Regenerative agriculture is a form of farming that aims to rehabilitate and restore the quality of the soil used for agricultural purposes. In addition to restoring the quality of the soil, regenerative agriculture can also help to restore the water cycle and as an effective tool for carbon sequestration and a major milestone for climate change as it improves the resilience and vitality of soil that forms the food everyone consumes.
There is not a separate entity or practice that can define the nature and meaning of regenerative agriculture, but the practice consummates a variety of sustainable agricultural practices used in combination to ensure maximum effectiveness in the restoration of the soil. Practices such as recycling as much as possible along with the regular addition of compost or biochar to improve and increase soil fertility. The output of practicing regenerative agriculture can be observed with less requirement in the addition of chemical or artificial fertilizers and yet producing more yield compared to when the former practice is at play. The major implementation technology used in regenerative agriculture is the cultivation of crops and vegetation that would effectively capture carbon from the atmosphere whilst contributing effectively as a carbon sequestrating tool.
The combination of agricultural processes undertaken to practice lower – or even net positive -environmental and/or social impacts.
Regenerative agriculture doesn’t just restore the fertility of the soil but also serves as a tool to rehabilitate and restore abandoned territories beyond that which is used for farming activities and land which is barren and of no use. This thus deals with the reforestation and restoration of marsh and peatlands, ecological aquaculture, and the improvement and fortification of buffer zones.
Various techniques can be individually or followed in combination to achieve the results that regenerative agriculture can offer, these include:
The act of plowing and tillage creates disruption and may lead to erosion that can negatively affect the texture and quality of the soil. Conservation tillage can be defined as a methodology wherein the soil surface used for farming is covered with about 30 percent of crop residues aimed at renewing and restoring the fertility of the soil. This technique also widely reduces soil erosion caused by water. This technique also provides shelter to small animals such as rabbits, quail, and mice, improving biodiversity. Over time improvement in the soil’s fertility and texture is observed.
ROTATION, COVER CROPS, AND DIVERSITY
Rotation between crops ensures that specific nutrients are not stripped off the soil and buildup of particular materials or elements in the soil does not occur over prolonged periods. An increase in the diversity of the plants helps farmers create textured, rich, varied, and nutrient-dense soils that lead to more productive yields. Diversity allows not all nutrients but only a specific set of nutrients to be absorbed by specific crops. Leguminous crops have nitrogen-fixing bacteria in their roots that work to restore the nitrogen balance in the soil and improve soil fertility. The infusion of diversity and crop rotation ensures that the soil has a chronological period to allow it to rejuvenate the nutrients that it lost. It also allows the prevention of diseases and acts as a pest control agent
HOLISTICALLY MANAGED GRAZING
Overgrazing has been seen as a hazardous practice that affects the fertility of the land, hence holistically managed grazing can be highly effective as it mimics a system that resembles nature without any artificial additions and uses very little technology, artificial fertilizers, and pesticides. Pasture should be made sure to have grazed down just so that old grass has been mowed down by cattle but not until there is nothing in the pasture. Untouched grass by cattle should be removed to prevent them from growing and flowering.
Perennial crops are those that need not be replanted every year, and after harvest, they grow back by themselves reducing efforts and tillage and constant abrasion caused by human interventions. The creation of perennial alternatives to annual crops is a growing movement that aims to be a regenerative alternative to traditional farming. Perennials are significant in maintaining the soil cover, structure of the soil, and the natural biota. These crops have better and deeper root systems when compared to annuals and therefore provide soil stability and enhanced soil health. These cops can also tap the available soil nutrients, and effectively enhance biodiversity, thereby making more moisture and water available to plants. These crops can also effectively trap and sequester carbon to promote net carbon positivity.
Agroforestry effectively combines agriculture with forestry by growing trees with their crops that can commendably prevent soil erosion. The trees also would provide shelter to important viable cash crops from heavy rain, and thunderstorms amongst other adverse climate conditions with help of their profuse canopies.
Biochar is essentially carbon that is made by a process of pyrolysis that can improve the fertility of the soil by improving the moisture retention quality of soil allowing it to retain nutrients for a very long time. The use of biochar also contributes to carbon positivity.
