FOOD DOESN’T GROW ON ITS OWN
American agriculture faces a trifecta of potentially devastating challenges. As a result of overfarming, development and other factors, soil capacity is dramatically declining, with some experts predicting fewer than 60 harvests remaining. The United States is losing soil 10 times faster than it’s replenished. Ownership of large-scale farms — where most of the food and agricultural pollution comes from — is increasingly concentrated in the hands of industrial or foreign producers who tend to value short-term profits over the long-term health of our land and people.
Regenerative farming, however, offers solutions to transform farmers into environmental and societal heroes. It promotes the health of degraded soils by restoring their organic carbon. Regenerative agriculture sequesters atmospheric carbon dioxide, reversing industrial agriculture’s contributions to climate change. Regenerative practices such as no till farming and cover cropping are reducing erosion and water pollution, and in turn, producing healthier soils. Additionally, a new generation of regenerative farmers is looking to heal many systemic racism and equity issues associated with U.S. farming’s brutal history.
WHAT IS REGENERATIVE AGRICULTURE?
Regeneration International describes regenerative agriculture as farming and grazing practices that, among other benefits, reverse climate change by rebuilding soil organic matter and restoring degraded soil biodiversity – resulting in both carbon drawdown and improving the water cycle. Specifically, Regenerative Agriculture is a holistic land management practice that leverages the power of photosynthesis in plants to close the carbon cycle and build soil health, crop resilience and nutrient density.
Regenerative agriculture improves soil health, primarily through the practices that increase soil organic matter. This not only aids in increasing soil biota diversity and health, but increases biodiversity both above and below the soil surface, while increasing both water holding capacity and sequestering carbon at greater depths, thus drawing down climate-damaging levels of atmospheric CO2, and improving soil structure to reverse civilization-threatening human-caused soil loss. Research continues to reveal the damaging effects to the soil from tillage, applications of agricultural chemicals and salt-based fertilizers, and carbon mining. Regenerative Agriculture reverses this paradigm to build for the future.
A CRITICAL COMPONENT OF OUR FUTURE
Regenerative agriculture counters climate change and promotes food security by restoring soil, organic matter, and biodiversity as well as reducing atmospheric carbon. It’s an evolving holistic nature-based approach that boosts topsoil, food production and farmers’ incomes. The robust soils and diverse ecosystems that its organic practices create yield more high-quality, nutrient-rich produce than conventional agriculture, fostering fruitful farms, healthy communities and thriving economies.
Scientists warn that if our trajectory of soil damage via carbon loss, erosion, desertification and chemical pollution continues, civilization faces grave danger in just a few decades. Not only will public health plummet because the soil will generate less nutritious food, they forecast, but we also won’t have enough topsoil to farm. To feed a growing population, limit climate change and extreme weather and stop biodiversity decline, we must regenerate farmlands around the planet.
Regenerative agriculture has a wide range of environmental and societal benefits. Moving to this system would slash greenhouse gas emissions from farming — a significant contributor to climate change — and capture carbon in the soil. By enhancing its organic content, regenerative methods would increase moisture and help protect against drought. And they can play a big role in preserving indigenous agrarian knowledge, resurrecting family farming and reviving rural regions.
VARIED REGENERATIVE TECHNIQUES
Several different earth-friendly strategies fall under regenerative agriculture. Little to no-tillage involves tilling the soil sparingly to minimize its carbon emissions and using cover crops to control erosion. Decomposing organic materials like plant scraps through composting allows for more productive soils. Applying biochar — charcoal made from agricultural or forestry waste — adds nutrients and water; improves long-term carbon sequestration and microbial processes; reduces acidity, nitrous oxide emissions, greenhouse-gas-intensive fertilizer use and water pollution; and can even support clean waste-to-energy energy projects. Planting perennials, crops that grow throughout the year — unlike most grains we consume — lowers reliance on harmful fertilizers and pesticides as well. Agroforestry, which cultivates crops alongside trees to emulate natural ecosystems, holds more soil carbon than other forms of farming and mitigates deforestation, too.
KEY REGENERATIVE AGRICULTURE PRACTICES
Minimize soil disturbance; zero to low tillage
Cover crops and crop rotation
Managed grazing/Integrate livestock
Increase biodiversity; maximize crop diversity
With such restorative ways of farming spreading across the world, Project Drawdown predicts that regenerative agriculture will expand ten-fold to cover one billion acres by 2050. This would remove 23 gigatons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. WWF International states that it could result in $1.4 trillion tons of additional crops on the same amount of land. Regardless of the exact numbers, we must adopt this responsible mode of agriculture as part of the shift to a sustainable global food supply that alleviates climate change, ecological destruction and malnutrition. Our survival depends on it.
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