The threat of climate change and other environmental problems requires everyone to work together to halt and even reverse some of the human-caused impacts that threaten the planet. A lot of well-known solutions revolve around cutting down on carbon emissions. However, climate change is about more than too much carbon in the atmosphere. It’s a sign of degraded soils, biodiversity loss, and broken, dysfunctional ecosystems.
And while reducing emissions from manufacturing, lowering our consumption of fossil fuels, and finding ways to reuse plastic items, are important steps, we need to go further. We need to restore soil health to strengthen its ability to cycle water, nutrients, and energy as well as sequester carbon.
Regenerative Agriculture: A Comprehensive Solution
Regenerative agriculture practices are becoming increasingly popular as a comprehensive solution to not only enriching agro-biodiversity and improving nutrition levels in our food. They are also seen as a way to sequester carbon and rebalance CO2 levels in the atmosphere.
While this is good news, it may not be easy to do. Let’s take a look at regenerative agriculture and how it may help the environment.
What Is Regenerative Agriculture?
Regenerative agriculture refers to farming and grazing practices that make soil health a priority. Scientists have discovered that healthy soils hold more carbon and may reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50-80%. However, modern industrial agriculture practices work in a way that doesn’t take soil health into account. Rather, they emphasize yield while degrading the land and emitting mass amounts of carbon dioxide.
While this concept may seem new, it is actually based on the way small farmers managed their land before industrialization. With this type of agriculture, farmers don’t use synthetic fertilizers, spray pesticides, or plant just one crop at a time. Instead, they plant different crops together based on how well they support each other and how they benefit the ecosystem of the farm itself.
How to Transition to Regenerative Agriculture
The regenerative agriculture system treats the land more holistically and takes a big picture approach instead of focusing only on crop yields. When we think of how our current agricultural system works, this more integrated system may seem like a utopian dream. However, it is already happening in many parts of the world. Switching to regenerative agriculture would involve the following principles.
Reduce or Eliminate Tillage
Maintaining or restoring soil health is the main focus of regenerative agriculture practices. To achieve this, tillage or mechanical disturbance of the soil should be kept to a minimum. This sounds counterintuitive since farming is all about plowing and planting. But ecosystems have been able to produce robust growth without it. Using no-till methods helps build healthy soil.
Protect the Soil
Keep the soil covered to keep it from blowing or washing away. You can’t build the soil if it keeps disappearing. This means to keep something growing in the soil as much as possible because the plant’s roots will hold the soil. Many farmers use cover crops like clover for this purpose. Certain crops, such as root vegetables or small-seeded vegetables will need some tillage, but it should be kept to a minimum.
Next is biodiversity. This is the method of planting more than one crop together so that they can support each other during the growing season. It also includes planting high diversity cover crops to ensure that the soil remains healthy and has enough nutrients.
Integrating livestock is essential to making regenerative agriculture work. The primary way to integrate livestock is through grazing. Grazing livestock adds value to the cover crops, adds diversity to the products of the farm, and recycles nutrients through manure.
Regenerative Agriculture in Action
A great example of regenerative agriculture can be traced back to the ancient Mayans. Crops such as corn, squash, and pole beans were planted together. The beans fix nitrogen into the soil, which helps the corn and squash grow. The corn stalks give the pole beans a structure on which to grow. The squash plants spread out along the ground, protecting the soils and their prickly vines deter pests.
The farmer would not need to fertilize the soil or spray to crops to ward off pests. The plants do all the work. Once the plants are harvested, chickens run through the fields to eat dead plant matter, leaving their droppings behind and fertilizing the soil.
The farming practices are so far from our modern practice that transitioning to regenerative agriculture may take some time. But the effort will be worth it since the health of the soil and incorporating regenerative agriculture practices can make a big difference when it comes to climate change. This is just one of the drastic changes it may take to help save our planet. The shift has begun, but there is much more work to do to turn industrial farms into regenerative ones.