Care and Feeding of soils increases output, reduces inputs, and sequesters carbon…In other words it saves money AND it protects the land.
Regenerative agriculture is a holistic approach to farming and the food systems that result in improved ecological, social, and economic conditions.
Specifically, regenerative agriculture:
- Enhances soil health and soil biological life, often reducing input costs and boosting farmer income
- Sequesters carbon, helps mitigate climate change, and creates opportunities for farmers to sell carbon credits
- Improves air and water quality, and water storage and availability
- Supports diverse systems that enhance wildlife
- Builds resilience to climate change impacts, such as increased droughts, excess rain, and increased pest pressures
- Increases food security ultimately reducing healthcare costs
- Supports the economic, social, and cultural health of those who own, manage, and work on farms, enhancing rural livelihoods.
During the last year, regenerative agriculture has grabbed headlines and attention as never before. For good reason. It is a systems approach that ultimately serves the business interests of farmers, while working to reverse the effects of climate change.
By improving soil health through increased water absorption, carbon sequestration and microbial activity, and by mitigating erosion, land can be rejuvenated after decades of depletion increasing productivity and supporting resilience to climate chaos.
Stay tuned for waves of adoption as proven regenerative practices become mainstream. Coming soon are important financial boosts from renewable energy and and agrivoltaics – the dual-use of solar installations such as with grazing and native pollinator plantings. Meanwhile, more information on regenerative agriculture is available here.
The most popular practices now for crops are no-till / low till and cover crops:
- “Do Not Disturb” Benefits of No till / low till – video in a minute here
What How Why
- Low till and cover cropping case study. 5 min. video here
- Conventional vs. organic no-till article from Rodale Institute
- Which cover crops are best for you? here
- EQIP is the USDA/NRCS program that provides agricultural producers with one-on-one help and financial assistance to plan and implement sustainable practices – their fact sheet here.
- Local guidance here
- Cover crops are a good investment for a farmer
- Case studies with results over time and costs
Management intensive grazing has attracted attention ever since Joel Salatin’s Virginia farm was chronicled in The Omnivore’s Dilemma.
The practice intensifies the soil regeneration and productivity benefits by rotating cows through small paddocks followed by chickens. Pastures are left to recover enhanced by complete grazing, ample manure, and chicken droppings. Pasture grasses, soil, cattle, and chickens all thrive. More info from Rodale Institute here.
Vegetable garden techniques are mixed and matched according to crops and conditions.
Rotating crops, adding pollinator friendly plants, straw (or even cardboard) between the rows, help retain moisture, and reduce pests and weed pressure. Cover crops like clover or winter rye and a thick layer of compost build soil in during the dormant season.
Partner plantings are groups that support each other physically and nutritionally. Squash, beans, and corn are a classic trio. Nitrogen fixing beans climb the corn stalks while low growing squash covers bare soil, keeping weeds down and retaining moisture.
No Till also applies to smaller, intensive vegetable farming. Click here for a video (16 mn) featuring No-till on a small vegetable farm.
Agroforestry is gaining attention and popularity as farmers understand the advantages of growing multiple species in unison.
Agroforestry is the intentional integration of trees and shrubs into crop and animal farming systems to create environmental, economic, and social benefits. Silvopasture (livestock among trees) and riparian forest buffers (native plantings along streams) are two examples. More info from the USDA here.
Solar on Farmland
Audacious New York State climate goals mandate huge additions of renewable energy sources. Carefully designed solar arrays can actually benefit depleted farmland while providing income during a long regeneration period. The lifespan of solar panels is a couple of decades, not forever. Twenty to thirty years into the future, we will likely have new ways to generate power and the solar fields of today will be removed. The decisions we make now about how the land is treated in the interim will determine its fate – if it is better or worse off than how it started. Smart siting, a proper decommissioning plan and non compacting maintenance machinery are key. Restorative plantings, native pollinator species, and grazing animals can all contribute to substantial soil improvement. The panels in turn serve to mitigate harsh sun providing shade for plants and animals. Choosing restorative practices over a desert of poisoned eroding earth is the difference between killing the land and rebirth.