The Benefits of Regenerative Organic Agriculture

The global approach to agriculture is evolving to create a sustainable solution for feeding the planet and fighting climate change. Industrial farming, which is the predominant production method, accounts for 10 percent of global greenhouse emissions and is eroding the healthy topsoil we have left, making arable land much harder to come by. So, farmers around the world are switching to regenerative agriculture, which produces more nutrient-dense foods, increases profit margins, and helps to reverse the climate crisis.

In a world where current agricultural practices have eroded soils to the point of having less than 60 harvests left (according to the UN FAO), the solution is not to maximize efficiencies in the broken, extractive, industrial model. These antiquated systems have no place in a civilization facing the enormous threats of climate change. Rather, as environmentally-conscious businesses and individuals, we must address the root cause and adopt land management practices that honor the symbiotic relationships of plants and animals. One cannot exist without the other, so we must reevaluate our preconceived notions and return to farming in nature’s image. Only then will we create a lasting and regenerative agricultural model for a livable planet.

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Industrial farming practices such as tilling and repeatedly planting the same crop year after year do not employ nature as an ally. Instead, it depletes the soil of its nutrient content and releases more carbon into the atmosphere, contributing to global warming. Tilling kills microorganisms in the soil, making it less nutritious for vegetation, which creates a need for fertilizers and pesticides. Oftentimes, animals are subjected to inhumane conditions, which is terrible for the planet and the nutrient-density of the meat.

In stark contrast, regenerative agriculture works alongside nature’s intrinsic cycles. Farmers who adopt this approach to food production partner with nature to protect precious soil and encourage biodiversity. They are stewards of the land, creating more life than they take.

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Regenerative agriculture describes a holistic approach to farming and ranching that prioritizes the health of the environment, animals, farmers and consumers. It utilizes a set of farming and grazing principles that focus on regenerating topsoil using methods such as cover cropping and crop diversity, composting, intensive rotational grazing, and limited-to-zero-tillage. Farmers increase yield and profit margins, while consumers benefit from more nutrient-dense foods grown sustainably. And no one is exposed to harmful chemicals, which protects everyone’s health.

This holistic approach to agriculture helps mitigate the effects of climate change by producing healthy plants that pull carbon out of the atmosphere. The plants then turn the carbon into food for themselves and the living microorganisms in the soil by absorbing CO2 and turning it into a carbon-based sugar. The plants’ roots store and release some sugars deep into the soil, which is eaten by the organisms living in the soil. This delicate process is what builds healthy topsoil.

Mother Nature’s defense mechanism against drought and soil depletion is cover crops or vegetation that covers the exposed ground. The roots of the cover crops help absorb water into the soil, improving water holding capacity, and reducing the risk of drought and floods. Without vegetation, the majority of the water stays above ground, eroding the topsoil and ultimately creating desert-like growing conditions. By avoiding tilling and disturbing the soil as little as possible, the microorganisms in the soil can thrive and supply continuous nutrients to the plants.

Animals are an integral part of regenerative agriculture because of their role in the ecosystem and the “gold” they produce in the form of manure. Rotationally grazing livestock on the pasture ensures easy, equal distribution of manure, contributing to microorganism diversity and soil health. Animals are healthier and live in much better conditions throughout their life, grazing in open pastures. It also produces meat that is healthier for humans to consume. 

Farmers’ and farmworkers’ health is protected by using regenerative agriculture practices. It reduces their exposure to harmful chemicals and improves quality of life. It can revitalize rural economies and reduces time, labor, input and fuel costs. There is less waste created on the farm and improves the resources it uses.

Regenerative organic agriculture is marked by tendencies towards closed nutrient loops, greater diversity in the biological community, fewer annuals and more perennials, and greater reliance on internal rather than external resources. Regenerative organic agriculture is aligned with forms of agroecology practiced by farmers concerned with food sovereignty the world over.

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