REGENERATIVE AGRICULTURE MANIFESTO
Agriculture is the base of our society. We are deeply connected and dependent on soil. It's time we take care of the planet with proper stewarship of our lands.
Regenerating soil health
Intensive agriculture has had a tendency to degrade soils through repetitive disturbance, exposure to the elements and excessive application of fertilisers and herbicides. Regenerative farming methods can be productive whilst regenerating soils. Soil regeneration means improving organic matter content, water infiltration, fertility, microbiological activity, and porosity.
Following these 5 soil health principles has a proven track record of dramatically improving soil health:
Don't disturb the soil
Keep the soil surface covered
Keep living roots in the soil
Grow a diverse range of crops
Bring grazing animals back to the land
Each region, watershed, field and farm is unique. Working with nature to create productive agricultural systems means working under nature’s constraints. ‘Regenerative models’ that are applied on farms indiscriminately are at risk of failure. Sand and clay soils, for example, require very different management approaches. A 100ha farmer may need different tools and strategies than a 10ha farmer. Producing wheat in Greece has other constraints than producing wheat in Germany. Each context needs a thorough socio-economic and agronomic analysis.
From: Climate Farmers
The expansion and intensification of agriculture is one of the primary causes of biodiversity loss worldwide. Agriculture depends on biodiversity, and biodiversity depends on agriculture. Predator-prey relationships are the main pest-management strategy farmers rely on, whilst pollinators are essential for fruiting of many staple crops. Functional biodiversity is the concept of strategically inviting life onto farms to solve specific crop problems. Early flowering cover crops can activate insect predators early in the season in preparation for the arrival of pests. Replanting hedges into fields also leads to dramatic improvements in biodiversity on farms.
Agricultural land represents a major potential planetary carbon sink. Regenerative agriculture techniques such as no-till farming, cover cropping and animal integration store carbon in the soil in the form of humus. Perennial cropping systems such as integrating trees through agroforestry practices can sequester significant quantities of carbon in their aerial and root biomass to the extent they are not destroyed and burnt. Carbon is a highly volatile element, meaning that the extent to which it remains in the landscape depends on proper agricultural management practices.
Enhance watershed health
Intensive agricultural production systems are responsible for eutrophication of water bodies through nutrient leaching, pollution of groundwater, as well as sedimentation of streams and rivers through soil erosion. No-till practices are capable of eliminating erosion from fields from the first year. Gradually reducing input quantities and developing natural fertility methods through microbiological activity gradually reduces nutrient leaching. Precision agriculture has also achieved great results in applying fertilisers at the right quantity and right time to align crop nutrient absorption with nutrient application. Perennial systems such as perennial pastures and fast growing tree crops have much deeper root systems and are extremely effective at absorbing excess nutrients from the soil when planted along riparian areas.
Ecologically focused systems that do not generate income for farmers are not sustainable and will not be adopted. Regenerative agriculture systems have shown to be more profitable than conventional systems over time. Enhancing ecosystem services in agricultural fields through regenerative practices allows for a reduction in external inputs and production costs. The emergence of carbon credits and the payment for the ecosystem services produced on farms is an emerging economic opportunity for regenerative farmers.
Reduce dependence on external inputs
External inputs are essential to maintain agricultural productivity, quality and farmer profitability. However, excessive use of tillage, irrigation, fertilisers, herbicides, insecticides and fungicides is leading to significant negative externalities on human health, ecosystems and the climate. Whilst a total removal of inputs from agricultural production is not socially and economically viable, a gradual reduction in inputs can be achieved alongside practices that improve soil, plant and ecosystem health. Higher soil organic matter, for example, can lead to a reduction in fertiliser applications due to the organic matter’s gradual release of nutrients to the plant. Additionally, organic matter stimulates soil microbiological activity which in turn is capable of mining nutrients from the soil particles and making them available to plants. Precision agriculture is also leading to efficiency gains and a more precise use of inputs.