It is important to acknowledge that regenerative practices, while seemingly new to agriculture in the U.S., have been practiced by indigenous peoples for centuries.
When factory farming began to take off during the later half of the 20th century, few likely considered that it would be one of the biggest contributors to global warming and lead to the slaughter of tens of billions of animals each year. It is evident that the mass production of food has negatively impacted our natural environment, but the question now is what do we do about it?
According to Regeneration International, regenerative agriculture uses “practices that (i) contribute to generating/building soils and soil fertility and health; (ii) increase water percolation, water retention, and clean and safe water runoff; (iii) increase biodiversity and ecosystem health and resiliency; and (iv) invert the carbon emissions of our current agriculture to one of remarkably significant carbon sequestration thereby cleansing the atmosphere of legacy levels of CO2.” In short, this method of agriculture tries to put back as much as it takes.
There are four main practices that regenerative agriculture utilizes. The first practice is no/minimum tilling. Tilling is used to break up the soil to make planting easier. When land is constantly tilled it causes unnatural erosion and causes more CO2 to be released. Excessive tilling can also lead to improper water drainage. Using cover crops is the second main practice of regenerative farming. Cover crops make sure that there is something always growing so that the soil is not neglected. Growing crops that are in season instead growing the same crop all year helps with biodiversity. The usage of natural fertilizers is the third major practice used in regenerative agriculture. Synthetic fertilizers destroy the microbial communities in the soil. This causes an imbalance in the soil and makes crops weaker. Organic fertilizers allow for restoration of microbial communities. Animal grazing is the final practice in regenerative agriculture. This practice is the most debated on how necessary it is for agriculture. On one hand animals receive more nutrients than eating the typical animal feed. Grazing also increases insect diversity. On the other hand, overgrazing can lead to faster desertification and cause slight erosion resulting in loss of carbon storage.
It is also important to acknowledge that regenerative practices, while seemingly new to agriculture in the U.S., have been practiced by indigenous peoples for centuries. While there have yet to be regulations or true enforceable standardization around the practices, regenerative agriculture is a small step to restoring the planet.
Naomi Suber is an FFAC summer intern.