What is Regenerative Agriculture?
What is regenerative agriculture?
It’s no secret that the way most of our food is grown and harvested is causing all kinds of harm to people and the planet. In fact, the agriculture industry is a key contributor to the escalation of the climate crisis. What’s clear is that we need to look at alternative methods of farming, methods that prioritise communities and our environment over yield (the amount of food grown) and profit.
Enter, regenerative agriculture. In a nutshell, it’s about growing food in harmony with the land and all the beings that call that land home (human and otherwise). It’s about going beyond sustainability and living in reciprocity with our surroundings, giving back as much as we take. It’s about restoring balance to ecosystems.
Regenerative agriculture is nothing new
For thousands of years, First Nations communities across the globe have cultivated their lands in a way that is inherently regenerative. They understand the profound connection between the earth and all living beings, and this knowledge is reflected in how they grow and engage with food. This not only ensures their own sustenance but also maintains the health of the ecosystems they rely upon. First Nations people's holistic approach to agriculture was regenerative way before the term even existed, embodying a timeless ethos of stewardship and harmony with the environment.
The basics of regenerative agriculture
There is no firm consensus on exactly what regenerative agriculture is but we are going to unpack some of the common concepts that most growers and advocates agree on. How these are applied to different farms will vary greatly. Some farms may adopt practices that speak to each of these ideas and others might focus on one or two.
It’s important to understand that the transition from conventional to regenerative agriculture is a journey that can take years, if not decades. There is no perfect regenerative farming standard because it’s all about responding to the constantly evolving, unique ecosystem you are a part of and continually improving how you farm. It involves slowing down, observing the land and activating head, heart and hands in the process. It’s not as simple as ticking boxes on a checklist. That’s the beauty of it – regeneration will look quite different wherever you go.
Closing the Loop
Closing the loop involves finding ways to reuse and recycle materials on the farm to reduce waste. An example of this might be composting waste left over after harvesting a crop and then using that compost to improve soil health for the next crop.
Less is More
Industrial farms often use lots of additional resources like fertiliser, pesticides and other synthetic chemicals to increase the yield of their crops and eliminate pests. By choosing not to use these inputs a farm can become more self-sufficient and instead, use natural processes and resources to manage pests and yield.
We often take the soil beneath our feet for granted but in regenerative agriculture, nurturing healthy soils is essential. Practices such as minimal soil disturbance, cover cropping, composting, crop rotation and crop diversity are employed to promote soil structure, fertility, and microbial activity. By prioritising soil health, regenerative agriculture improves nutrient availability, water-holding capacity, and resistance to erosion.
Animal health and welfare are deeply considered by regenerative farmers. Think happy chickens, cows, pigs, sheep and other animals raised for food products.This means providing them with appropriate living conditions, allowing them to breed and behave in ways that are natural to them, and ensuring their overall health and wellbeing.
Regenerative agriculture champions biodiversity and recognises that it is integral for resilient ecosystems. It’s about creating the conditions for life to thrive. There are lots of different ways farmers activate this including the creation of different kinds of habitats, the planting of hedgerows and perennial crops to support beneficial insects, pollinators, and wildlife. Fostering biodiversity contributes to natural pest control, improves resilience to diseases, and enhances overall ecosystem health.
Everything is Connected
Regenerative farmers promote positive ecological interactions between different parts of the farm system, such as crops, animals, trees, soil, and water. These interactions mimic natural ecosystems and create a harmonious and integrated farming system. One example of this is ‘rotational grazing’. It involves moving livestock frequently from one small paddock to the next in order to improve the health and biodiversity of soils. The paddocks are ‘crash grazed’ so everything is eaten before being left to recover for a much longer period of time than conventional farming. This stimulates root development under the ground which enhances soil microbes and deepens top soil.
In regenerative agriculture, farmers recognise that putting all their eggs in one basket is not the way to go. Having multiple income streams for different types of produce enables small-scale farmers to be more financially independent. It also allows for opportunities to add value to their products and to respond to consumer demands. This ensures farmers are not left to the whims of the changing climate or unpredictable markets and takes the pressure off both them and the ecosystem they are a part of.
Co-creation of Knowledge
This involves fostering collaboration and knowledge sharing among farmers, local communities, and scientific experts. Farmers learn from each other, and local and scientific innovations are combined to improve agricultural practices. Everybody wins!
Social Values and Diets
Building food systems based on local culture, traditions, and identity ensures that diets are healthy, diverse, and culturally appropriate.
Regenerative agriculture aims to support dignified livelihoods for all participants in the food system, especially small-scale food producers. This includes fair trade practices and employment, and the respectful treatment of intellectual property rights.
Encouraging direct connections between producers and consumers promotes transparency and confidence in the food system. Short supply chains that are embedded in local economies can reduce the gap between producers and consumers and reconnect eaters with the stories and people behind their food.
Land and Natural Resource Governance
Recognising family farmers and smallholders as responsible stewards of natural resources helps ensure they are managed sustainably. Governments and other organisations can support this through funding and legislation.
Regenerative agriculture values greater participation in decision-making processes by food producers and consumers. Governance is shared, local and adaptive to create more resilient and responsive agricultural and food systems.
Regenerative agriculture presents a transformative approach to farming. It has the potential to address pressing environmental challenges while ensuring food security and resilience. To learn more about how regenerative agriculture is put into practice, take some time to explore the stories, articles and other resources on our Regen 101 Guide.