These days, most farmers are concerned about climate change. This shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, given how the weather can affect farmers and their livelihoods. What may be surprising to learn is that some farmers are not only taking measures to mitigate the environmental impacts of their operations, but are actually reversing climate change!
The core focus of regenerative agriculture is rebuilding soil organic matter and preserving the vast array of life beneath the soil’s surface, resulting in the sequestration and storage of carbon from the atmosphere. Regenerative agriculture also benefits the planet in many other ways, such as improving water cycling, encouraging plant and animal species diversity, and diverting waste from landfills. Below are nine examples of Earth-friendly regenerative agricultural practices, all of which we have implemented on our own farm in some capacity:
No till or low till: Tilling is the process of turning over and breaking up the soil in order to prepare it for seeding or to control weeds. Whenever tilling occurs, the animals and microorganisms that live beneath the soil are disturbed, and intensive tillage can contribute to erosion, nutrient run off, and the release of greenhouse gases. In order to prevent this, some farms have stopped tilling entirely, while others have adopted a low till policy to limit the frequency and depth of tillage to only what is necessary.
Cover cropping: Cover cropping is a practice that goes hand in hand with low till agriculture. Instead of leaving the soil exposed after a harvest, a cover crop is planted to enhance the soil and prevent erosion. Cover crops continue the process of sequestering atmospheric carbon beyond the growing season of the marketable crop. Cover crops also suppress weed growth and can act as a “green manure” when tilled into the soil at the beginning of the next season.
Rotational grazing: With careful management, livestock can enhance the areas in which they graze without depleting plant life or compacting the soil. Grazing animals distribute manure over a broad area, fertilizing the pasture and avoiding a concentration of manure in one particular area. Grazing also cuts out the need for fuel to harvest, preserve, and feed crops to animals in confinement.
Crop rotation: Crop rotation is the practice of planting different species of plants sequentially on the same piece of land. Crop rotation helps to prevent soil nutrients from being drawn down by years of continuous demand, as different crops require different levels of nutrients. This practice also combats weed and pest pressure by breaking the life cycle of these organisms.
Integrated pest management: Integrated pest management, commonly referred to as IPM, is the practice of utilizing a balanced strategy to manage pests and pest damage over the long term. IPM considers the agroecosystem as a whole, and tends to rely on biological controls more heavily than on chemical controls. Generally, chemical treatments are considered a last resort, and are used sparingly to target specific problem pests, rather than killing a broad spectrum of insect life.
Putting pollinators first: Without pollinators, many crops would not succeed. With bee numbers plummeting, farmers are becoming increasingly aware of how their practices affect pollinators, for better or for worse. Some farms are reducing or eliminating the use of harmful broad spectrum pesticides like neonicotinoids. Others are planting specific plants to provide a habitat for native pollinators.
Composting: Bedding, manure, food scraps, waste from food processing, livestock mortalities, road kill, etc. can all be composted. Composting is an environmentally friendly way to dispose of these materials, while generating a product that can be used to enhance soil structure and fertility in the future.
Fuel conservation and alternative fuels: Farmers tend to be very conscious of the amount of fuel that they use (especially when fuel prices are as high as they are today). Some choose to use hand tools rather than tractors, when practical. Others use draft horses or oxen, as is traditional in many parts of the world. Alternative fuels, such as biodiesel, can be manufactured from crop residues or animal fats produced on farms, and are well suited to use in agricultural equipment.
Repurposing: Farmers may very well be the original upcyclers; they can find a use for pretty much anything. Wooden pallets, plastic barrels, used roofing steel, and old canvas billboards are just a few of the things that can find a new life on a farm.