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Regenerative Agriculture Improves Soil

Tuesday, March 28, 2017 5:01
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(Before It's News)

Building Organic Matter, Storing Carbon, Combating Drought

[This article was previously published in the spring issue of The Cultivator, Cornucopia’s quarterly newsletter.]

by Marie Burcham, JD, Farm and Food Policy Analyst &
Jennifer Hayden, Ph.D, Communications and Development Director at The Cornucopia Institute

Many of the soils in the U.S. are depleted— unproductive, eroded, lacking microbial life, high in salts, and unable to retain water. This depletion has both global and local consequences that regenerative agriculture seeks to remediate.

Source: Adobe Stock

Regenerative agriculture is not a new idea, but it is gaining steam as awareness of climate change, drought, and food security issues become more universal and pressing.

A principle goal of regenerative agriculture is to improve the land by building healthy soil, benefitting ecosystems and humanity.

One service healthy soil provides is the ability to retain water. When rain falls on depleted soil, it washes away substrate and precipitates down into the water table quickly, actions that leach the soil of nutrients and contribute to erosion and flooding.

In contrast, a healthy soil mat absorbs and stores water, combats the effects of drought, and keeps the microbiome vibrant.

Another major benefit of healthy soil is the ability to store carbon. In fact, carbon sequestration in soil is a practical way to reduce the primary atmospheric greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide (CO2), that contributes to climate change.

Due to the destruction of native grasslands, wetlands, and forests— often to make way for the soil-depleting practices of conventional agriculture—the United States has seen a precipitous drop in the amount of carbon stored in such natural carbon sinks. The key to soil carbon sequestration is supporting the soil microbiome (i.e., soil life).

Through photosynthesis, plants naturally take CO2 in from the atmosphere and convert it into the carbohydrates they need to grow. Plants send some of this carbohydrate energy down through their root systems to feed microbial soil life.

Plants act as carbon pumps, bringing the CO2 down into the soil, where it is “fixed” by soil life in a process that builds organic matter. A large fraction of organic matter is comprised of stored carbon.

Common agricultural practices destroy organic matter. Chemicals, tillage (plowing), and fallow fields all lead to the destruction of soil life, soil structure, and soil carbon.

Regenerative agricultural practices replenish depleted soils and create a system that supports soil life.

These practices include reducing or eliminating tillage (no-till) and pesticide use, planting fields year-round (cover crops), leaving plant residue on fields after harvest, adding compost, and utilizing diverse rotations and agroforestry techniques that combine crops, forestry, and livestock into one system.

Livestock raised on pasture can also aid soil regeneration and carbon sequestration when managed in ways intended to meet these goals. These management strategies seek to mimic the grazing patterns of wild herds.

Trampled grass and animal waste help build up organic matter across pastureland, serving as a valuable carbon sink. Intensive grazing practices, sometimes called “mob grazing,” rotate high densities of animals among fenced parcels of pasture.

Many of these practices are essential to organic farming— in fact, organic farmers are the vanguard of regenerative agriculture.

A contingent of conventional farmers do use no-till practices, which are regenerative, but their continued heavy use of synthetic pesticides in monocrop systems hampers soil regeneration.

Regenerative agricultural practices can reduce atmospheric CO2, while increasing resilience to both floods and drought. As an added benefit, soils built up by regenerative practices also retain their productivity without the need for synthetic fertilizers, because these soils have a rich biome that retains its mineral components.

Organic agriculture, when practiced according to the original intent of the movement, is wholly aligned with regenerative agriculture. At the heart of both is the goal of supporting soil health, which leads to long-term sustainability.

When we support organic farms that practice regenerative agriculture, we are supporting the rehabilitation of our most important shared resource: Planet Earth.

The post Regenerative Agriculture Improves Soil appeared first on Cornucopia Institute.


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  • Suggest “Plowman’s Folly” by Edward Faulkner for the basic HOW-TO of this SUPERB method of crop production. Read it forty years ago and STILL refer to it today – it is THAT GOOD.

    Online used books networks such as and will provide on request. Price varies with condition. A Wikipedia article outlining the practice of no-till farming can be found @ URL as well.

    So die, Monsanto, you soulless son of unholy perdition, DIE! Naive farmers all the world around, blindly following your EVIL high-tillage recommendations, have unwittingly ruined an AWFUL LOT of our soil. Worse yet: Your rivers of Roundup® blindly applied to our ruined land, year after year, have now migrated through natural groundwater flows all the way down our rivers to all the oceans, where the water’s saline content keeps that foul schtuff deadly INDEFINITELY. And I say NO MORE as to the dairy herds that YOUR Roundup®-saturated GMO corn has murdered, do you GET IT YET? THIS IS NO DRILL!

    Bad “person”! BAD BAD CRIMINAL GANG of a false-heart “PERSON!” To the GALLOWS with ye!

    Fact: This state of affairs has led to the dying-off of the base of tiny one-celled plants known as “phytoplankton” on which ALL other organic life on Earth depends! We have had far superior ways within reach for nearly a century of this American life by now. Time to get BACK TO IT.

    Or die the Death, *all* of us together and sooner than later, just from keeping up the ol’ corporatist status quo… Still a little time left to CHOOSE, though, just maybe…

    Why NOT? And that is all. 0{>:-o[

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