Regenerative Agriculture

The Earth naturally has a flow of carbon dioxide. It is stored in large deposits, often called “Carbon Sinks”, as fossil fuels, forests, and in the ocean. It is stored in microorganisms in the soil and in plants. We have accelerated the release of carbon through burning fossil fuels and conventional farming practices, and have slowed near a halt of the reabsorption of carbon dioxide through conventional farming and deforestation. The result, climate change and global warming. The excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere “simply” needs to be put back into the soil.

Regenerative agriculture, also known as “Carbon Farming”, has tremendous global potential and consists of widely available and inexpensive organic management practices. According to the Regenerative Agriculture Initiative at Chico State and the Carbon Underground, “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”.

Regeneration International claims that “the deployment of all of these regenerative and organic best practices across the world on 5-10% of all agricultural lands…would result in…50% more [CO2 ] than the amount of sequestration needed to drawdown the CO2 that is currently being released into the atmosphere and the oceans” 

Regenerative farming includes, but is not limited to: 

Tilling, the practice of breaking up and rotating soil to churn weeds and crop residue back in the soil, breaks up root structures in the soil thus releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and deteriorating the topsoil. No-tilling practices, disturbing the soil as little as possible, results in healthier soil, which means healthier plants and higher crop yields.    

The following photo shows a tilled farm with unhealthy soil. This practice deteriorates soil, puts Carbon Dioxide in the atmosphere and will eventually make the soil useless to farmers.

Regenerative farmers also use cover crops. These plants cover the fields while leaving space for the intended crop and keep Carbon Dioxide in the soil. Cover crops provide the microorganisms in the soil with the nutrients they need to keep the soil healthy and balanced.

You may have already read our blog about composting and it’s environmental benefits. Composting some of the cover crops or main crop residue can be used to sequester carbon quickly and improve soil health. According to the Rodale Institute, “the benefits are significant and accrue quickly: after only one application season of amending with compost, soil organic carbon and aggregate stability increase significantly compared with non-amended soils.”

Crop rotations, switching the crop seasonally or yearly, has shown to “increase soil biodiversity and sequester Carbon” according to Rodale Institute. Keeping plants in the soil year round keeps a high amount of microorganisms in the soil, which we already know means healthy soil and higher crop yields. 

Residue Retention is the practice of keeping the roots and base of the original plant, whether it be the cover crops or the main crop. Removing the plant residue by tilling or for bio-energy removes the Carbon from the soil and puts it in the atmosphere.

Rotational grazing is a regenerative practice where ranchers section off their land and move the cattle around the land to promote plant growth and soil health. SunFed ranch in Woodland, Ca practices rotational grazing and describes it as “the practice of guiding our cattle to new areas of the ranch to avoid overgrazing and allow forage to recover between mealtimes.” Learn more about SunFed Ranch’s commitment to regenerative agriculture in this video.

In an article from the Journal of Environmental Management, Samantha Mosier, et al. found that rotational grazing led to 13% more soil Carbon and 9% more soil Nitrogen compared to conventional grazing. Rotational grazing keeps the soil and plant life flourishing. With this practice ranchers are able to support more cattle than with traditional grazing. Not only is rotational grazing good for the environment, it can result in a higher yield for ranchers. 

The intersection of these practices gives you regenerative agriculture. They all intertwine and improve each other. Rodale Institute claims that “recent data from farming systems and pasture trials around the globe show that we could sequester more than 100% of current annual CO 2 emissions with a switch to [regenerative agriculture]”. All of these practices are widely available, inexpensive to use, and result in a healthier soil, planet, and crops.

Regenerative agriculture is a win-win for the planet and farmers.