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Regenerative Agriculture

California Institute of Technology_072821A
[California Institute of Technology, US News]
 

- Overview

Regenerative agriculture is a method of protecting and restoring food and agricultural systems. It focuses on topsoil regeneration, increasing biodiversity, improving the water cycle, enhancing ecosystem services, supporting biological sequestration, improving resilience to climate change, and enhancing the health and vitality of farm soils. 

Regenerative agriculture is not a specific practice in itself. Instead, proponents of regenerative agriculture use a combination of sustainable farming techniques. Practices include recycling as much farm waste as possible and adding compost material from off-farm. Regenerative agriculture for small farms and gardens is often based on concepts such as permaculture, agroecology, agroforestry, restoration ecology, critical design and holistic management. Large farms tend to be less philosophically driven and often use "no-till" and/or "reduced-till" practices. 

As soil health improves, input requirements may decrease, while crop yields may increase, as soils are more resistant to extreme weather and have fewer pests and pathogens. 

Most climate change mitigation plans focus on "reducing greenhouse gas emissions". Regenerative agriculture, the capture of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere by growing plants that transfer carbon dioxide into the soil, is almost the only technology currently available to absorb greenhouse gases already in the atmosphere, primarily through farming and cultivating forests and permanent perennial pastures and grassland.

 

- Regenerative Practices

The reality is that nature is complex and always changing. While all ecosystems function in the same fundamental way, and basic soil health principles are relevant no matter where a person lives, every farmer or rancher must apply these principles in the best way to suit them specific operation. They must take into account their unique climate, geography, resources, skills and goals. 

Agriculture is facing a looming crisis due to multiple factors:

  • Widespread soil erosion and declining land productivity in the face of climate variability
  • Declining population of agricultural producers
  • Unprecedented levels of farm debt and bankruptcies
  • Growing global population is increasing demand for food

Many farmers and ranchers recognize that regenerative agriculture may be the only long-term solution to these problems. Regenerative agriculture is a management concept aimed at improving soil health. 

At its core, regenerative agriculture is the process of restoring degraded soils using practices based on ecological principles such as adaptive grazing, no-till farming, no or limited use of pesticides and synthetic fertilizers, etc. 

Regenerative agriculture strives to work with nature rather than against it. Regenerative agriculture is not just sustainable. It's about reversing degradation and building soils to make them healthier than their current state.

 

- Soil Carbon Research

Regenerative agriculture restores soil health, improves ecosystem services, provides farmers with additional income, and offers the opportunity to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and store enough carbon each year to meet the 10 percent of the world's Paris climate agreement commitments. 

The amount and form of organic carbon plays an important role in soil processes and functions and is a fundamental ecosystem service for agricultural and landscape productivity.

Increasing the amount of carbon stored in agricultural soils can help mitigate rising greenhouse gas emissions while increasing the productivity and resilience of agricultural systems. 

Farmers who adopt management practices that sequester soil carbon will benefit from more productive, sustainable and resilient agricultural systems. Farmers also have the opportunity to use established carbon management practices to earn additional income from carbon credits and gain market access. 

Soil carbon sequestration means the practice of increasing the amount of carbon stored in the soil (most commonly in the agricultural sector). Agricultural management practices may include:  

  • increase plant growth or mulch
  • Add compost or mulch
  • Reduce losses by reducing stubble burning or minimizing tillage
  • Increase the clay content of sandy soils.

A key challenge is to develop cost-effective storage technologies and produce meaningful emissions reductions on a national to global scale.

Another challenge is that the diversity of soil and agricultural systems makes it difficult to develop consistent indicators of soil carbon accounting.

 

 

[More to come ...]


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