8 Conservation Practices Driving Regenerative Agriculture
by Evan DeMarco on Jan 10, 2023
Regenerative agriculture is a step up from sustainable farming: it doesn’t just preserve the status quo, but actually works with and improves the land. There are eight main conservation practices, which farms, ranches and other agricultural areas can use to help save the planet.
When used correctly, these techniques can improve the water quality, increase plant diversity, integrate animal life, fight climate change by trapping carbon and help the soil health rebound. Here are eight different conservation practices you should know about:
- Cover cropping: Cover crop is a term for crops that aren’t necessarily harvested and sold, but provide other benefits. They help prevent soil erosion by ensuring there are plenty of plant roots to hold the soil in place. Cover crops can also help with crop rotation and break up the soil, eliminating the need for plowing and tilling.
- Crop rotation: Monocropping quickly depletes nutrients and water in the soil. Crop rotation is the answer. Crops alternate throughout the year, switching between plants with deep or shallow roots, as well as plants who depend on different soil nutrients. Choosing the right crops to rotate can replenish the soil health, fight off weeds and pests, reduce fertilizer reliance and improve the soil structure.
- No-till farming: Plowing is a popular farming practice, but it releases carbon into the atmosphere and destroys the soil biome. No-till and no-plow farming can reduce soil erosion and water runoff. This improves the soil health and biome. Plus, the soil can better filter and retain water while trapping carbon.
- Nutrient management: Farmers can create and utilize nutrient management plans (NMPs), which outline fertilizer requirements for each crop. The goal is to make sure that the fertilizer is applied at the optimum time for them to use the nutrients. It also helps prevent runoff into waterways—and can even save money on fertilizer.
- Riparian buffers: Riparian, streamside or forested buffers are places near stream banks which are planted with native trees, shrubs and/or grasses. They’re usually about 35 feet wide and create a natural filter for water runoff from nearby fields. Slowing the water runoff allows fertilizer and manure to soak into the ground, rather than entering bodies of water. The buffers also slow soil erosion. Even better, when trees are used as a riparian buffer, every acre removes nearly a metric ton of carbon dioxide from the air each year. Finally, riparian buffers can cool the surrounding land and water while providing refuge for wildlife.
- Rotational grazing and pastures: Converting cropland to areas for rotational grazing can help trap carbon, preserve the groundwater, improve soil health and prevent soil erosion. The animals are free to graze on cover crops and grasses, spreading manure naturally over the fields. Plants are able to regenerate when animals are allowed to move between fields. This typically reduces greenhouse gas emissions by 42 percent and reduces average pollution by 47 to 67 percent, depending on the pollutant.
- Silvopasture: Silvopasture is a practice in which trees are planted on grazing land. They provide shade and shelter for the animals and enhanced grazing opportunities, but, like cover crops and crop rotation, they also help sequester carbon, improve soil health and reduce water runoff.
- Streamside fencing: Streamside fencing is the practice of installing fences along pasture areas. This helps keep livestock and waste out of waterways, so the water remains clean and disease-free. These fences are often used alongside riparian buggers to further enhance the environmental health. Farmers may choose to provide water to the livestock in other ways.
Look for regenerative farms in your area
These eight practices can go a long way toward improving the climate. In fact, when livestock is involved, it also encourages a better environment for the animals. Look for regenerative farms in your area to help promote these practices. Buying from local farms, whether at traditional grocery stores, farmer’s markets or other suppliers, is an easy and ethical way to reduce your impact on the climate.
Although industrial agriculture and livestock production may not disappear anytime soon, choosing ethical sources of food is a great way to support the practice and make a positive contribution to the environment—all while enjoying higher-quality, nutrient-dense food.