Regenerative Farming: A Critical Path to a Sustainable Future 

Written by Poppy Stringer
June 17, 2024
5 min read

‘Only 60 Years of Farming Left If Soil Degradation Continues’. This was the alarming title of an article published in 2014 by a UN official suggesting we now have only another 51 years before our planet’s soil is too barren to sustain a successful harvest…

Whilst these claims have since been disputed as it is impossible to scientifically prove how many harvests our soil has left there is no denying that our soil is degrading at an alarming rate. This is a result of a combination of chemical-heavy farming, deforestation, global warming and climate change. 

In the face of this bleak reality, regenerative farming has emerged as a beacon of hope, offering a promising solution to this pressing environmental challenge. 

What is regenerative farming? 

Regenerative agriculture focuses on farming practices which prioritise soil health, water management and biodiversity. Rather than stripping the earth of its natural resources which traditional intensive farming does, it aims to heal the earth whilst feeding the populations at the same time. 

Regenerative farming is largely focused on the soil and its health. Improving the quality of soil increases the amount of organic matter in it which not only helps generate a bigger crop yield but also helps move carbon from the atmosphere into the soil. This means regenerative farming can play a role in carbon capture- ensuring greenhouse gases are absorbed rather than being trapped in the atmosphere.

There is no strict set of rules when it comes to regenerative farming, as long as the farming techniques used are gentle on the land and help heal the earth they are good to go. 

However, there are 5 key principles which can help guide those new to these practices; 

Minimising soil disturbance 

Conventional farming practices such as tilling and ploughing break up the structure of the soil which prevents healthy root growth and affects the microorganisms which feed the plants-  leaving crops nutritionally deficient and more vulnerable to the elements. Ploughing also often removes the layer of topsoil which is the most fertile layer, reducing plants' ability to grow and affecting the soil’s productivity. Additionally, turning the soil releases large amounts of carbon as above-ground plant biomass decomposes contributing to the high levels of carbon released from agriculture each year. 

Therefore, reducing these harsh mechanical or even chemical disturbances allows for the soil ecosystem to rebuild. 

Intercropping 

Intercropping and mixed cropping have become a new exciting focus for farmers. This method involves growing multiple types of crops on one piece of land. It helps increase the biodiversity of that area, bringing in a wider variety of microorganisms in the soil and wildlife above ground, creating a more resilient ecosystem for crops to thrive in. 

It also really benefits soil health as different plant roots have different structures and release different nutrients. Not only does this help maintain a solid root structure (preventing soil erosion) but also allows for deep-rooted nutrients to be brought to the surface enhancing growth above.

Finally, it reduces the reliance on chemical pesticides for farmers. A diverse crop mix disrupts the habitat of pests making it harder for them to establish and spread. Some plants repel certain pests and predators allowing farmers to stop using harsh chemicals and grow organic produce- meaning it’s not only better for the environment but also extremely profitable. 

Some examples include:-

  • Sowing legumes (such as beans and peas) with grains due to the nitrogen benefits, and ability to avoid needing expensive fertilisers.
  • Flowers with watermelon for the biodiversity of natural pest control 
  • Growing vegetables next to rows of onion or garlic as it repels the pests 
  • Corn and beans- Beans can fix nitrogen, converting atmospheric nitrogen into a form usable by plants. This process provides nitrogen to the corn, thereby decreasing the reliance on synthetic fertilisers 

Establishing a living root 

Plants absorb CO2 from the air and, through photosynthesis, transform it into sugars necessary for their growth. Up to 70% of these sugars are released into the soil to feed bacteria and fungi. These microorganisms congregate around the roots, trading other nutrients and water for the provided carbohydrates, helping keep the soil fertile and the crops alive. The more living roots present, the more this process can take place. 

Additionally, plants with situated roots are protected from soil erosion which prevents land from becoming barren. 

Integrating livestock 

In terms of both plants and animals, there is a symbiotic relationship between the two. Integrating livestock into farming encourages more plant growth, for example, the regular grazing of cattle ensures nutrients are redistributed across the land in the form of animal dung. This nutrient feeds the millions of microorganisms in the soil which subsequently feed the plants, boosting soil fertility and encouraging healthy crop growth (which the livestock can then feed on).

You may think integrating more livestock into farming is counterproductive due to the methane (a heat-trapping greenhouse gas) they release. However, the issue of methane stems from the cow's diet, many farmers feed their cows soybeans and corn which they are not designed to digest. However, switching cows over to graze on open pastures and eat grasses they are naturally adapted to digest will reduce excessive burping and farting and thereby lowering methane production and boosting plant production. 

Keeping the crops covered 

As mentioned, bare soil is extremely susceptible to the elements, therefore covering crops and soil with things such as animal manure (which can come from integrating livestock!) or crop debris can prevent erosion but also help with moisture retention, prevent drought, and temperature regulation to prevent freezing.  

Across the globe, farmers are witnessing the transformative power of regenerative agriculture. Gabe Brown, a pioneer in the field, transformed his North Dakota farm from degraded land into a thriving ecosystem using cover crops, no-till, and livestock integration. Similarly, Athiana Acres is a 30-acre organic regenerative farm in the heart of Richmond which prioritises beneficial environmental practices without compromising on taste.

(Image sourced from Athiana Acres website) 

These farmers are proving, that whilst it's not always easy to work against the grain of conventionally, it is certainly possible and you may even be rewarded for it. 

As we look to the future, the adoption of regenerative farming practices can play a crucial role in building a more sustainable, resilient, and equitable food system. By embracing the principles of regenerative agriculture, we can ensure that farming not only provides for our needs today but also leaves a legacy of health and abundance for tomorrow. 

Regenerative farming will ensure the bleak article title above does not become our reality and that we will have significantly more than ‘60 years left of farming’. 

If you’re interested in exploring climate projects that help build a sustainable future and help with the journey to net zero check out our climate projects or contact us to discuss how SkootEco can help. 

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Written by Poppy Stringer
June 17, 2024
5 min read