By Timothy LaSalle, Ph.D., Co-founder, Regenerative Agriculture Initiative, Chico State and Speaker at the Regenerative Earth Summit: Food + Climate + Culture, Nov. 6-7, 2017
Regenerative agriculture is an approach to food and farming systems that works with nature’s rhythms in ways to feed our growing population, to regenerate topsoil, to enhance biodiversity, and to ensure life now and long into the future.
Specifically, Regenerative Agriculture regenerates or builds fertile topsoil, primarily through the practices that increase soil organic matter and soil carbon. This essential soil nutrient not only aids in increasing soil biota diversity and health, but increases biodiversity both above and below the soil surface, while increasing water holding capacity, sequestering carbon thus drawing down climate damaging levels of CO2, and improves soil structure to reverse civilization threatening human caused soil loss. Research continues to reveal the damaging effects to soil from tillage, chemical application, and carbon mining that modern agriculture has super-imposed on a living biological system. Regenerative agriculture reverses this paradigm to build for the future.
Regenerative Agricultural Practices are:
Practices that contribute to generating/building soils and soil fertility and health; increasing water percolation, water retention, and clean and safe water runoff; increasing biodiversity and ecosystem health and resiliency; and invert the carbon emissions of conventional agriculture to one of remarkably significant carbon sequestration cleansing the atmosphere of legacy levels of CO2.
1. No-till/minimum tillage is regenerative building soil aggregation, protecting against erosion, and increasing the potential for water infiltration. Because tillage breaks up (pulverizes) soil aggregation and fungal communities while adding excess O2 to the soil for increased respiration and CO2 emission it is one of the most degrading agricultural practices greatly increasing soil erosion and carbon loss.
2. Soil fertility is increased in regenerative systems biologically through application of cover crops, compost, animal manures, and all focused on the restoration of the plant/soil microbiome to promote liberation, transfer, and cycling of essential soil nutrients. Artificial, synthetic fertilizer have created imbalances in the structure and function of microbial communities in soils, bypassing the natural biological acquisition of nutrients for the plants, creating a dependent agroecosystem and weaker less resilient plants. Research has observed application of synthetic and artificial fertilizers contribute to climate change, through the energy costs of production and transportation of the fertilizers, loss through chemical breakdown and migration into water resources and the atmosphere; and the associated promotion in the loss of soil carbon resources.
3. Building biological ecosystem diversity begins with inoculation of soils with composts to restore soil microbial community population, structure and functionality restoring soil system energy (C-compounds as exudates) through full-time planting of multiple crop inter-crop plantings, multispecies cover crops, and borders planted for bee habitat and other beneficial insects. This can include the highly successful push-pull systems. It is critical to eliminate large landscapes synthetic nutrient dependent monocultures, low-biodiversity and soil degrading practices.
4. Well-managed grazing management practices stimulate improved plant growth, increased soil carbon deposits, and overall pasture and grazing land productivity while greatly increasing soil fertility, insect and plant biodiversity, and soil carbon sequestration as the most critical elements of regenerating livestock and farming systems. These practices not only improve ecological health, but also the health of the animal and human consumer through improved micro-nutrients availability, and better dietary omega balances. Feed lots and confined animal feeding systems contribute dramatically to: unhealthy monoculture production systems; low nutrient density forage; increased water pollution, antibiotic usage, and CO2 and methane emissions yielding broken and ecosystem-degrading food-production systems.
Reprinted with permission from author. Photo courtesy Rodale Institute