What Is Regenerative Agriculture?
Regenerative agriculture (RA) is the practice of any agricultural activity, such as farming or ranching, that improves the environment at the same time as producing food or other farming products. RA aims to fight climate change, improve soil health and restore biodiversity through a set of farming practices that restore, rather than deplete, natural resources.
Learn More: What is Regenerative Agriculture?
The Problems: Fast Facts
- Global demand for food is high, and is expected to keep growing at least through 2050, both overall and on a per-capita basis (Bodirsky et al. 2020). This will lead to food insecurity.
- The UN predicts that we only have 60 years left of farming if we do not repair our unhealthy, degraded soil (Arsenault 2014). (Note that this prediction is disputed).
- However, agriculture already takes up one-third of global land use (World Resource Report 2019).
- Agriculture contributes to climate change. Agriculture (and associated land-use change such as deforestation) accounts for nearly one-fourth of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions (Searchinger et al. 2019).
- Agriculture is the single largest contributor to biodiversity loss (Dudley & Alexander 2017).
Regenerative Agriculture Outcomes: What is the Goal?
Regenerative agriculture aims to fix the problems above through practices that work to achieve these goals:
- Improve soil health
- Improve carbon sequestration on farms
- Increase food production
- Increase biodiversity
- Improve water health
Regenerative Agriculture Practices
- Low or No-Till Farming – Avoiding major disturbance of soil helps increase soil fertility and reduce erosion.
- Cover Crops – Cover crops, other plants grown in with the main crop, reduce erosion, suppress weeds, aid pollinators, and provide fertilizer.
- Diverse Crops – Planting a wide variety of crops helps break pest and disease cycles and increases biodiversity.
- Agroforestry – Agroforestry, the practice of planting trees in between crops, increases carbon sequestration, reduces soil erosion, provides nutrients, increases biodiversity and increases soil health.
- Integration of Livestock – Adding livestock grazing introduces natural fertilizers. Well-managed grazing practices also allow soil to rest and renew.
- Natural Pest Control and Fertilizers – Ending the use of pesticides and unnatural fertilizers will improve the health of wildlife, humans, and our waterways.
Effectiveness of Regenerative Agriculture
- Increased nutrient density – No-till farming increases the nutrients in grains compared to grains grown using tilling (The Bionutrient Institute 2021)
- Low pesticide use can increase crop yields – In Sweden, a 61 percent reduction in pesticide use did not reduce crop yields. In Indonesia, a 65 percent reduction in pesticide use actually resulted in a 12 percent increase in rice yield (Pimentel & Burgess 2014).
- Low pesticide use actually decreases pests – A 2018 study found that pests were 10-fold less abundant in corn fields that were insecticide free, than in farms that used insecticide (LaCanne et al. 2018).
- Regenerative practices increase profits – A 2018 study found that RA fields had 78 percent higher profits when compared to conventional corn farming, even if yields were lower (LaCanne et al. 2018).
- RA may increase soil carbon levels – A 2015 study found that on farms who had implemented some regenerative farming practices, soil carbon levels increased within a decade (Machmuller et al. 2015).