Regenerative Agriculture vs. Sustainable Agriculture

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Feeding the entire world is a problem that never truly goes away. And with the planet’s food supply being a never-ending demand, the effect it has on the soil and biodiversity systems causes great strain. That’s why talk is heating up about regenerative agriculture.

Unlike sustainable farming, which concentrates on meeting demand without damaging resources for the future, regenerative agriculture concentrates on healing the soil, and repairing, or regenerating, soil that may have been considered unusable due to the damage inflicted on it by intensive farming methods.

Does Regenerative Agriculture Work Against Sustainable Agriculture

It’s less of a contest, and more of a way to get all the different methods to collaborate with one another. Sustainable farming is certainly key to future endeavors, but it must involve regenerative methods to do so.

Regenerative agriculture is a method that looks deeply into the soil, and how it can better withstand farming for longer, and at the same time support the complex biodiverse systems connected to it.

In the same way that the seasons are cyclical, so too is the entire system on which agriculture is based. From the soil to the water, to the air and back to the soil, all elements of the earth are affected by farming and the more damage is done to one area, the more it impacts on all the others.

Basic Tenets of Regenerative Agriculture

Words like ‘sustainable’ and ‘regenerative’ are becoming more common in today’s world, as leaders and conservationists seek to preserve the world’s resources for generations to come. However, what does that look like for those in the farming industry who are expected to use these methods?

  • Reducing the use of chemical fertilizers – Pesticides and other chemicals have long been associated with water run-off and long-term damage to the health of those in the farming industry, but chemical fertilizers also damage soil, creating an imbalance of soil microbes and cutting off nutrients.
  • Using Cover Crops – In times gone by, farmers would leave a field fallow, or empty, for a year or two for the soil to recover. Today, it’s more difficult to leave fallow fields completely empty because of the danger of soil erosion. Instead, the use of cover crops, or crops with no intention of being harvested, can protect the soil underneath from the elements and even add nutrients to the soil as they grow.
  • Employing Smart Grazing Methods – Alongside the demand for crops is the demand for grazing animals, but they can wear down the soil, pollute local water, and add to greenhouse emissions. Smart grazing involves controlling areas and times at which livestock feed, thus allowing areas of land to recover.

Regenerative Agriculture in the USA

There are few parts of the world that have never heard of regenerative agriculture and its methods, but surprisingly few are prepared to implement the systems required. However, the USA is not only adopting regenerative practices, but is mandating them in law.

Recognizing the connection between agriculture and its impact on climate change is the first step, and President Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act, worth nearly $370 billion, has done just that. It includes provision for farmers of almost $20 billion, which will go toward supporting them in employing sustainable, organic farming methods.

Farmers often want to use organic methods and cut back on the use of dangerous pesticides and other chemicals, which go on to poison water supplies. However, organic farming costs more than using pesticides. Without support for farmers with such bills as Congress are introducing, they have little choice in the matter.

State-specific incentives are also doing a lot to promote regenerative agriculture. Programs like the Million Acre Challenge in Maryland aim to transform the health of the soil and thus promote healthier ecosystems by making it a community effort.

In many of these cases, much of the work is done by educating those involved, and by supporting those who can make the change, to do so.

From farmers learning about new ways to both use and care for their soil, to wholesalers who seek out the best quality goods grown using the least invasive procedures, right through to the consumers of such products, all should be educated in the benefits of regenerative agriculture.

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