Regenerative Agriculture Could Help Solve The Problems Of Climate Crisis And Food Shortages

Though many of us may not be familiar with the term “regenerative agriculture,” it could well be instrumental in helping to solve the problems of climate change and global food shortages.

Regenerative agriculture is defined by Terra Genesis International as:

“A system of farming principles and practices that increases biodiversity, enriches soils, improves watersheds, and enhances ecosystem services.”

The purpose of regenerative agriculture is threefold:

  • To capture carbon in soil and aboveground biomass, reversing current global trends of atmospheric accumulation.
  • Offer increased yields, resilience to climate instability, and higher health and vitality for farming and ranching communities.
  • Draw from decades of scientific and applied research by the global communities of organic farming, agroecology, Holistic Management, and agroforestry.

And as Kristin Ohlson writes in Yes! Magazine, one of the things she discovered when she went to do research on regenerative farming at a farm in South Dakota is the importance of cover crops:

“Instead of the sunbaked, bare lanes between cornstalks that are typical of conventional agriculture, these lanes sprout an assortment of cover crops. These are plants that save soil from wind and water erosion, reduce the evaporation of soil moisture and attract beneficial insects and birds. Like all plants, these cover crops convert atmospheric carbon dioxide into a liquid carbon food, some for themselves and some to support the fungi, bacteria and other microscopic partners underground. A portion of that carbon stays there, turning poor soil into fragrant, fertile stuff that resembles chocolate cake.”

Plants helping to feed other plants. It makes perfect sense when you think about it.

And yet, conventional agricultural models are a far cry from what you’ll see on a regenerative farm, and that’s partially why the world finds itself in the fix its in when it comes to providing food to a growing population while also protecting Mother Earth from the man-made fertilizers and pesticides we pollute our world with. Ohlson laments what we see around us when it comes to the modern corporate farm:

“All of us are familiar with conventional agriculture: the miles upon miles of farmland growing only one crop, the destructive tillage that wafts soil and its stored carbon into the air and into our waterways; the use of hundreds of chemicals including pesticides like chlorpyrifos that have been found to cause brain damage in children; the confined facilities that are both cruel to animals and make their impact on the earth an assault rather than a gift.”

The solution has to be a return to the things that can produce crops but don’t contribute to climate change, which threatens to destroy us all if we don’t make drastic changes in everything we do.

A recent comparison of corporate vs. regenerative farms produced startling and encouraging results:

  • While the regenerative farms used older, lower-yielding corn varieties without fertilizer and had lower yields, their overall profits were 78% higher than the conventional farmers’
  • They also “stacked enterprises” and had two or more sources of income on the same acre — in this case, they grazed their cattle on corn residue after harvest and got a premium price for pastured beef.

Think back 100 years or more, when farmers truly had to be stewards of their land if they hoped to produce a decent crop year in and year out. They often didn’t have chemical pesticides or fertilizers, so they relied on what they did have: Common sense and methods that had been handed down from generation to generation.

The results from regenerative farming initiatives have also drawn the attention of the political world, with some of the Democratic presidential hopefuls including such ideas into their platforms:

“Rep. Tim Ryan … proposes policies to support regenerative agriculture and soil carbon sequestration. Sen. Elizabeth Warren added to her climate platform a sweeping plan to overhaul agricultural policy, while Sen. Cory Booker announced he would propose the Climate Stewardship Act to the Senate in September; both would pay farmers for conservation practices.”

The farmers of the future, Ohlson writes, are ready to try a return to what worked all those years ago:

‘”Agriculture is perfectly poised to play a major role in the solution to the climate crisis,’ says Bilal Sarwari, membership and communications manager of the National Young Farmers Coalition. ‘By helping young farmers gain access to land, everyone can help play a role.”

Featured Image Via Flickr


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Andrew Bradford

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