By Owl McCabe
Regenerative Agriculture is an agricultural system that regenerates the soil, regenerates farming as an occupation, and regenerates our communities. In a regenerative agriculture system, you leave the soil in better shape after your harvest then it was before. This means putting more organic matter into the soil every year. Build the soil and the soil will feed the crops. You do this is by not tilling the soil, using cover crops, and promoting a diverse soil life. It is estimated that the farm land in the US had an organic matter content around 6% to 8% before tilling started. It is now around 1% to 2%, so low that you must have inorganic fertilizers to grow a crop. Also at this low amount of organic matter, the plant is more stressed and thus more susceptible to insect pests. When you up the organic matter to about 3% or greater while ensuring a good diversity of soil life, you can reduce or eliminate the need for inorganic fertilizers. The plant is less stressed so insect pressure is reduced. The farmer ends up paying less for fuel to run the plow and less money is spent on fertilizers and pesticides if at all. In addition, the soil contains more available plant nutrients and thus the crops produced are more nutrient dense.
Using regenerative agriculture in our area is imperative if we wish to create a local food system. Rainfall is sporadic and flood irrigation is rarely available. You can go from dry to wet to dry again all in a month. If you use regenerative agriculture you increase the soil’s organic matter. For every one percent increase in soil organic matter you increase the soil’s water holding capacity by 20,000 gallons per acre. If you were able to increase your soil’s organic matter to 8%, a typical average for farms that have been using regenerative agriculture for a few years, you would be able to hold 160,000 gallons of water. This is water that does not peculate down below the root depth of the plants nor will it evaporate since regenerative agriculture principles dictate keeping the soil covered. This amount of water is equivalent to almost 6 inches of rainfall being stored in your soil for your plants to use. In this case, a week without rain would not affect your plants. Water from winter snow will be stored for later use. Water is used more efficiently.
Regenerative Agriculture has other major benefits. It removes CO2 from the atmosphere – the opposite of conventional agriculture. In Trade and Environment Review 2013 - Wake Up Before It Is Too Late, a study put out by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), it found that up to 50% of all greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere are the result of our food system. In addition, the study found that we can greatly reduce that figure if we switch to regenerative agricultural. We can not only eliminate these greenhouse emissions but also start to sequester the excess carbon back into the soil.
The biggest obstacle to widespread use of regenerative agriculture in our area is education. The concept is new to most people. Big Agricultural companies are not interested in promoting this form of agriculture since it would result in loss of revenues for them since inorganic fertilizers and pesticides are not used. It is up to organizations such as ours to spread this knowledge. Funding is needed for training growers and establishing demonstration gardens throughout the area were people can learn more about regenerative agriculture as it is practiced in our area.