Below, we discuss several aspects of regenerative agriculture.
We outline what it is, list some regenerative agriculture practices (along with examples), and provide other relevant information.
What Is Regenerative Agriculture?
There may not be one official or agreed upon definition of regenerative agriculture.
However, a general description of regenerative agriculture might be a ‘form’ or ‘system’ of agriculture consisting of principles and practices that specifically seeks to repair, regenerate, restore, or rehabilitate agricultural soils, land, and the surrounding agricultural ecosystems (agrosystems).
As a result of these practices, there may be an improvement or enhancement in the soil and/or the surrounding ecosystems, leaving them in a better condition than they were previously
Where soil health or soil fertility are improved as a result of regenerative agriculture practices, the soil might become more productive in its ability to produce food or other agricultural products. Sometimes, the food may also be of a better quality, and/or contain better nutrition
Fertile soil or healthy soil might have good structure, good organic matter content, good ability to retain and release water, healthy microorganisms, and have the ability to store carbon, amongst other features and capabilities
In some instances, the soil and surrounding ecosystems may simply be in an average state, and farmers/practitioners may be looking to improve it to a better than average state (of health, quality, fertility, etc.)
In other instances, land and soil may have been damaged or degraded by past agricultural practices (such as excess use of fertiliser, pesticides, or intensive tilling practices) to the point of being in a poor condition. In these instances, it may require repair/regeneration before it can be worked in a more effective or productive manner (or at all)
Lastly, regenerative agriculture principles and practices may sometimes be holistic, and/or complement or encourage the use of natural processes
One example of this might be the land naturally providing food for livestock (without using additional resources), and, livestock manure helping deliver nutrients back to the soil
Why Might Regenerative Agriculture Be Important?
A key reason regenerative agriculture might be important might be because agriculture is worth a significant amount of money to national, and also the world economy.
And, the condition (and health) of agricultural topsoil and land has a large impact on agriculture.
Regenerative agriculture might be a way to maintain the condition and good health of the soil and land.
Regenerative Agriculture vs Sustainable Agriculture – What’s The Difference?
Some of the key differences between these two forms of agriculture might be:
Sustainable agriculture is a much broader form of agriculture
The aim of sustainable agriculture is generally to be more sustainable in agriculture (across various sustainability indicators), and, there might be a broader range of sustainable practices that can be implemented to do this
Regenerative agriculture on the other hand is a much more specific form of agriculture
Rather than to aim to generally be more sustainable with farming practices, there’s a more specific goal by practitioners or farmers to repair, regenerate or improve soil, land, and agricultural ecosystems through agricultural practices
A Potential Key Difference Between The Two
Some reports mention that sustainable agriculture more so seeks to limit negative environmental impact, or use resources more sustainably.
Regenerative agriculture on the other hand actively seeks to improve agricultural conditions and the agricultural environment (rather than limit negative environmental impact)
Regenerative Agriculture vs Other Forms Of Farming
farmraise.com goes into more detail about how regenerative agriculture is also different to both organic farming, and conservation farming
Under some definitions, these forms or systems of farming can all be considered ‘sustainable’ in different ways
Regenerative Agriculture Practices & Examples
There might be some overarching principles to regenerative agriculture, and also some specific practices.
Below, we list both:
Some of the overarching principles might be:
– Minimising disruption to soil
Which might help reduce soil erosion, and preserve the structure of the soil
– Improving the condition of the soil
For example, adding nutrients to the soil can help improve soil fertility or soil health
– Making use of, and managing crops and plant life
To protect and improve soil, and to maintain biodiversity
– Limiting the use of damaging agricultural chemicals and inputs
Especially synthetic chemicals
– Making use of, and managing livestock and animals
To protect soil, and in some instances, to add nutrients to the soil
We’ve explained/described most of the practices listed below in a separate guide about sustainable farming practices.
Below, we’ve explained how the different practices apply specifically to regenerative agriculture:
– No Till, Low Till, Or Conservation Tillage
Tilling the soil less in total, or tilling the soil in a less intensive way, may have the effect of helping to preserve soil structure.
– Minimising Soil Traffic
In addition to soil tilling practices, generally minimising soil traffic may also help minimise soil disturbance, and preserve soil structure.
– Cover Crops
Cover crops may help protect the soil from wind and water (and therefore wind and water erosion), and also increase carbon sequestration and intake (by the soil)
– Crop Rotation
Crop rotation may benefit the soil by ensuring that the same nutrients aren’t being depleted from the soil from the same crops season after season.
Instead, different crops will have different nutrient intake requirements.
Intercropping may provide some similar benefits to crop rotation, and, because there’s two crop species or plant species being grown on the land at one time, it might also provide more soil cover (and provide some of the same benefits that cover crops do)
– Field Water Management
Involves the management of water to or from crop fields.
Buffers can help keep excess water off of fields, and drains can help excess water drain properly from fields.
Both of these things can help prevent soil loss (when topsoil is carried away), and water soil erosion.
– Using ‘Green’ Fertilisers
Helps reduce the use of synthetic fertilisers, whilst also adding nutrients and/or organic matter to the soil.
