Climate change is happening more rapidly than we feared, sparing no corner of the globe. Like every other sector, the agricultural sector emits carbon dioxide, the greenhouse gas responsible for climate change in today’s world. With the increasing population, land use will continue to change. The current agricultural practices will lead to more deforestation which in turn will lead to more emissions of greenhouse gases.
Researchers have concluded that adopting alternative farming methods can bring about a significant impact on emissions from land usage, enhance overall soil health, and avoid clearing carbon-rich forests for cultivating crops.
What is Regenerative Agriculture?
As per definition, regenerative agriculture is the “conservation and rehabilitation approach to food and farming systems”. This kind of agriculture encompasses soil regeneration, increasing biodiversity, enhancing the water cycle, boosting ecosystem services, supporting biosequestration, enhancing resilience to climate change, and boosting the health and vitality of farm soil.
Regenerative agriculture does not harm the land, instead, improves it using modern technologies that regenerate and revitalise the soil and the environment.
What are the Benefits of Regenerative Farming?
We are aware of the concept of photosynthesis where plants absorb carbon dioxide during photosynthesis and convert it into carbohydrates, allowing them to grow roots, stems, and leaves. The remaining compound is stored in the surrounding soil which feeds microorganisms like fungi or other microbes and provides nourishments to the plants. The key ingredient of soil organic matter that provides structure to the soil is the soil organic carbon.
The key benefits of regenerative farming include:
- Increasing Soil Health: Every technique of regenerative agriculture focuses on enhancing soil health. Regenerative agriculture is known to reverse climate change by rebuilding soil organic matter and restoring soil biodiversity, and also allows farmers to invest in their farmland for future generations.
- Maintaining Crop Yield: Studies have shown that regenerative agriculture can maintain crop yields. The Nature Conservancy Organisation says that “regenerative agriculture can reduce the risk of yield loss due to stressors, and can bring about a material increase in crop yield and quality”. The best way to prove it is by practising regenerative agriculture on our own farm.
- Enhancing Crop Resilience: Research conducted by the Rodale Institute showed that organic corn yields were 28-34% higher on farmlands that implement regenerative agriculture as compared to those that follow conventional farming methods. Resilient crops increase soil biodiversity. Therefore, you can naturally eliminate diseases by ensuring that your soils are healthy and are teaming with essential microbes.
- Boosting Farm Profitability: Switching to regenerative agriculture can enhance the farm’s overall profitability. For example, researchers have stated that crops grown through regenerative agriculture reaped 78% higher profits than conventional crop production systems. Also, these practices can minimise the need for expensive chemical outputs.
- Promoting Means to Solve Climate Change: Switching to regenerative agricultural methods can sequester more than 100% of current annual carbon dioxide emissions, and is a major contributing factor to climate change.
What are the Different Regenerative Techniques?
Regenerative agriculture is not just about protecting and restoring forests, adding organic matter and boosting soil fertility. Carbon sequestration is one of the major environmental impacts of regenerative agriculture that eliminates carbon emissions to the atmosphere, reduces water and soil pollution with minimal chemical inputs, enhances biodiversity, and more.
Some of the popular regenerative farming techniques include:
- No-till and Pasture Cropping: Through no-till farming, soil disturbance is kept at a minimum which eliminates soil erosion and carbon dioxide emissions. Here, seeding is done with specific drillers or disc planters. One of the key techniques of regenerative agriculture is pasture cropping where grains are used for grazing instead of grasses. Also, it helps agriculturalists manage erosion.
- Annual Organic Cropping: Organic cropping uses non-chemical fertilisers and pesticides to eliminate the negative impact on nature and humans. This technique is comparatively expensive, less profitable, and more manual labour consuming compared to other stronger industrial practices. However, implementing regenerative agriculture will reap considerable benefits in the long term with a healthier population and environment.
- Compost and Compost Tea: Compost helps provide organic matter and restore soil fertility, which is the key purpose of regenerative agriculture. Organic matter in the top earth layers varies from 35% and should therefore be incorporated into the soil profile for at least 6 inches. Compost tea, a brewed liquid provides microorganisms and soluble nutrients that are essential for plant growth.
