What are Regenerative Farming Practices?
Regenerative practices have been developed to resemble a natural system, like a prairie. But what does that look like? An ideal prairie has many different types of plant species—in agriculture, we can incorporate cover crops and crop rotations—with animals roaming freely around it. This nutrient rich, un-tilled soil provides answers for challenges that have traditionally been solved with inputs like synthetic fertilizers. When applied at scale to farmland and pasture-land, regenerative practices offer a powerful and practical way to address climate change.
Regenerative Farming 101
Bare soil is more susceptible to erosion. Cover crops can help keep soil intact, as well as increase soil nitrogen and cycle other important nutrients. Planting cover crops between a farm’s regular cash crop plantings keeps the soil covered with living roots year-round, prevents moisture evaporation, and protects it from invasive weeds.
No- or Reduced Tilling
The practice of tilling dates back many centuries. It is used to de-compact soil in the short term, which can have unintended consequences over the long term. Tilling also exposes the soil to more oxygen which promotes further degradation of beneficial organic matter. By not tilling, we leave the soil undisturbed and allow it to heal, thrive, and regenerate—and we have new technologies that enable us to farm without it.
By switching out the crops in different fields in a coordinated sequence, farmers and growers are able to reduce the loss of nutrients that occurs when the same crop is planted over and over again. By cycling through different plant species, we’re adding nutrients back to the soil naturally. Some plants take certain nutrients from the soil, while the next crop can deposit those nutrients back.
Reducing Synthetic Inputs
Opting for natural fertilizers, such as compost, and reducing use of synthetic inputs helps enrich the soil. In addition to providing plants with a wide array of essential nutrients, they usually contain a bevy of carbon-based molecules as well. Many synthetic products only supply a narrowly focused set of specific compounds. The natural sources of fertility contribute to the soil ecosystem, keeping it healthy and allowing it to both lock in carbon and support plant and microbial life that will accelerate the drawdown process.
Incorporating livestock into cropland with carefully managed grazing can improve total system productivity and health. The fertilizing benefits of animal manure deposited in a field supports crop plant nutrition. The subsequent photosynthesis from the foliage helps lock more carbon into the soil.