An important principle behind the work of farmers is regenerative agriculture, a term that is popping up more and more in the media. But what does it stand for and what does it mean for farmers?
1. Restorative Agriculture
Regenerative agriculture is more than making agriculture more sustainable. Almost everyone agrees that it can and should be more sustainable. Agriculture has had a negative impact on the soil, groundwater and biodiversity in many places in the world in recent decades. The sustainability solutions are often about reducing this negative impact. Regenerative agriculture not only looks at how the negative impact can be reduced but also works on recovery and makes use of natural processes. So not against, but with nature. Regenerative agriculture ultimately makes a positive contribution to nature, the environment, climate, food security and social conditions.
2. Regenerative also good for the farmer
The question often arises whether regenerative farming also yields the farmer enough, since less intensive farming can also reduce production. Fortunately, on the other hand, the farmer also has lower costs, because fertilizer and pesticides do not have to be purchased or have to be purchased less. In order to get a clear picture of where the bottom line is, are we trying to arrive at a good method to provide a definitive answer once and for all. In addition, we are working on good revenue models for the regenerative farmer in various projects.
3. Not organic, yet regenerative
Regenerative agriculture draws on decades of scientific and applied research by the global communities of organic farming, agroecology, holistic management, permaculture and agroforestry. There is no clear definition yet and the term is sometimes interpreted in many different ways. Sometimes regenerative farming is seen as a form of organic farming, or an agricultural system that ‘goes even further’ than organic and biodynamic. However, that is a misconception. Regenerative farming is a broad set of methods, where the endpoint is a healthy and resilient landscape. Even a conventional farmer can take steps towards regenerative agriculture, without meeting the specific requirements of organic farming. There are, however, many similarities, as is the case with circular agriculture: we want as little input as possible and as much as possible a closed cycle. This also largely applies to nature-inclusive agriculture. You could say that nature-inclusive work is part of regenerative agriculture.
Land farmers participate, regenerative agriculture is linked to specific ecosystem services. The project investigates the potential for regenerative agriculture in the Netherlands and examines how they contribute to all those ecosystem services at twenty farmers.
4. Regenerative farming in practice
For example, we scatter seashells on the land to balance the mineral ratio in the soil. We feed the soil biology with, (worm) compost or rough manure and among other things. With so-called strip grazing, farmers imitate the large grazers of the African savannas with their cows. We let many cows graze on a small piece of land for a short time. Wild grazers move like this too, because they are kept together by predators. The cows are given a new piece of pasture twice a day and move on quickly. With this pattern, the cows Plow the ground with their hooves and stamp their manure into the ground. This leads to better soil life and ensures that the grasses and herbs grow better. Farmers, therefore, use natural processes to benefit themselves.
5. Increase in organic matter and carbon fixation
Soil naturally contains a lot of organic matter in the form of partially digested remains of plants and other organisms. In this way, a lot of carbon – once taken from the air by plants and converted into plant material – is stored for a long time. In recent years, soil cultivation has ensured that the amount of organic matter in the soil has decreased and a lot of CO2 has been released from the soil. This is of course an undesirable development in view of global warming. Regenerative agriculture can reverse this process.
In arable farming, minimal tillage, various crop rotations and the cultivation of green manures – crops that are incorporated into the soil – can increase the organic matter content, which means that carbon is again fixed in the soil. For dairy farmers, it is more about soil life and balanced minerals, permanent grassland with more herb richness, grazing strategies, natural fertilization and the application of organic material such as compost or bokashi.