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Why a regenerative agriculture primer?
Well, the world is in crisis and it’s not just on a single front and it may be that regenerative agiculture can help.
While climate change is clearly a pressing issue for the planet, so is the loss of our soil and the biodiversity that exist upon in it.
We’re losing seed stocks and the indigenous knowledge that can care for our plant stocks and raise them.
If things continue in the way that they are going – it may be that within 50 years that our food supply is no longer sufficient to provide the basic nutrients that we need for good health.
Worse, we may find ourselves with insufficient arable topsoil for the human race to be able to feed itself and mass famine might ensure.
We Must Protect What Is Left
There are 4 billion acres of farmland, 8 billion of pasture and another 10 billion of forests.
If they are not preserved and conserved – it will have a horrific impact on our species both in terms of the food that we eat but also on global warming.
But it is no longer good enough to just “do no harm”.
We’ve done so much harm as a species that we must make things right and that’s where regenerative agriculture comes in.
What Is Regenerative Agriculture?
Regenerative agriculture combines principles and practices across many disciplines of farming with a focus on rehabilitating and improving the ecosystem of the farm.
In particular, it places a high value on the benefit of restoring the health of the soil and nourishing that health in the long-term.
There are obvious requirements for better water management and the use of fertilizer but much of it is rather more complex.
In short – this is a kind of farming that places the resources it uses at the forefront and does not consider them expendable but rather demands that they be renewed.
What Techniques Are Deployed In Regenerative Agriculture?
There are 5 main techniques used in regenerative agriculture and they are:
Tilling with conservation in mind: when farmers plow and till the soil, they disturb huge pockets of carbon dioxide. That ends up in the atmosphere and contributes, substantially (possibly up to 25% of all emissions) to global warming. There are alternative farming methods that either eliminate tilling entirely or keep it to a bare minimum. In addition to keeping carbon dioxide in the ground, it helps to increase the level of organic matter in the soil and thus, the nutrient content of that soil.
A focus on genetic diversity. Farming a single crop over and over again in the same place is, by definition, likely to lead to the exhaustion of certain nutrients in the soil. By mixing up the plants that you farm, each plant can take some nutrients whilst returning others to the soil. The more diverse the fields are in terms of crops the more their soils become nutrient-dense and, importantly for the farmer, the higher the yields that they produce.
The use of cover crops. Cover crops prevent soil from eroding by producing a natural barrier to wind and wain rain damage to the fields. The strategic use of cover crops can dramatically reduce this erosion at very little cost to the farmer.
The use of crop rotation. Crop rotation is an ancient farming system that involves planting a crop in different fields over a number of years (and potentially, retiring that crop for some time during the period of rotation). This allows the crop to reap the nutrients it needs and then it moves on before exhausting those nutrients than additional crops are planted in those fields in order to restore the nutrients before that crop returns.
Reducing physical disturbance of crops once they’ve been planted. This is a fairly simple concept – the more you mess with plants, the more you disturb the soil they are in, the more you disturb the soil, the greater the level of harm that you do to it. So, when you place emphasis on planting something once with everything it needs to grow and thrive, you can minimize the need to disturb the soil. This also tends to reduce the misuse of herbicides, fertilizers, and other chemicals which has to be a positive thing for the world’s watercourses.
The benefits of these practices include:
Better biodiversity in the soil
Increased level of organic matter in the soil
Soil resiliency that allows them to withstand climate change and the consequences of climate change
Better crops with higher levels of nutrients
A reduction in both soil erosion and runoff which leads to greater water quality too
Last Word on Regenerative Agriculture
Regenerative agriculture is the future. It has to be or many of us will starve.
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