According to an article by the Scientific American, we only have about 60 years of farming left. Yes, you read that right.
60 years is not a lot of time, especially when you have to cater to the needs of 7 billion people and counting. With the rise of modern technological advancements in farming and agriculture, the concern for the general well being of the planet is squandered by the inherent desire to grow more, but regenerate less.
It took the world a couple of decades to figure out that the earth wasn’t getting any bigger, and the land any better. A new approach to perseveration was needed and it came in the form of regenerative agriculture.
What is Regenerative Agriculture?
When we talk about sustainable farming or regenerative farming and agriculture in general, the scope extends beyond mere resorting to organic means of farming.
Regenerative agriculture seeks to incorporate all the systems and farming practices with the aim of conserving and regenerating the organic matter in the soil and the natural biodiversity of the environment. In simple terms, regenerative farming involves little to no damage to the environment and allowing as much time for it to heal itself through natural processes instead of human intervention.
How does regenerative agriculture work?
There is no single system when it comes to regenerative agriculture. It is composed of different practices all clubbed under one umbrella system of agriculture.
There are a plethora of regenerative farming practices which promotes regeneration and to have a better understanding as to how regenerative agriculture works, one must be acquainted with the principles first.
4 Principles of Regenerative Agriculture
These principles form the basic foundation of regenerative agriculture. The aim is always to regenerate the land and revolutionize the way we feed the world for the generations to come.
Minimize Soil Disturbance
By and large, the soil is the most important aspect of any farming and agriculture. Without it, there would be no food, no crops, no trees, no plants, no nothing really. The reason behind its superiority— nutrients and organic matter. The soil is composed of a number of minerals, nutrients, and organic matter that play an extremely important role in any cultivation.
Tucked under the topmost layer of the soil, or the topsoil as it is known, these organic matters are responsible for the propagation of any crop. But when the topsoil is eroded, as a result of constant tillage by modern mechanized machines, these organic matters are killed and aren’t given enough time to regenerate. This results in using chemical fertilizers for growing crops as the soil on its own cannot facilitate much growth anymore, owing to lack of the above mentioned living organisms.
Hence, the first and most important principle of regenerative farming and agriculture inevitably deals with soil management and soil conservation. No tillage or minimal tillage is one such principle where the soil is not tilled and instead is left to regenerate itself. Instead of using chemical fertilizers to improve the fertility of the soil, engaging in regenerative farming practices such as using organic mulch to fertilize the soil naturally or growing cover crops (crops which help regenerate the soil). This brings us to our next principle which is growing more than one type of crop at a time.
Growing a wide range of crops and interchanging different crops to grow at a specific period of time is very crucial to the health of the soil. At the end of the day, the soil is the backbone for growing and much care is needed to make sure it is not exhausted beyond repair.
Crop diversity focuses on improving soil health. For example, leguminous crops such as beans, peas, lentils are grown more than just for harvest but also to improve soil health as a result of their nitrogen-fixing properties. Cover crops are also equally important in protecting the soil from erosion by the natural forces such as the sun and rain.
Cover the soil at all times
The soil needs to be covered at all times to prevent it from erosion. In order to do this, there needs to be a crop rotation system where crops are grown all year round so as to minimize soil exposure to erosion through the weather. Cover crops offer protection and help feed the soil in the sense that they are left unattended to become organic fertilizers and provide nutrients to the soil while at the same time preventing erosion of any kind.
Livestock grazing management
Livestock farming has always been equally interdependent on agricultural practices as much as the latter is on the former. Livestock farming involves rearing and breeding animals for the purpose of obtaining their products such as eggs and meat from animals such as cows, pigs, chicken etc.
But overgrazing has been a persistent problem for the overall health of the soil. Uncontrolled grazing practices results in livestock overgrazing on the forage crops which in turn results in soil erosion, drought, and desertification.
Hence, controlled grazing method is very important to conserve the soil and allow forage crops and grasses to regrow at their own pace.
What is the importance of regenerative agriculture?
With the rise of the population and modern technological advancements in farming and agriculture, there is a need to keep a constant check on the impact all these attributes have on the environment and the earth in general.
Thought science and research have led us a long way from conventional farming and agricultural practices, with the likes of other sustainable farming practices such as hydroponics, controlled environment farming, vertical farming.
These newfound agricultural practices are important without a shadow of a doubt, but they are still not efficient or cost effective enough to sustain populations. Hence, we still are very much dependent on the environment, on the soil as we still have a long way to go before shifting gears into a new method of farming that does not require the use of the soil.
But until then, we must protect the soil at all cost!