Biochar is often defined as “Black Gold” as it can organically transform the quality of the soil and offer other environmentally friendly benefits. This term is often confused with charcoal or activated carbon as compositionally all three have carbon and yet the method of production lead to chemical and structural changes in these carbon moieties. Biochar was long used as a soil amendment tool since the Amazonians found its excellent ability to retain nutrients in the soil, it was referred to as “Terra-Petra” and the Amazon rainforest is an example of the effect of biochar as a soil ameliorant. Biochar can effectively valorize soil nutrients and enzyme dynamics, by enhancing the fertility of the soil. Biochar can be used as either a direct or an indirect nutrient source.
Regenerative agriculture majorly focuses on self-reliance and hence farmers can be taught to make biochar by themselves rather than relying on outside sources for the procurement of the same. Biochar can be easily produced in a furnace using either renewable or non-renewable energy. The quality of the biochar produced depends on various factors such as the nature of the feedstock, and the temperature at which it was either pyrolyzed, gasified, torrefied or burnt. It also depends on the duration of the reaction to make the biochar, and the pre-treatment techniques. Different parameters can lead to different yields or quality of the biochar. Waste straw, husk, animal, vegetable, fruit, and crop waste is majorly used for the production of the biochar.
Generally, biochar can be produced from the waste organic matter at temperatures between 400-1000°C. The temperature at which it is produced greatly defines the yield and quality of the biochar. Feedstocks such as seaweed used animal products and wastes generally yield excellent renewable sourced biochar that can be used sustainably.
The heating method in generating biochar is extremely significant – called pyrolysis –this process prevents the decaying of biomass inputs that in turn reduces emissions. Greenhouse gases in the soil are also reduced by the amendment of biochar into soils. As various scientists and researchers claim: “the biochar stores carbon in a recalcitrant form that can increase soil water- and nutrient-holding capacities, which typically result in increased plant growth. This enhanced productivity is positive feedback that further enhances the amount of CO2 removed from the atmosphere.”
Adoption of Regenerative agriculture practices is becoming more prevalent owing to the issues of multiple food crises that are common and persisting throughout the world. The soil gives us food that allows us to sustain life and hence the preservation of the same is of absolute necessity. Start-ups launching are mindful of procuring their raw materials from sustainable sources and hence support regenerative practices. Investors also invest in such start-ups and companies as it has better rewards and is good for the environment.
Akua was founded in New York California and produces kelp-based burgers, wherein the kelp is produced using regenerative agriculture. Its most promising product is the kelp jerky that is made using sea green vegetables that are farmed from regenerative ocean farms and with shitake mushrooms. All products manufactured by Akua have a net negative value and are highly sustainable. The regenerative farms are based off the US North-eastern coast region and almost of the sea greens used for the production of the Akua products are sourced from the same. These ocean farms do not need land for the cultivation of sea-green vegetables. No freshwater, media, or pesticides is needed. Kelp can be an excellent carbon sequester and hence can act as a natural filter for nitrogen and carbon found in the water. The growth of kelp in these regenerative ocean farms opens up more jobs for people and hence is an extremely sustainable option and improves the economy.
In 2021, Unilever released a set of Regenerative Agriculture Principles and implementation guides, to enhance its enduring Sustainable Agriculture Code. These principles will help to address the company and its suppliers to inculcate better. These Principles will serve to guide the company and its suppliers in better protecting the soil, increasing biodiversity, regulating and improving the water quality, storing carbon, and thus restoring the land. The company will run a Regenerative Agriculture Principles with a practice run in a series referred to as the “Lighthouse Programmes.” Under these programs, the company will work along with its group of farmers and suppliers to implement these required tracking systems to measure which practices deliver real impact on the ground and which cannot offer the optimum result.
Microsoft intends to use regenerative agriculture to invest in long-term goals that will be beneficial and achievable:
FORCE OF NATURE
Force of nature is a meat-based company that has vowed to source its products with 100% grass-fed and regenerative agriculture-based cattle. The meat sourced should support carbon sequestration along with promoting soil health and practice conservation-focused techniques. The produce used in Force of Nature is purchased only from ranches and farms that rely on regenerative agricultural practices that are also committed to fighting the release of a copious amount of methane from cattle. Force of Nature partners with farms that raise custom-fed, beef, venison, elk, vision, and pigs. Force of Nature has set five main practices that meet the definition of qualifying as regenerative practices. The most used and implicative practice is the sourcing of game meat from reliable sources that also rely on regenerative agricultural practices.
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