Regenerative Agriculture
October 12, 2021

Regenerative agriculture: The proof is in the soil

Written By:
Sarah Roberts, Terramera

This National Farmers’ Day we’re celebrating inspiring regenerative farmers who keep us fed with healthy food and regenerate our earth so that it thrives and provides for generations to come.

Producing the fibers we wear and the food we eat is no easy feat. Still, more and more farmers are adding a climate mitigation tool to their honourable duties by practicing regenerative agriculture

Saving our soil 

Regenerative agriculture is a set of farming practices that go well beyond sustainability when it comes to saving our earth, specifically, our soil. 

Soil is one of the most important components of our food system and is responsible for growing 95% of the world’s food. But nearly half of the most productive soil has disappeared in the last 150 years and the UN estimates that it will be completely degraded within 60 years if current intensive practices continue. 

Regenerative practices—such as no till, cover crops, crop rotations, increasing biodiversity, and minimizing chemicals—pull carbon from the atmosphere and store it in the soil where it boosts crop quality, bolsters the predictability and resiliency of farms, and turns back the clock on climate change. 

The practices offer big economic returns, too. According to the latest study by the Soil Health Institute, farmers who put soil health first benefit from an average income increase of $52 to $45 per acre and reduced average costs of $24 to $17 per acre. 

Meet the farmers championing regenerative agriculture this National Farmer's Day.

Meet Adam Grady of Dark Branch Farms near Kenansville

Adam is a 10th generation farmer of Dark Branch Farms near Kenansville, NC, which has a diverse mix of production including traditional row crops—corn, wheat and soybeans—as well as livestock produced on pasture. Adam, who was initially "downright skeptical" of regenerative agriculture, planted just five acres of cover crops to test the proclaimed benefits of the '6 principles of soil health'. The results were so significant he now uses his first-hand experience to help other farmers make the switch to regenerative agriculture.

Adam Grady, former regenerative agriculture skeptic turned advocate

What regenerative practices do you use?

Adam: We regenerate the soil using cover crops, adaptive grazing, limiting synthetic fertilizer and chemical usage.

What are the main barriers to regenerative agriculture?

Adam: One of the largest barriers in the transition into regenerative production is skepticism. I was able to overcome this with the help of Dr. Allen Williams who persistently encouraged me to give it [regenerative agriculture] a try. He continually consulted with me and showed me what was happening on my own farm and not halfway across the country.

The support he gave me through the transition process also made it easier to combat the social criticism of farming differently than my neighbors.

What is the biggest lesson you've learned through the transition?

Adam: Through the journey of regenerative agriculture, I have learned that when I work with nature rather than against it, I see greater resilience to the things we have the least control over, like the “Weather”—droughts and floods, for example.

Meet Daiya Anderson of Origin Wines in the Okanagan Valley

Daiya is a multigeneration farmer and owner and operator of Origin Wines in the Okanagan Valley, alongside her husband, Blake. Daiya approaches both viticulture and winemaking from a minimalist perspective, where less is more.

Daiya Anderson showing us the healthy soil on their vineyard

What regenerative practices do you use?

Daiya: We focus on topsoil regeneration and biodiversity

What measures do you take to ensure a 'less is more approach?

Daiya: We create the right balance with as little intervention as possible. Many people will spray nutrients and fungicides on a schedule but we are regularly testing the petioles, soil and grapes along with understanding the weather of the current season in order to decide what to do.

Meet Gabe Brown of Brown's Ranch

Gabe owns and operates Brown’s Ranch, a diversified 5,000 acre farm and ranch near Bismarck, North Dakota, along with his wife Shelly, and son Paul. As pioneers of the soil health movement, their ranch focuses on soil health and adaptive steward principles such as integrated grazing and no till cropping systems, which has propelled the regeneration of their land and the success of their operations.

Gabe and Paul Brown on Brown's Ranch

How do you go about regenerating the soil and what results have you seen?

Gabe: I make my living off of the health of the soil.  I follow the 6 soil health principles which drive the four ecosystem processes. We have seen many tangible results; including, our water infiltration rates have increased from a half of an inch per hour in 1991 to over 30 inches per hour today.  Our soil’s organic matter has increased from less than 2% to over 6%. Biodiversity has tripled. Profitability is 10X.

Profitability is important for all business owners, including farmers. How have regenerative practices improved your bottom line?

Gabe: Before moving to this production model, I was in dire financial shape. Now I am debt free. I do not borrow money and I can retire comfortably any time I would want.

How can we roll out regenerative farming on a global scale?

Gabe: Regenerative agriculture must be adopted worldwide, the future of humanity depends on it.  The main barrier is simply the lack of education. Lack of education of farmer, ranchers, businesses, government and consumers. We must show how regenerative ag can positively address many of the challenges facing humanity today. Climate change, water quality and quantity, decimation of our rural communities, human health among others, all can be mitigated to a large degree if these regenerative practices were adopted worldwide.

Regenerative agriculture must be adopted worldwide, the future of humanity depends on it.

What technologies do we need to support regenerative farming?

Gabe: We need technologies that can accurately measure and quantify regenerative practices.  This includes everything from percent bare ground to percent of sunlight being intercepted by living plants to nutrient density of our production.

What advice do you have for farmers wanting to make the switch to regenerative farming?

The best advice I can give is to educate yourself and then align yourself with farmers and ranchers who are using these regenerative practices.  Regenerative practitioners will help guide you down this path

Regenerative agriculture continues to gain momentum as soil health-focused farmers prove its value and its impact on their bottom line.

Like many new concepts, there are challenges with change. But this change is driven by necessity—humanity depends on it.

Here’s to the farmers who are championing regenerate practices to move our food production systems in a healthy direction, feed the world and ensure we’ll have food on our plates for generations to come.

Happy National Farmer's Day!

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