The 7 Core Techniques of Regenerative Agriculture
by Evan DeMarco on Sep 13, 2022
Regenerative agriculture is a land management concept which focuses on interconnectedness. You may already know that agriculture doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and our farming and ranching practices have a significant effect on the environment. Instead of handling each issue separately, regenerative agriculture assesses the environment as a whole. It’s about working with the natural resources, rather than exploiting them.
The regenerative approach is nothing new. Indigenous cultures around the world have used regenerative agricultural techniques for millennia. By embracing this philosophy on a global scale, we can fight climate change, produce more nutritious food and avoid pollution and contamination from factory farms.
While regenerative agriculture is growing in popularity, there are no hard and fast rules as to how it must be done. However, there are certain core techniques that you’ll find throughout regenerative farms worldwide.
Goals of regenerative agriculture
The overarching goal of regenerative agriculture is to create systems which support the environment. It’s not just sustainable farming and ranching, which preserves the current status quo. Regenerative agriculture can actually regenerate or restore the health of the land, water and air.
There are many sub-goals within regenerative agriculture. For instance, improving soil health restores the natural soil microbiome and helps retain the rapidly diminishing topsoil layer. It can also help retain more water, trap carbon and produce nutrient-dense food.
Reducing reliance on synthetic products, such as pesticides, fungicides and herbicides is another goal. These synthetic substances can enter the water system and kill off helpful animals, insects, marine life and more. They can also sicken humans.
Finally, regenerative agriculture seeks to nurture relationships within ecosystems, including relationships between farmers and their communities. Smaller regenerative farms are usually more connected to local communities, and often combat social inequality and economic issues.
Depending on the location and type of regenerative farm, the goals—and how they’re achieved—may be different. These principles guide the techniques described below.
Core techniques to protect our planet
Here are the most common regenerative agriculture techniques:
- Cover cropping: Cover cropping is used to improve soil health, decrease soil erosion, improve biodiversity and increase water retention in the soil. Industrial farms often leave fields bare after a cash crop is grown and harvested. Planting cover crops—either between the cash crops or after they’re harvested—protects the soil until the next cash crop is planted.
- Intensive rotational grazing: Before the global population exploded, large herd animals moved across grasslands to graze. Intensive rotational grazing imitates this movement. Not only does it give livestock a chance to roam, but it also protects soil health and improves biodiversity.
- No-till, no-plow farming: Tilling and plowing release trapped carbon from the land, which contributes to global warming and climate change. No-till and no-plow farming avoids disturbing the soil.
- Composting: You might be familiar with composting on an individual level. This practice harnesses decomposition and other natural processes to turn manure and waste products into natural fertilizer.
- Avoiding chemical and fossil-fuel-based inputs: Reliance on synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, fungicides and herbicides can directly harm water and land health. Depending on the product, they may also have a negative effect on our food. Regenerative agriculture avoids these—as well as any fossil-fuel-based inputs—to create healthier environments and end products.
- Agroforestry: Planting trees and shrubs among crops can mimic natural ecosystems. Not only do trees provide protection and shade for animals and crops alike, but they can also contribute to better soil health.
- Conservation buffers: This technique uses trees, shrubs and other natural barriers to protect the land. Hedgerows can be planted as windbreaks (as well as habitats for animals, insects and other lifeforms), while riparian buffers are used to prevent flooding, protect water sources and prevent soil erosion.
As you can see, these techniques all take what nature gave us—whether that’s trees, manure or grazing animals—and use it to manage the land. Instead of relying on chemicals, fossil fuels, plowing and tilling and other harmful practices, regenerative techniques are better ways to accomplish more.
It’s important to note that not every regenerative farm is certified organic, even if they may qualify. Conversely, not every organic farm uses regenerative techniques.
Supporting regenerative agriculture will help protect the planet, deliver better food and connect you to your local community. The best way to find local regenerative farms in your area is to hit the farmer’s market, Google or even call to ask about their farming techniques. It’s well worth the effort!