Why Regenerative Agriculture?

Today, I will explore how regenerative agriculture is the answer to many of our society-wide problems. Climate change is the big one, and regenerative agriculture offers the most efficient carbon sequestration tool known to man. Our communities are divided, and I believe regenerative agriculture, together with the frameworks on which it is built, can help to unite them.

Although I will spend much of this piece on climate change and why regenerative agriculture is a viable solution, I will offer a caveat. Climate change is (almost) irrelevant. There are many benefits to farming in this way, that solving climate change becomes merely a side-effect. With regenerative practices, we produce higher quality products which are more economically viable for the business. These practices happen to build carbon in the soil, and we happen to live in a time when sequestering carbon in the soil is necessary for the balance of the atmosphere. These are simply coincidences. If I was living at a time before the industrial revolution, I would still profess the benefits of regenerative agriculture (although back then it was just called farming). This coincidence is something that needs to be acknowledged, because regenerative agriculture is increasingly discussed in the climate change context. While some are moving to regenerative practices for climate change reasons, others in the farming community don’t believe climate change is occurring or is manmade. Sadly, climate change has been heavily politicised, so to discuss regenerative agriculture solely in the climate change context will disenfranchise many potential adoptees. For many others, the climate change benefits will be sole reason for adopting these practices, so I will outline them now.

Carbon is the currency of the soil. This is core principle when discussing regenerative agriculture and climate change. Think about a small, country town, a shadow of its former self because the families that once made it thrive have moved away. Where there were once 10-15 shops, there exists now only a couple. Before, there was money flowing through the town. You got your car serviced at the local mechanic who could afford to hire a local apprentice, who would buy a pie at the local bakery, who could afford to hire another baker, who then sends his kids to the local school, employing another teacher, whose then uses that local mechanic. This flow of money is the lifeblood of communities. In our soils, replace money with carbon. Plants, fungi, and microbes are constantly exchanging nutrients in our soils. Their main currency, rather than dollars and cents, is carbon. When there is lots of carbon flowing in the soil, the plant nutrients are more available. These carbon-rich soils foster healthy plants, which foster healthy animals, which help to feed healthy humans. With conventional farming practices, we are losing carbon from our soils. We are creating ghost towns rather than thriving communities. The technicalities of how conventional practices are doing this will be explored in later pieces. With regenerative practices, however, we build up these carbon flows. In so doing, we are removing carbon from the atmosphere and putting them to work beneath our feet, helping us to grow better produce at the same time.

The idea of sequestering carbon sounds great, and you may be convinced that it will work in the long-term to fix our emissions. But what about the next 10-20 years, where scientists are predicting increasingly extreme weather events? Regenerative agriculture provides a framework for solving severe weather problems with long-term solutions. Increasing water-holding capacity of the pasture helps in droughts and helps in taking advantage of any unseasonal rain. If you get a dump of two inches when you haven’t had any rain for two months, you want to be capturing all that rain in your soil. In many conventional systems, that rain will just run off because of the compaction of the soils. The effects of extreme wind can be abated by a strategic planting of trees so that both livestock and plants have some protection. These practices also keep the pasture greener for longer, sometimes closing the feed gaps entirely so that there is very little risk of fire moving through the property. These solutions, as is the case with the climate change discussion, don’t only address the problems of severe weather – they address many other, interconnected problems which help aid the fertility of the soil and the profitability of the business.

I used the analogy of a small-town earlier when explaining the importance of carbon in soils. This is more than an analogy – this precise circumstance has occurred in many small towns in regional areas across the country. I believe regenerative agriculture can help build local communities, helping to solve the diseases of despair that are disproportionately affecting regional areas. There is an entrepreneurial element to regenerative agriculture, usually found in those practitioners in the United States such as Joel Salatin and Gabe Brown. Instead of just one income stream reliant on a big corporation incentivised to lower prices, they create multiple income streams and sell direct to consumer, capturing more of the profits. This entrepreneurial mindset seems to be lost in many regional communities today. There is a wider point here about the flow of big-thinking adolescents from country to city that we may cover later. Small to medium-sized businesses revolving around regenerative agriculture and its adjacent industries would create meaningful jobs for people in the country. Communities, rather than decaying, would begin to thrive again. These jobs would be more future proof than many jobs in the cities, owing to the creative element in agriculture and entrepreneurship which cannot be replicated by artificial intelligence.

Regenerative agriculture has many wide-ranging benefits. Two of the biggest problems today, in my opinion, are the changing climate and the division in our communities. Widespread adoption of regenerative agriculture aims to help solve both problems. If you agree, or want to learn about it anyway, join me for the next episode where we get into the technical aspects of the subject.