Business as usual will be nowhere near enough. With the food industry producing almost 25% of all greenhouse gas emissions, fundamental changes need to be implemented into the agricultural system. This is where regenerative agriculture comes into play.
What is Regenerative Agriculture?
Regenerative Agriculture is the new and improved farming practice, putting conservation and climate change reversal at the very heart of the food industry. Simply, it is a method that increases the quality of resources that farming uses (e.g. water, soil), as opposed to depleting them, making farming more sustainable and environmentally friendly. It also focuses on sequestering carbon from the atmosphere, making the whole process as climate positive as possible. It is a massive shift in techniques that focuses on the entire agro-ecosystem, instead of focusing solely on the short term yield of the product. There are many ways to practise regenerative agriculture, but here is a brief mention of three big areas in which traditional farming can be adapted so that products are grown and looked after without damaging the ecosystem they are a part of.
1. Plant Diversity
Have you ever seen a cow grazing in an open grass field, or seen a monoculture of wheat for miles on end? What these examples lack is plant diversity. Growing a more diverse field of plants actually removes more CO2 from the atmosphere, especially if you plant many of the big carbon removers, such as trees. Turning an open field into a diverse agroforest means that food can still be produced whilst having a positive effect on the environment. There is no need to worry about the product yield either, as by planting different species, the soil becomes richer, more varied and denser in nutrients, as the number of sugars and microbes are increased by the improved plant diversity. A higher quality soil equals a more productive yield.
Rotation in this case refers to the occasional movement of crops or livestock from one location to another. This is the best method to avoid soil erosion or low quality soil. Bare pieces of land are more exposed to the elements, which erodes the soil extremely quickly, and washes away all the vital nutrients from the soil, meaning over time the land becomes more and more difficult to grow crops upon. On the other hand, if livestock or crops stay in one field too long, this can cause an imbalance in the nutrients available in the soil. By using a rotation method, both these issues are avoided, maintaining healthy soil across all sections of land. This means better CO2 sequestration and better production.
3. Physical Disturbance
Frequent ploughing of the land decreases the soil quality and releases stored soil CO2 into the atmosphere. Regenerative farming uses methods that involve little or no ploughing. This means organic matter is not removed from the soil, leading to increased nutrient variety and volume, and increased microbe production. Organic matter is very beneficial to maintaining a high quality environment, allowing the soil to store the carbon it naturally would.
Soil is the key
All three categories mentioned refer to keeping the soil healthy. What goes on in the ground is vitally important to maintaining a natural, balanced ecosystem, and is a key carbon store, as well as providing the foundation for our many species of plants to store carbon themselves. This is why regenerative agriculture is the way forward, as it is the farming practice that works with nature, not apart from it. Regenerative agriculture is the next step in significantly reducing the food industry’s carbon footprint. It just requires a systematic, global change in food production, where we work together to achieve the greater good. Find out more about regenerative agriculture here, or by getting in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Newton et al. (2020) What Is Regenerative Agriculture? A Review of Scholar and Practitioner Definitions Based on Processes and Outcomes. [online] frontiersin.org. Available at: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fsufs.2020.577723/full
The Climate Reality Project (2019) What is regenerative agriculture? [online] climaterealityproject.org. Available at: https://www.climaterealityproject.org/blog/what-regenerative-agriculture
Ellen Macarthur Foundation (2021) Regenerative Agriculture. [online] ellenmacarthurfoundation.org. Available at: https://ellenmacarthurfoundation.org/articles/regenerative-agriculture