Author: Mary-Elizabeth Chin.
ABSTRACT: Regenerative Agriculture is an approach to agricultural practices that acts holistically, by functioning like a natural ecosystem (Kastner, 2016). Some examples of regenerative agricultural practices include no tilling, focusing on the health of soil ecology, and making crops have a polyculture increasing biodiversity (Kastner, 2016). Regenerative agriculture considers the holistic relationship between carbon, nutrients, plants, animals and soil, to foster a system that can provide food security and combat climate change.
Agriculture contributes largely to the climate crisis by emitting 11-15% of all greenhouse gasses solely from production (Kastner, 2016). Deforestation and tilling land related to industrial agriculture accounts for 15-18% of all greenhouse gas emissions (Kastner, 2016). Not only is industrial agriculture responsible for large portions of carbon emissions, it is connected to biodiversity loss, environmental degradation, pollution from fertilizers and pesticides, and overexploiting resources (Giller et al., 2021). In contrast, regenerative agricultural practices act to sequester carbon, improve soil health, and increase biodiversity (Whites, 2021). The primary principles of regenerative include minimizing tillage, maintaining soil cover, sequestering carbon, utilizing natural nutrient cycling, increasing biodiversity, integrating livestock, and minimizing pesticide use (Giller et al., 2021). Therefore, transitioning from industrial agriculture to regenerative agriculture can act as the solution to continue agricultural practices while combating the climate crisis and restoring ecosystems.
Furthermore, regenerative agriculture is mindful to use techniques that reduce carbon emissions and uses soil to capture carbon. Utilizing organic farming practices such as, no-tilling allows regenerative agriculture to store more carbon in soil than the amount that can be produced (Paulson and Shannon, 2020). No-tilling also has several benefits for the soil conditions and reduces carbon emissions. By not tilling the soil, carbon can remain in the soil and does not get released and oxidized into the atmosphere (Kastner, 2016). Regenerative agriculture that uses no tilling practices also has revealed benefits for maintaining soil moisture (Kastner, 2016). Since the structure of soil is not disrupted by tillage, water from rainfall and irrigation is able to be retained more efficiently (Kastner, 2016). Similarly, the microorganisms are able to thrive and improve soil health since the soil is not disturbed by tillage (Kastner, 2016). This reveals that the practice of no tillage in regenerative agriculture prevents carbon emissions, increases soil water retention, and improves soil microbial health.
According to Kastner (2016) the soil on Earth contains 2500 billion tonnes of carbon and the atmosphere has 800 billion tonnes of carbon. Soil has the potential to be a large carbon sink that can be used to reduce atmospheric carbon and mitigate the climate crisis (Kastner, 2016). Regenerative agriculture can make an impact as it puts an emphasis on the intrinsic connection between plants, soil microbiota, atmospheric carbon, (Kastner, 2016). Through the process of photosynthesis, plants have the ability to capture atmospheric carbon, 20-40% of that carbon is then processed into the soil from the roots of the plant (Kastner, 2016). Then the microorganisms in soil process the carbon and become stored in soil (Kastner, 2016). Soil fungi and microorganisms process sequester carbon in soil, resulting in improved soil health which increases crop yields (Paulson and Shannon, 2020). Thus, through the process of photosynthesis, soil can become a large carbon sink and acts as a tangible way to reduce atmospheric carbon emissions.
Ultimately, regenerative agriculture involves many different principles and practices. These practices and principles foster an agricultural system that provides food security and combats the climate crisis. As the process of photosynthesis acts to sequester carbon. Storing carbon into the soils, creating a carbon sink while increasing crop yields since plants benefit from the nutrient (Kastner, 2016). Additionally, the practices of no tilling, maintaining soil cover, increasing biodiversity, integrating livestock, and minimizing pesticide further mitigate climate change (Giller et al., 2021). Since all these practices work towards fostering a sustainable and holistic system that can regenerate its own nutrients, increase crop yields, and reduce carbon emissions. Consequently, regenerative agriculture holistically considers the interconnections between plants, animals, soil, and carbon to create a system with principles that provide food security and mitigate climate change.
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Kastner, R. (2016). Hope for the future: How farmers can reverse climate change. Socialism and Democracy, 30(2), 154. https://doi.org/10.1080/08854300.2016.1195610
Moyer, Smith, Rui, Hayden. (2020). Regenerative Organic Agriculture and The Soil Carbon Solution. https://rodaleinstitute.org/education/resources/regenerative-agriculture-and-the-soil-carbon-solution/
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White, C. (2020). Why regenerative agriculture? The American Journal of Economics and Sociology, 79(3), 799-812. https://doi.org/10.1111/ajes.12334
Mary-Elizabeth Chin is currently a third year student, studying Environmental and Urban Sustainability at Toronto Metropolitan University. Her passions are in ecosystem restoration, intersectional environmental justice, and renewable energy. Her goal is to take action in conservation and foster tangible change that can impact the future of how humans interact with ecosystems. Chin has experience working for an environmental networking non profit and volunteers on an organic farm in the summer months.