JoAnne Skelly: Regenerative agriculture | Serving Carson Metropolis for over 150 years
I keep hearing about regenerative agriculture. Regenerative agriculture (RA) is an approach to land management and also a philosophy of life.
The goal of RA practitioners is to promote agriculture that, while productive, is also in harmony with nature and that builds soil health and productivity. RA advocates appreciate the interplay of growing products while providing ecosystem benefits. The principles and techniques of RA are designed to capture carbon, restore soil and ecosystem health, address the historic inequity of farming while leaving the land and waters in good shape for future generations. These are not new ideas.
According to Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC, www.nrdc.org/stories/regenerative-agriculture-101), “Indigenous communities have farmed in nature’s image for millennia.” Richard Harwood, director of The Rodale Research Centre in 1983 (a leading organization in the promotion of organic farming for decades) wrote extensively on regenerative agriculture.
In contrast, traditional industrial agriculture often focuses on yields without addressing the impacts of soil erosion, water pollution and threats to biodiversity. Relationships among people, the land, water bodies, wildlife, livestock, and soil microbes are key factors for RA farmers. They limit soil disturbance and work to optimize microbial life in the soil to improve soil fertility and soil productivity.
They use fewer chemical inputs such as herbicides, pesticides, and chemical fertilizers so that their planting ecosystems are more resilient. They conserve water and improve the soil’s absorption and water-holding capacity. These practices “ensure the long-term vitality of the land” (NRDC) while improving biodiversity and decreasing soil erosion.
Techniques include planting cover crops, rotational grazing, no-till farming, composting, and “reduced or no fossil fuel-based inputs, including pesticides” (NRDC). Agroforestry practices are often implemented in RA mixing animals, crops, trees, and shrubs. RA farmers eliminate bare soil, rotate crops and foster plant diversity. A major goal is to build soil carbon.
We as home gardeners can participate in regenerative agriculture by building better soil in our planting beds and helping our fellow gardeners to also do so. We can compost and grow our own food. We can purchase from local regenerative agriculture producers, so talk to your farmers to see if they are practicing regenerative farming.
Can RA do all it claims to do ecologically as well as sustain farmers economically? Can RA provide enough food, fiber, and feed to meet the demands of a growing worldwide population? For a deeper research-based look at RA, read: Regenerative Agriculture: An agronomic perspective. 2021. Ken E Giller, Renske Hijbeek, Jens A Andersson and James Sumberg. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/0030727021998063
JoAnne Skelly is Associate Professor & Extension Educator Emerita at University of Nevada Cooperative Extension. Email [email protected].