Agriculture has a bad reputation for having negative environmental impacts associated with farming practices. If we are being honest with ourselves, this reputation is well deserved. Conventional agricultural practices have numerous related negative impacts, for example greenhouse gas emissions, loss of biodiversity, land degradation, freshwater pollution, just to name a few. Some people are resigned to the fact that this is just the trade-off that is necessary in order to provide food to an ever-increasing population. I don’t think this is true. That is why I love the regenerative agriculture approach.
Regenerative agriculture is an approach to farming that aims to restore soil, reduce erosion, increase soil carbon levels, enhance biodiversity, improve water cycling, enhance ecosystem services and generally restore and improve the health of the entire agroecosystem. Not only does this approach contribute to lowering the environmental impact of agricultural practices, but also restores agricultural land to be more productive with less external inputs. Not exactly the opposite approach, but on the opposite end of the spectrum is what is called extractive farming1. This is the idea of practices that continually degrade natural resources, creating a farm system which therefore relies on external inputs to maintain agricultural productivity. That does not sound like a very attractive way to farm in my opinion.
The practices which will most significantly act to regenerate agricultural land are:
- Minimal tillage of soils
- Holistic integrated nutrient management approach
- Permanent vegetative cover, ensuring the soil is never left bare
- Cover cropping
- Multispecies crops
- Organic fertilisers (e.g. compost and animal manure)
- Irrigation scheduling
- Controlled grazing at the correct stocking rates
- Restoration of natural vegetation and ecosystems (e.g. wetlands)
- Clearing alien invasive vegetation
The majority of these practices are explored in other blogs on this website, so read more to find out how to farm in a manner that restores, rather than degrades your farm land.
- Lal R. 2015. Restoring soil quality to mitigate soil degradation. Sustainability 7:5875-5895.
- Revisiting the movement: Regenerative agriculture - 2023-05-09
- Trying to understand the stocking rate dilemma - 2022-07-07
- University research supports lower nitrogen rates - 2022-05-04