What is Regenerative Agriculture?
Regenerative agriculture is a food and agricultural system conservation and restoration method. It focuses on topsoil regeneration, boosting biodiversity, improving the water cycle, improving ecosystem services, promoting biosequestration, increasing resistance to climate change, and improving agricultural soil health and vitality.
Regenerative agriculture is built on a variety of agricultural and ecological approaches, with a focus on minimal soil disturbance and composting. Using marine minerals, Maynard Murray had similar ideas. His research resulted in no-till developments like as slash and mulch in tropical locations. Sheet mulching is a regenerative agricultural strategy that smothers weeds while enriching the soil beneath.
The Rodale Institute coined the phrase “regenerative agriculture” in the early 1980s. In 1987 and 1988, Rodale Releasing established the Regenerative Agriculture Association, which began publishing regenerative agriculture publications.
However, the institute ceased using the phrase in the late 1980s, and it only returned intermittently between 2005 and 2008, until they produced a white paper titled “Regenerative Organic Agriculture and Climate Change” in 2014.
According to the paper’s summary, “we could capture more than 100 percent of present yearly CO2 emissions by switching to common and affordable organic management approaches, which we term regenerative organic agriculture.'” The report discussed agricultural strategies akin to organic agriculture approaches, such as crop rotation, compost application, and decreased tillage.
Storm Cunningham‘s first book, The Restoration Economy, was published in 2002, and it traced the beginnings of what he dubbed “restorative agriculture.” Restorative agriculture, according to Cunningham, is a strategy that rebuilds the amount and quality of topsoil while simultaneously restoring local biodiversity and watershed function. In The Restoration Economy, one of the eight sectors of restorative development industries/disciplines was restorative agriculture.
Principles of Regenerative Agriculture
There are several individuals, groups, and organizations that have attempted to define the principles of regenerative agriculture. In their review of the existing literature on regenerative agriculture, researchers at Wageningen University created a database of 279 published research articles on regenerative agriculture.
Their analysis of this database found that people using the term regenerative agriculture were using different principles to guide regenerative agriculture efforts. The 4 most consistent principles were found to be;
- Enhancing and improving soil health,
- Optimization of resource management,
- Alleviation of climate change
- Improvement of water quality and availability.
Improvements Over The Years
While the word has been in use for decades, regenerative agriculture has been more prevalent in academic study in the domains of environmental science, plant science, and ecology since the early to mid-2010s.
As the concept has gained popularity, several books on the subject have been produced, and various organizations have begun to promote regenerative agricultural approaches. In 2013, Allan Savory presented a TED lecture about combating and reversing climate change.
He also founded The Savory Institute, which teaches ranchers holistic land management approaches. LandStream was designed by Abe Collins to track the functioning of ecosystems in regenerative agriculture farms. In 2016, Eric Toensmeier wrote a book on the subject.
However, researchers at Wageningen University in the Netherlands discovered that there was no uniform description of what individuals meant when they said “regenerative agriculture.” They also discovered that the majority of the workarounds for this issue were the writers’ attempts to shape what regenerative agriculture meant.
In recent years, several significant firms have announced regenerative agricultural programs. General Mills launched an attempt in 2019 to promote regenerative agriculture methods in their supply chain and hired the non-profit Kiss the Ground to host educational seminars on regenerative agriculture in agricultural areas that support General Mills.
However, academic and government experiments on farming sustainability have criticized the initiative. Gunsmoke Farm, in particular, collaborated with General Mills to convert to regenerative agricultural techniques and serve as a teaching center for others. Local experts have raised worry that the farm is now causing more damage than good, with agronomist Ruth Beck claiming that “environmental marketing got ahead of what farmers can actually achieve.”
PepsiCo said in 2021 that by 2030, they will collaborate with farmers in their supply chain to implement regenerative agricultural principles throughout their approximately 7 million acres. Unilever outlined a comprehensive implementation strategy for regenerative agriculture throughout its supply chain in 2021.
VF Corporation, the parent company of The North Face, Timberland, and Vans, announced cooperation with Terra Genesis International in 2021 to establish a supply chain for their rubber that uses regenerative agriculture. Nestle announced a $1.8 billion investment in regenerative agriculture by 2021, with the goal of reducing emissions by 95 percent.
Small-scale farmers have recently taken the lead in embracing regenerative agricultural techniques. Farmer Jeff Siewicki of Regenerative Success, for example, teaches farmers how to repair the soil via effective regenerative strategies that focus on combining beneficial environmental and financial benefits. “Practical regenerative ways to assure environmental, economical, and social stability,” says Siewicki.