- Biochar and Terra Preta: Biochar is an alternative to natural charcoal. It is a healthier alternative as it is made by burning forestry and farming wastes. The term ‘terra preta’ is derived from Spanish to determine anthropogenic black Indian soils that have high charcoal content in the Amazon basin. Black carbon is immune to chemical and microbial impacts and can condition the presence of organic matter and nutrients in the ground. Hence, it can maintain the fertility of the land for a long and is widely preferred by regenerative agriculture practitioners. Researchers have also stated that black carbon content in terra preta increases its content in the infertile neighbouring soils of the region up to 70 times.
- Historically Managed Grazing: This type of regenerative farming practice involves rotational use of pasture like any animal’s natural behaviour. When farm animals move from one area to another, they eat up fresh grass, incorporate green and animal manure, boost pastureland fertility and promotes the grass on the other terrains to regrow.
- Animal Integration into Crop Production: This method promotes soil fertility, and helps in weed and pest management by introducing biological enemies to unwanted species which is helpful for livestock itself.
- Ecological Aquaculture: Regenerative agriculture is eco-friendly for fishery and aquaculture and encourages planting riparian buffer strips to decrease sedimentation, and water run-offs, giving shadow and extra food for aquatic inhabitants with tree leaves. It also requires less chemical agricultural inputs that pollute water bodies due to leakage from farmlands.
- Perennial Cropping: This type of regenerative agriculture protects the earth from wind and water erosion by covering it and holding it in place with strong roots, accumulating moisture, saving farming costs with reduced tilling operations and weed control treatments.
- Silvopasture: This technique deals with introducing trees to pastures or grasses to woodlands. Trees on grazing areas provide shelter for animals on hot sunny days and serve as windbreaks. Also, they are an alternative source of food for cattle and provide organic matter with their foliage.
- Agroforestry: This is the combination of agricultural crops with trees or bushes that helps in preventing soil erosion with different root systems and shields cash species from winds and heavy rainstorms with abundant canopies.
What are the Principles of Regenerative Agriculture?
The prime function of regenerative agriculture is environmental sustainability and human health which means that any farm should contribute to nature protection besides growing crops.
The principles of regenerative agriculture include:
- Regenerative agriculture eliminates mechanical, chemical, and physical field treatment and is similar to pre-industrial techniques.
- Uses all-year-round cover crops to avoid bare soils, hence, mitigating erosion.
- Biodiversity enhancement
- Livestock incorporation into crop production
- Preserving live roots for perennial crops
What are the Differences between Sustainable and Regenerative Agriculture?
Unlike sustainable agriculture, regenerative agriculture encompasses different sustainable practices within a defined system. This system is derived from decades of scientific and applied research by global communities of organic farming, agro-ecology, holistic management, and agroforestry.
The prominent distinction between both practices is that regenerative agriculture enhances productivity and growth potential. It sees how natural systems are impacted and applies techniques to restore systems to enhance productivity whereas sustainable agriculture maintains systems without degrading them.
Regenerative and sustainable actions can incorporate the same practices; however, the difference lies in the application and management of the methods. Regenerative systems implement ecological practices that refurbish the soil, grasslands, and forests, replenish water, promote quality of food and enhance public health.
What are the Necessary Farm Equipment for Regenerative Farming?
Regenerative farming requires some farm equipment, some of the essential ones being:
- Smart Irrigation: Smart irrigation ensures that the irrigated crops are getting a sufficient amount of moisture without wasting resources.
- Manure Spreader: One of the essential nutrient-dense and efficient means to restore minerals in the soil is by using manure. Farms that practice rotational grazing usually have a manure spreader to distribute manure on the farm.
- No-till Drill: No-till drill allows regenerative farmers to plant traditional crops like grains and cover crops without tilling the soil, thereby protecting the health of the soil.
- Post-hole Digger: Post-hole digger helps in streamlining the planting process.
- Bioreactor: The availability of compost bioreactors is one of the modern means that allows farmers to convert their waste into nutrients effectively.
If you require more information on regenerative farming, contact KG2, Australia’s go-to specialist where you can gain significant insights into Australian farmer perception and use of regenerative agricultural techniques and carbon farming.