing for better water infiltration during wet conditions (healthy soils absorb water effectively).
What is Regenerative Agriculture's relationship to climate change?
Climate change is caused by an excess of carbon in our atmosphere. But carbon is not our adversary. Carbon is the building block of life, and every living thing, including us, requires it (18 percent of the human body is carbon). The solution and the problem are simply a matter of balance. Restoring and maintaining the health of our soils, as well as employing regenerative agriculture practises, can help to mitigate climate change.