An innovative way of farming that enriches soils, supports biodiversity and has the potential to provide food for the future.
Regenerative Agriculture is a method that combines the highest standards of organic farming, animal welfare and social fairness, along with prioritizing soil health and biodiversity. It is seen as a solution to some of our biggest concerns around topsoil, water pollution, food shortage and climate control.
What is Regenerative Agriculture?
It takes a holistic approach to farming, looking at the whole farm as an ecosystem, where the natural capabilities of each aspect are utilized to support the entire operation. The distinguishing feature is restoring healthy soil, which leads to healthy land, healthy animals and ultimately healthier food for us all.
Soil Supports Life
Soil is the base of life, with 95% of our food coming from the soil. Soil also plays a key role in absorbing carbon, filtering water and growing healthy crops. If farming continues as it is, it has been estimated that there is only 60 years of topsoil left. Some say in as few as 25 years, we will hit a point of no return. A scary thought! Conventional agricultural systems are not only releasing greenhouse gases but destroying topsoil by depleting soil carbon. On average, agricultural soils have lost from 30% -75% of their organic carbon through practices such as synthetic nitrogen fertilizer, tillage, monocropping and yield-based management. These practices must change, and regenerative agriculture offers a way to turn farming from being a carbon pollution to being a carbon solution.
Holistic Practices to Support Soil Health and Increase Diversity
Regenerative Agriculture aims to improve and regenerate soil health through specific farming principles. It incorporates many organic principles and does not aim to compete or negate organic standards but build upon them.
Each of these practices supports soil health and it starts with increasing the diversity of plant species throughout the farm, such as growing a varied ground cover for livestock to feed on, as well as integrating trees on grazing pastures. Planting perennial crops, crop rotation and cover crops also support overall soil health.
Organic livestock are managed differently, with a focus on rotational grazing, moving animals through pastures to improve soil, plant and animal health. Animal welfare is of utmost priority, ensuring the animal’s needs are meet and their health is maintained without the use of antibiotics or hormones.
What are the Benefits of Regenerative Agriculture?
1. Reverse Climate Change
Carbon sequestering is to capture atmospheric carbon in the soil and ground foliage. When this happens, it has the potential to aid in reversing current global trends of increasing greenhouse gases in the air and sea. Improving soil health and planting perennials are two of the best ways to help soil sequester carbon from the atmosphere.
2. Restore Watershed Health
Healthy topsoil absorbs water when it rains, while depleted soil is too dry to do so, therefore producing water runoff. This runoff is dangerous as it carries any applied toxic fertilizer or pesticides into rivers, streams and the ocean. Supporting organic soil matter and eliminating the use of chemicals, supports fresh, clean water for us all.
3. Create Resilience to Climate Instability
Healthy topsoil is high in organic matter which holds moisture until its required, thereby creating a resilience to droughts and climate instability. Cover crops also support increased soil moisture, allowing plants to draw on its own water stores when rain is scarce.
4. Increase Crop Yields
Often it is thought organic farming might provide lower yields, however evidence suggests otherwise. The Rodale Institute Farming System Trial has shown organic crops, grown without GMOs and synthetic pesticides are actually more resilient to extreme weather. For example, during a drought, organic systems produced up to 24-34% higher yields.
5. Revitalize Communities
With the growth of large-scale industrial agriculture, small farming communities struggle to survive. However, the demand for organic food is growing and Rodale Institute recognizes this need, offering a variety of programs, workshops and webinars to support the next generation of farmers around the globe.
Regenerative Agriculture in New Zealand
With an incredible background in farming and innovation, it is no wonder that New Zealand farmers are starting to support Regenerative Agriculture. Recently featured on Country Calendar, Peter Barrett manages Linnburn Station, a 9000-hectare farm in Central Otago, and has been following regenerative agricultural practices for 6 years. Watch his amazing story of challenges and successes here.
Providing locally grown, organic produce to our customers is important to Chantal Organics, along with supporting the dedicated organic farmers who produce it, such as these two farms.
Located on the Canterbury Plains, Willowmere Organic Farms has been providing New Zealand with organic produce since 1991. This family farm is now run by son Kelvin Hicks, who has practised organic farming for many years and strongly believes in the benefits of regenerative agriculture and positively impacting the environment around him. He grows wheat, rye, potatoes and carrots, using crop rotation to allow pastures time to rest and the microbes to revitalise. He has a mix of sheep and cattle, and plants a variety of pasture species (a minimum of ten grasses, plantains, clovers and other feed crops) for them to feed on. Farming near the base of Mt Hutt ski field, the temperatures are often freezing in winter and 30+ in summer. Kelvin uses this to his advantage, choosing a specific mix of crops to ensure the weather plays its part in pest control.
Located in sunny Piroa is the The Hunter’s Garden, a small, organic farm run by couple Sally and Hunter who are passionate about sustainability and the health of their plants. In order to provide delicious, nutrient dense produce, they focus on healthy, balanced soil through crop rotation, allowing the soil to rest and beneficial microbes to replenish. Without the use of chemical fertilizers or pesticides, they have had to learn a lot of about the lifecycle of slugs and at certain times of the year, even having to remove them by hand at night! They grow a variety of organic greens, brassicas, courgettes and herbs which Chantal Organics distributes in New Zealand.
The Future of Your Food
The principles of regenerative agriculture have inspired a change in the way food is grown. Humankind has come to a critical point in history, where food production must become innovative to support an ever-growing population. Is climate change presenting an opportunity for us to change course and ultimately improve the health of our people and the planet? Will you vote with your dollar and support farming practices that in turn support a healthier planet?