Regenerative Agriculture Can Restore Health to Our Soil

What is it and why do we need it?

Dec 1, 2019

Climate change is in the news just about every day. From Tesla's new solar roof, to bans on single-use plastics to new vegan products, topics that relate to climate change and the state of the planet are unavoidable unless you are live off-the-grid with no internet access.

There are solutions to how to slow global warming being offered by companies with complicated schemes to offset carbon or require massive government intervention to end the use of fossil fuels. But a promising and easier solution according to Forbes may be right under our feet in the soil we walk on.

The solution may lie in regenerative agriculture that restores our depleted soil and treats farms as a complete ecosystem. This type of farming takes carbon out of the air and puts it back into the soil. The results are more productive farms, crops that are healthier and more nutritious and could be a key part of fighting climate change.

But what is regenerative agriculture and how is it different from how we farm now? Modern farms have moved away from the old family farm model where farmers planted a variety of crops to meet their family's food and economic needs. Today, large farms segment fields into monocultures where the same type of crop is grown in the same place year after year. This strips the soil of its nutrients and requires the heavy use of fertilizers and pesticides.

A study of nitrous oxide and carbon dioxide emissions from monoculture versus crop rotation published in the Canadian Journal of Science showed that monoculture produces higher levels of carbon going into the atmosphere. The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said that the agricultural sector is the world's second-largest greenhouse gas emitter, but it doesn't have to be that way.

Regenerative agricultural practices like no-till, composting, plant diversity, field rotation and cover crops (plants planted on crop land in the off season that can help prevent soil erosion) can improve the soil according to the Climate Reality Project. This will also capture co2 in the soil instead of releasing it into the air.

“Leveraging the mitigation potential in the [Agriculture and Other Land Use] sector is extremely important in meeting emission reduction targets,” said the IPCC.

In fact, if we increase the carbon in farm soil by only 0.4 percent per year, it could offset the carbon dioxide that humans have put into the atmosphere according to the 4 per 1,000 European initiative. So how are we doing in implementing this?

According to Forbes, not all conventional farms are set up to use regenerative agricultural methods. All their equipment and infrastructure are designed for the currant one crop system. Since farms operate on a tight profit margin, many cannot make the changes and stay competitive.

But there is hope that new technological advances in AI and new sciences that can help farms transition. Services like Farmshots use drones and aerial photography to measure soil hydration and health. Satellites can now forecast droughts month in advance. There are smart apps like Plantix that can compare photos of diseased crops with a database of diseases and pests and can give farmers action plans to use.

In some places, like Australia, the government's Emissions Reduction Fund give farmers credits when they adopt greenhouse gas reduction measures. Large companies in the US, like General Mills is already planning on regenerating one million acres of farmland. 

Since regenerative agriculture produces healthier food, healthier soil, and less greenhouse gas emissions, it seems like a no brainer that more governments and more large food companies should be encouraging the switchover as quickly as possible.

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BONNIE RIVA RAS, EDITOR & WRITER
Bonnie Riva Ras has dedicated her life to promoting social justice. She loves to write about empowering women, helping children, educational innovations, and advocating for the environment & sustainability.