“…farmers are learning a lesson that resonates throughout human interactions with the natural world: People reap more benefit from nature when they give up trying to vanquish it and instead see it clearly, as a demanding but indispensable ally.”
~ Jaques Leslie
“If you’ve never heard about the amazing potential of regenerative agriculture and land use practices to naturally sequester a critical mass of CO2 in the soil and forests, you’re not alone. One of the best-kept secrets in the world today is that the solution to global warming and the climate crisis (as well as poverty and deteriorating public health) lies right under our feet, and at the end of our knives and forks.”
~ Ronnie Cummins, International Director of Regeneration International and the OCA
Global warming, climate change, scary weather, liberal myth — whatever you call it, there’s lots of anxiety and contention about what if anything to do about it. If it’s irreversible natural forces, then we’ll all be living in the glacial stone age and won’t have to worry about what the data trends told us. However, whether it is human-caused or not, the risk of it being true is worth taking some actions to mitigate or reverse the effects.
Some of my friends argue about the cost of carbon taxes or giant sea-walls along the coasts (maybe that’s what Trump is aiming for in Texas?). But, there are things we can do that aren’t that hard or expensive to implement. A recent series of studies heralded ‘regenerative agriculture’, the practice of returning carbon to the soil where it came from originally, as a possible, if partial, solution.
According to Jaques Leslie in the New York Times,
“To fertilize their fields, regenerative farmers use nutrient-rich manure or compost, avoiding as much as possible chemical fertilizers and pesticides, which can kill huge quantities of organic matter and reduce plants’ resilience … Some farmers combine livestock, cover crops and row crops sequentially on the same field, or plant perennials, shrubs and even trees along with row crops. Leaving soil bare during off-seasons is taboo, since barren soil easily erodes, depleting more carbon from the soil; regenerative farmers instead plant cover crops to capture more carbon and nitrogen from the atmosphere.”
In essence, regenerative agriculture reverses the historic function of agriculture — removing carbon from soil and displacing it into the atmosphere. In that process, the necessary nutrients and microbial life are also removed. As noted by Jack Kittredge, “Soil is literally alive. It is full of bacteria, fungi, algae, protozoa, nematodes and many, many other creatures. In a teaspoon of healthy soil, in fact, there are more microbes than there are people on earth.” As a result, farmers use more chemical fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides which are expensive and detrimental to animal life and waterways.
Industrial agriculture, or Big Ag (per Michael Pollen), thrives on massive fields of mono-cultural crops that are all plowed, planted and harvested at one time. This doesn’t leave much room for protecting the soil, and results in erosion by wind and water. In addition, crop diversity is minimized, resulting in unnaturally low microbial diversity in the soil. The net result is a slow depletion of the soil that then must rely on chemical additions to maintain productivity.
The nature of smaller farms and ranches, where livestock mingles with farming, offers greater opportunity to integrate management practices that are responsive to local conditions. Historically, small farmers grew both cash crops and crops for home use and animal feed. Smaller farms can actually manage their fields in an adaptive manner with greater diversity of crops, different sequencing of plowing, planting and harvesting, and more reliance on cover crops. These fields can be managed to provide grazing for livestock and to benefit wildlife.
Smaller farms could also reinforce the concept of ‘family’ back into ‘family farms’. As farmers age, young people have been unable to continue the farming life as exemplified by Big Ag. The decline in small farms has contributed to the decline in small farming communities, changing the social fabric of a large part of America.
Regenerative farming offers a lifestyle that relies heavily on the relationship between the farmer and their land. The regenerative farmer is not just growing crops or raising livestock, they are also always creating and maintaining healthy soil.
As Jack Kittredge notes,
“If we want to survive we really have no alternative but to restore carbon to the soil. That this can be done through biology, using a method that has worked for millions of years, is exciting. Farmers, gardeners, homeowners, landscapers — anyone who owns or manages land — can follow these simple principles and not only restore carbon to the soil but help rebuild the marvelous system that nature has put in place to renew our atmosphere while providing food, beauty and health for all creation.”
Let’s see, at a reasonable cost, we can:
- support small farms and small farm communities
- restore carbon to the soil
- renew our atmosphere (and reduce climate change pollutants)
- provide food, beauty and health for all creation.
Think it’s worth a try?
Twilight Greenaway, Where Corn Is King, the Stirrings of a Renaissance in Small Grains, November 28, 2017, YaleEnvironment360
Justine E. Hausheer, New Science Shows Nature’s Potential to Fight Climate Change, November 7, 2017, Cool Green Science
Jaques Leslie, Soil Power! The Dirty Way to a Green Planet, New York Times, December 3, 2017
The Nature Conservancy, reThink Soil: A Roadmap for U.S. Soil Health, Discussion Draft: November 1, 2016
The Nature Conservancy, Soil Health Makes Strides in 2017
Jim Robbins, Climate Connection: Unraveling the Surprising Ecology of Dust, November 30, 2017 YaleEnvironment360
Regeneration International, Why Regenerative Agriculture?,Agriculture? 2017