Regenerative Farming and Why It’s Great
The last century has brought with it major advancements in almost every industry, including agriculture. While some of these advancements have been a positive force for the global good, some of them have negative impacts as well, such as the adverse environmental impacts of industrial agriculture.
When farming was mostly done on a smaller scale, farmers took care to nurture and nourish the land, using sustainable methods that allowed them to cultivate their livestock or crop while also ensuring the health and viability of the land. With the advent of industrial farming practices, many of these conservation-based practices were abandoned for an industry based on monocropping and farming with a main focus on the profit margin and not the sustainability of the farming practices.
Luckily, many farmers are realizing that industrial farming methods are not sustainable, and there is a shift beginning, back to the sustainable farming practices of our ancestors. Because a lot of land that has previously been aggressively farmed using unsustainable methods isn’t always in the best shape, today’s ethical farmers are going a step further than sustainability, using a process called regenerative farming.
What is Regenerative Farming?
Let us start by explaining that regenerative farming is not a new phenomenon. Indigenous cultures have used these practices for centuries. According to PlantwithPurpose.org, regenerative farming “aims to improve the land that is used for farming, rather than destroying or depleting it.” The philosophy behind regenerative farming is that the farmland and its surrounding ecosystem should work in tandem, not in competition.
For example - instead of using chemical pesticides and synthetic fertilizers to deter insects and foster plant growth, regenerative farming uses farming practices that encourage beneficial insects, as well as methods such as companion planting, cover crops, and reduced or no-till approaches to improve soil biodiversity and nutrient content.
Regenerative farming centers around four basic principles:
Decrease/eliminate tillage: By reducing the amount of disturbance in the soil, regenerative farming practices promote soil biodiversity and reduce erosion. These practices also result in soil that retains carbon more efficiently rather than releasing it into the atmosphere, meaning that regenerative farming practices go beyond sustainability to actually reduce global warming and climate change.
Reduce use of synthetic fertilizers: Proponents of regenerative agriculture know that the use of synthetic fertilizers disturbs the microbiome of the soil and interferes with the soil’s ability to absorb nutrients. While it may seem like a no-brainer that healthier soil produces healthier crops, industrial farming is more about the bigger, better, faster, more philosophy of farming. Conventional agriculture uses synthetic fertilizers to produce more crops at a faster pace, but soil that has adapted to synthetic fertilizer becomes dependent on that fertilizer, rather than working with the surrounding ecosystem to maintain soil biodiversity. The more synthetic fertilizers are used, the more of these chemicals that wind up in the atmosphere and water supply, creating a host of other ecological problems and crops dependent on chemicals rather than a healthy ecosystem to grow.
Promote biodiversity: Soil biodiversity is crucial to growing healthy crops for human or livestock consumption. The more diversity in the soil, the healthier it is, full stop. Modern medicine is starting to recognize the importance of the gut microbiome to overall health, and we recognize that when gut health is affected, the health of the whole body can suffer as well. The same is true for soil, and the soil microbiome is essentially the “gut” of the farm. When the soil isn’t healthy, the crops or livestock grown on that soil will suffer too. Cover crops are a great way to reduce soil erosion and foster biodiversity in the soil, keeping crucial nutrients contained in the microbiome rather than eroding away from wind and water. Regenerative farming also recognizes the importance of minimizing or eliminating chemicals and pesticides, which can negatively affect the soil microbiome.
Use regenerative practices when grazing livestock: When land is grazed again and again until it becomes barren and eroded, it contributes to water pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, and low nutrients in new forage. Regenerative agriculture practices include moving animals to new pastureland more frequently, allowing the land to regenerate before being grazed on again. In addition to providing healthier grazing for the animals, these practices contribute to increased water retention, healthier pastureland, and plant and insect biodiversity.
As you can probably tell, the four principles of regenerative farming work in tandem with each other to foster a sustainable and yes, regenerative system that aims to produce crops and/or livestock while also leaving the land better than they found it.
How We Use Regenerative Farming at Pasturebird
There’s a pretty impressive picture on our website, showing the difference in our Pasturebird land between when we bought it in 2017, and now. The old photo shows a barren, arid landscape that looks pretty dismal. The land had been used for years as a monoculture potato farm, and the soil was sorely lacking in organic matter. The new photo shows healthy grassland, lush foliage, and grazing area for our chickens and cattle. With proper irrigation, grazing methods, seed, sunshine, and time, we’ve transformed our land into a barren desert to a lush grassland using zero chemical fertilizer. We’re consistently improving the organic matter of our soil, which includes capturing 25 million more gallons of water each year than 5 years ago (the previous soil erosion caused massive water runoff rather than absorption). These methods also allow us to sequester more carbon in the soil, feed more animals, purify and replenish the water in our aquifers, support a thriving wildlife habitat, and produce nutrient dense pasture raised chicken and beef!
Our experience at Pasturebird is just one example of how regenerative farming can transform land. If you’ve taken one of our farm tours or follow our blog or social media, you’ve seen for yourself the Pasturebird difference, thanks to regenerative farming practices. Our happy animals, happy farmers, and happy customers prove that you don’t need to choose between a healthy profit and farming practices that are better for the land, the animals, and the consumers.