What is regenerative agriculture? There are many different definitions, principles, and practices, but essentially Regenerative Agriculture is an umbrella term for farming practices actively reversing environmental degradation by improving the soil and other growing conditions in horticultural, cropping, and livestock production systems.
As such it includes Agroecological, Organic, and Biodynamic growing techniques, Conservation Agriculture, Zero Budget Natural Farming, and Nature-Based Solutions when these are carried out in ways that renovate rather than simply sustain the existing growing conditions.
We generally associate agriculture with large-scale commercial farming operations. But as agriculture is the science and practice of growing crops and the rearing of animals to provide food, wool, and other products, we can apply the principles of regenerative agriculture at any scale – balconies, backyards, community gardens, small as well as thousand-acre holdings!
The intent to improve the conditions in which we grow food sets regenerative apart from sustainable agriculture. For example, we can choose to apply sufficient compost to maintain the health of our soil or apply extra compost to improve it!
As generally practiced, the focus of regenerative agriculture is on remedying issues like low levels of organic matter, nutrients, water infiltration into the soil, and insect pest problems using standard regenerative practices like cover crops, no-till, compost, crop rotations, and livestock integration.
But is this the best way to enable our land to give us more support with growing food?
Low levels of organic matter, nutrient deficiencies, rainwater running off rather than infiltrating our soil, crops relentlessly hammered by insects, and unpollinated flowers, all tell us that our growing conditions are not 100%. We can focus on improving each of these, but this doesn’t make much sense because they are the symptoms rather than the cause of poor growing conditions.
Focusing on the ecological systems that naturally remedy these issues makes far more sense. Organic matter, nutrient availability, absorbent soil, pest control, and pollination are the products and services of functioning ecosystems.
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Many farmers around the world, who have already switched their focus in this way, now benefit from the free services their ecosystems provide. They get better yields and produce more nutritious food at lower costs – less reliant on pest controls, fertilisers, compost, and other external inputs. Their production systems are more resilient to the challenges of climate change and supply vital ecosystem services like biodiversity, carbon sequestration, and flood mitigation as natural by-products.
Ecosystems are complex but repairing them isn’t complicated, because three functions drive most of the action in our farms and gardens – water and nutrient cycles and energy flows. That’s why, at Learning from Nature, we support farmers to regenerate these highly evolved, locally adapted ecosystems with our Eco-logical Farming and Gardening Handbook, and other resources.
By way of example, by maximising plant growth for human consumption and livestock, we’ve overlooked designing our production systems to also provide our soil organisms with the resources they need to maintain the ecological systems that recycle nutrients and supply ‘silver service’ catering to our crops! Tasks for which they’ve had billions of years of on-the-job training!
Using this Eco-logical Approach to Regenerative Agriculture
To repair the ecological functions holding you back, apply ecological principles to develop ‘place-based solutions’ that work well for your growing conditions and production systems. For example, instead of relying on standard regenerative practices, like growing cover crops, use other techniques more suitable for your climate and production systems, like living mulch, green manure, intercropping, pasture cropping, and alley cropping.
See how we use these ecological principles to regenerate our farm here
Recommended articles –
- How to choose Regenerative Practices – that Work!
- Eco-logical Principles of Regenerative Agriculture
- Grow Food – Ecologically
Or get everything you need to know with our Eco-logical Farming Handbook.