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Regenerative agriculture is an alternative to conventional farming practices that serves to embrace a naturalistic approach to farming and grazing. This form of agriculture retains a heavy focus on improving organic soil matter and increasing biodiversity to combat environmental degradation that results from conventional farming techniques and factory farming.
These farming methods usually consist of minimum tillage, no artificial or synthetic fertilizers, use of cover crops and heavy crop rotations, use of compost and animal manure, well-managed and rotating grazing, and the restoration of microbial and insect communities. Cover crops are plants that are grown alongside focus crops to protect them in off seasons and enrich the soil. With regards to livestock, regenerative agriculture requires frequent grazing rotation to mimic herding patterns that were the norms before modern practices came to be. Higher quality soil as a result of these practices means improved water retention, cleaner runoff, a better carbon sink, improved crop resilience and nutrient density, and biodiversity. What matters here is the soil. In his TEDx Talk, North Dakota rancher Gabe Brown stresses the importance of understanding the earth’s biology to best succeeded with this naturalistic approach.
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For the most part, there is limited data available about to what degree these practices are better than conventional farming. However, from what is out there from almond farms, vineyards, to cornfields, it is clear that there is a benefit for both the farmer and the environment with regenerative agriculture. People who use these practices can then sell their produce and livestock for higher prices, resulting in greater profitability. Studies find fewer pests and more biodiversity with these farms and ranches. In one study the U.S. Department of Agriculture found that the quality of water runoff from a group of farms practicing regenerative agriculture improved substantially with less sediment, phosphorous, and nitrogen (causes of dead zones).
Overall, regenerative agriculture is an increasingly popular approach to sustainable farming and ranching. The method focuses on improving soil quality and biodiversity to address environmental degradation issues of conventional farms. But while the sparse research available is promising, regenerative agriculture is not a sure-fire way of reducing people’s carbon-footprints. First, the livestock still contributes to producing gases, like methane, and requires land and water to survive. Second, regenerative agriculture is not yet practiced on a wide scale. This means that these methods are not used on the scale needed to fix the problems of current industrial farming as 99% of the meat consumed in the U.S. still comes from factory farms.
While effective in theory, people need to be aware of regenerative agriculture’s shortcomings and recognize that while this method of raising livestock may be a promising option for future meat consumption, the most effective way to address the issues of factory farming right now is to switch to a plant-based diet.
If you want to know more, here are some useful links:
Megan Kilduff, an FFAC intern, is a rising junior at Wake Forest University majoring in politics and history. She is from the Washington, D.C. area.