If you’re curious like I was on researching this market, I’ve tried to compile my own understanding of Regenerative Agriculture to help further educate folks on this important movement. Aside from research, I’d also suggest saying “Regenerative Agriculture” three times fast, if you can make it through five iterations – congrats – you’ve already surpassed my best efforts thus far.
So what’s Regenerative Agriculture? Before I dive into describing this, it’s better to first walk through the problem facing modern agriculture today and what it’s doing to our environment.
The Problem with Modern Agriculture
Modern agriculture, for all its advanced abilities to sustain a planet of 8 billion people, is also contributing to its rapid decline. The more people to feed, the more agriculture ramps up to produce. Because of this accerlated ramp, current practices employed by most industrialized farms are unsustainable, particularly when it comes to climate.
Farming and food production are estimated to contribute from 21-37 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, depending on exactly what’s being measured. Those emissions include carbon dioxide, largely from energy usage, nitrous oxide from nitrogen fertilizer use on cropped and grazed soils, and methane from livestock. Black carbon is another powerful climate pollutant, emitted from diesel-operated equipment and trucking, and agricultural burning.
In addition to climate pollutant emissions, agricultural soils have been degraded by widespread tillage practices, resulting in lower levels of carbon naturally stored in the ground. The exploding population and demand for ever-higher crop yields have contributed to this soil degradation through chemical-heavy farming techniques, as well as deforestation to clear more land. Put simply, the more our population grows and the need to quickly produce food, clothing and supplies that turn a profit, the more our agricultural practices have created shortcuts to meet the demand of the population and investors.
At its most basic level, regenerative agriculture is a more nature-friendly way of farming. It can be thought of as the next step beyond organic and sustainability. Although I can’t find a universally official agreed-upon definition, regenerative agriculture employs farming and grazing practices that restore degraded soil, improve biodiversity among pollinators (especially bees and butterflies) and increase carbon capture in the soil to create long-lasting environmental benefits.
If “organic” food is better for people’s health, think of regenerative agriculture as being better for both people’s health and the health of the planet. More specifically, regenerative agriculture seeks to move away from synthetic fertilizers, monoculture crops and industrial production methods to techniques that minimize chemical use and enhance the health of both water and soil. The end result is that regenerative agriculture produces healthier food while also serving to increase yields and profits for the farmer.
As farms increasingly employ regenerative techniques, the land is gradually restored to a more natural state, making possible some incredibly beneficial outcomes. Beyond preventing soil from eroding, the regenerative agriculture movement is also focused on nurturing soil health. What I didn’t realize prior to diving head first into researching this, is that there is much more to fertile soil than just dirt; every teaspoon of soil contains millions of microorganisms that assist in the breakdown of organic matter and help plants absorb water and nutrients. Harsh chemicals and constant soil disturbance can strip the soil of these beneficial qualities and make it less productive. By stripping these destructive practices, the regen ag movement helps build soil health without the need for chemicals.
Ultimately, as the name “regenerative” suggests, these and other techniques help the soil (and thus the farm) continue to sustain itself through an ongoing cycle of give and take. And, as an extremely important side benefit, the land becomes a more effective carbon sink. In this way, the widespread adoption of regenerative agriculture can do more than reduce greenhouse gas emissions; theoretically, it can actually undo some of the damage that’s already been done.
Good for Farmers, good for Everyone
Regenerative agriculture is good for the environment and a win for farmers, too. Regenerative techniques require far fewer inputs such as seed, fertilizer, and pesticides, which means farmers can reduce their operating costs dramatically. Results are mixed on whether regenerative farms see higher or lower yields, but studies have shown that even in cases where yields declined, the farms’ profitability increased.
In fact, major companies like Cargill are paying top dollar for farmers that become a part of their Regen Connect program and pay the farmer per ton for soil carbon sequestered (OR payment for positive environmental outcomes). In order to validate this, they utilize Regrow’s MRV platform which will offer verified data that measures the impact of the collective regenerative practices. Regrow’s soil model validation and process has been verified with the Climate Action Reserve, science and technology are aligned with programs approved by SustainCERT and in the approval process with multiple standards and markets including the American Carbon Registry and Verra.
It is a classic triple-win situation. Consumers can receive healthier foods, farmers can have a more secure and prosperous future and the planet will benefit because regenerative agriculture provides it a better chance to heal and restore itself. This is why I jumped head first into Regrow.