Modern agriculture has given way to many new farming techniques. People are continually inventing better ways to raise livestock and grow crops — a necessary step in a time of major climate crisis. It is becoming more crucial than ever for growers to re-evaluate the way they run their operations and make changes to embrace sustainability.
Regenerative agriculture is one strategy gaining popularity among farmers — and for good reason. If you are unfamiliar with regenerative agriculture, now is an excellent time to learn. The new knowledge may help you make more eco-friendly food choices and understand why green agriculture is vital to global food systems.
The Basics of Regenerative Agriculture
An over-arching component of regenerative agriculture is respect for the land. Farmers who practice regenerative agriculture understand their crops and livestock are part of an entire ecosystem. Ensuring their health also means protecting the health of flora and fauna existing on or nearby the farmland. Viewing each organism as a component of a whole brings into perspective how one eco-friendly or unsustainable action can affect an entire community.
Every farmer tends their field differently, but there are a few core principles that make up the concept of what regenerative agriculture is:
To uphold biodiversity on farms, growers plant a wide range of crops and practice crop rotation. Crop rotation allows them to change the plots for each produce type, which keeps specific crops from continuously removing nutrients from the same section of soil. Although farmers have cultivated more than 6,000 plant species, less than 200 of these make significant contributions to global, regional or national food production. Soil fertility is a major factor in fostering biodiversity. Without healthy soil, plants cannot grow.
2. Cover Crops
Agriculturists do not grow cover crops as part of their overall crop yield. Rather, they raise these plants to benefit soil health, attract pollinating organisms, increase biodiversity and much more. The type of plants a farmer chooses depends on which goal they are attempting to meet, but common varieties include legumes, radishes, grasses and rye.
The farmers let these crops die off instead of harvesting them. Once they die, their organic matter becomes apart of the soil and nourishes the ground, making it a healthy, nutrient-filled place for subsequent harvests to grow. Cover crops may even help growers stabilize their crops during erratic weather events, which is becoming a necessity in the face of climate change.
3. Lowered Pesticide and Fertilizer Usage
Pesticides and fertilizers have their purpose within agriculture, but they can bring harm alongside the good. Pesticides can be a common concern for consumers because many people are apprehensive about eating produce that has undergone chemical treatment. Although these residues are washed off during food production, people may encounter pesticides through other avenues — especially those living near farms.
Additionally, nitrogen and phosphorus fertilizers can cause oxygen depletion in bodies of water, which kills marine life. People who uphold regenerative agricultural techniques avoid these chemicals by practicing integrative pest management and efficient fertilization. Improved fertilization tactics include matching the exact amount of fertilizer to the crops and giving plants nutrients on a scheduled basis.
4. Carbon Sequestration
Plants release oxygen and absorb carbon dioxide, which they then transfer to the soil. Storing this carbon underground removes it from the air, which decreases the presence of harmful greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Underground carbon sequestration can absorb twofold more carbon than what is present in the air or vegetation.
The level of absorption, however, depends on factors like soil texture, bacterial content, porosity and much more — that is why regenerative agriculture farmers must pay special attention to their soil health. They can offset the effects of global warming — even by a little bit — by doing so.
5. No-Till Soil
Tilling the soil prepares the ground for more crops, but many farmers are forgoing this step for no-till methods. Though tilling is useful, it also has some disadvantages. Disturbing the soil can cancel out the effects of carbon sequestration, re-releasing these emissions into the air and exacerbating climate change. Tilling also interferes with the soil's natural bacterial ecosystems, which can leave the ground with less nourishment for the next harvest.
Many no-till or minimal tilling techniques involve letting organic matter build up on the ground. This strategy encourages bacterial growth, nutrient retainment and carbon absorption without disturbing the land.
Regenerative Agriculture: More Than Just Marketing
Regenerative agriculture is not a marketing ploy or an attempt at greenwashing. It is a legitimate movement intended to curb the effects of climate change and foster healthier agricultural landscapes. Many consumers feel concerned about companies' and industries' attempts to move toward sustainability without genuinely incorporating eco-friendly systems. Greenwashing is not uncommon, but regenerative agriculture has been around for much longer than this relatively recent phenomenon.
The term "regenerative agriculture" became widespread in the 1980s due to efforts from the Rodale Institute, although people have practiced these sustainable methods for decades beforehand. Educators such as George Washington Carver were bringing attention to sustainable agriculture in the early 1900s. His contributions to peanut growing techniques — and many more crops — changed the entire agricultural industry.
Every aspect of regenerative agriculture fits together and influences one another, with the hope that these combined strategies can decrease the severity of the climate crisis. Farmers are dedicating themselves to growing food and raising livestock in more sustainable ways. By doing this, they create healthier products for consumers to buy and eat, and they protect and preserve the land for successive harvests.
Regenerative agriculture benefits the grower and the land, but it also had advantages for everyday buyers. You can have more peace of mind knowing your food was harvested ethically and sustainably, with consideration for the Earth and its ecosystems. Eating organic, specially grown foods may also improve your overall well-being. Adopting eco-friendly resource consumption can help you learn more about what it means to be sustainable and how you can teach others.
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