– Integrating Livestock & Animals (With Crops)
In some instances, animal hooves or feet may help naturally till/turn the soil (where practical).
And, the manure/droppings of some animals may provide nutrients to the soil.
Animals like chickens can also act as a natural form of pest control, by eating pests.
– Rotating Livestock & Animals, & Rotational Grazing (also called ‘regenerative grazing)
Rotating livestock or animals periodically between areas of land helps prevent overgrazing, and soil erosion or damage to the land.
– Agroforestry (i.e. The Use Of Trees)
Trees may provide several benefits, such as providing cover to soil, but also helping with nutrient cycling and carbon sequestration.
Potential Pros & Cons Of Regenerative Agriculture
Many of the pros and cons we’ve previously listed for sustainable agriculture might apply to regenerative agriculture.
But, a summary of some key potential pros and cons to consider specifically for regenerative agriculture might be:
– May help improve the conditions of the soil
Such as the soil health and soil fertility
– May provide different sustainability and environmental benefits
– May have other miscellaneous benefits
nutritionstudies.org goes into more detail about some of the potential miscellaneous benefits specifically of regenerative grazing
One miscellaneous benefit might be that reduced tilling or no tilling can save time spent tilling
– Practices may be able to be implemented one at a time, and on smaller scales, which might help reduce risk involved in implementation
Implementation on smaller scales may be more effective in some ways too
– Some practices may be getting easier to implement
Some of the main reasons for this might be new technology (like remote sensing, AI, new developments in farm machinery, software for different aspects of farm management), and also better information being available
– There’s case studies or first hand accounts of some regenerative farming systems or practices being beneficial for farmers, ranch owners, or agricultural producers in different ways
One example mentioned by farmraise.com is that (paraphrased) a family livestock operation saw various benefits from holistic grazing practices, such as the land producing better grass, grazing cows off the land for additional months in the year, and boosting profitability per acre
They also mention that (paraphrased) regenerative farming can be up to 80% more profitable than conventional farming (despite lower yields). They give some of the reasons for this additional profitability in their guide, such as being able to capture premium prices at market due to certifications, and also lowered input costs
agfundernews.com mentions that (paraphrased) research of a small number of farms using regenerative practices saw them boost profitability by 78% compared to conventional farming plots, and reduced input costs as well as premium selling prices at end markets were two key reasons for this
greenupside.com also mentions that there can be long term cost savings as a result of regenerative farming techniques, in addition to other benefits
cropforlife.com lists some other benefits, and provides more information on multiple other case studies
– There may be public and private funding programs that help farmers implement regenerative farming practices on their farms in some countries
farmraise.com gives more information on these programs and opportunities in the United States specifically in their report
– There’s some debate over the true sustainability of some regenerative agriculture practices in some instances
As just one potential example, reduced or no till practices may result in more pest weed species, and, farmers may use more herbicide as a result
– Requires specific knowledge of regenerative agriculture, which requires training and experience to implement effectively
– The transition to new regenerative farming systems and practices can take time, resources, and be challenging in some ways for farmers
For example, it may require funding, filling out paperwork, education, implementation, applying for grants, and additional work to get and maintain certifications
The upfront cost can be costly at the very least
– May be a more time intensive and/or labor intensive form of agriculture in some ways
– Results may not be immediate for farmers – they may take months or many years to eventuate
Some reports indicate that some results might take decades
– Confirming results and tracking progress of regenerative agriculture may be difficult in several ways
For example, what constitutes healthy or fertile soil on different farms exactly?
And, how is progress going to be tracked across each farm? Remote sensors may be one technique/method to explore in the future
– Awareness of regenerative agriculture may currently be lacking amongst consumers and the general public
This may initially be an issue in recognising certified products from farms using regenerative farming practices
– May not be a form of agriculture that can produce agricultural products at a required scale to match the population’s demand
nutritionstudies.org mentions how (paraphrased) this might be the case for regenerative grazing when it comes to the world’s demand for meat and dairy
cropforlife.com mentions something similar, outlining how (paraphrased) regenerative agriculture may struggle to match the total yield/production of industrial farming, and it’s use of agricultural chemicals and machinery
Industrial farming may also be able to produce agricultural products (like crops) much quicker
– Some may question the yield/production, and also the profitability of regenerative agriculture in some instances
farmraise.com mentions that ‘… regenerative practices tend to have lower yields’
However, eitfood.eu mentions that (paraphrased) yields can be dependent on the crop in question, and local farming conditions
– Some specific regenerative agriculture practices may have miscellaneous drawbacks
nutritionstudies.org goes into more detail why ‘regenerative grazing’ might be questioned in some ways, and what it’s potential drawbacks might be
– Larger scale social change might be suggested as a better solution to some larger scale social issues, as opposed to focussing on regenerative agriculture
For example, nutritionstudies.org mentions how (paraphrased) switching to a plant based diet might be a better solution/more effective solution than regenerative farming when it comes to addressing emissions and a changing climate
1. Various ‘Better Meets Reality’ guides