This concept originated with the organic food industry and is obviously meant to capture the idea that healthy, nutrient-rich pasture will grow healthy livestock. Similarly, the philosophy behind regenerative agriculture is “don’t feed the crops, feed the soil” believing that healthy soil will yield more than crops doused in fertilizers. It is called regenerative because the aim is to move the farming system to one which replenishes itself, improving soil health over time rather than depleting it.
Regenerative agricultural practises are surprisingly simple and straight forward and are not just for smallholdings. They can be scaled up for use on large, commercial farms. Reducing tillage is perhaps the most basic step. Ploughing breaks up the soil, exposing deeper soils to the elements. It increases evaporation and carbon dioxide release. Low or no tillage systems avoids this. Secondly, regenerative agriculture prioritises maintaining ground cover. Bare soil, another consequence of ploughing, is prevented by a combination of rotational grazing, planting cover crops, and by leaving stubble. Finally, regenerative agriculture prioritises diversity. If the same crop is grown year-after-year inevitably all the nutrients those plants need will be taken out of the soil but, as different plants need different nutrients, growing a variety of crops prevents that depletion.
Keeping plants growing year-round, maintaining extensive root networks and having a stable soil structure, in addition to increased productivity has an extra benefit; it keeps carbon in the ground and not in the atmosphere. Plants will release carbon dioxide as they decompose (or worse, are burnt). That is unavoidable but can be more than offset through encouraging new plant growth. Indeed, the Federal Government considers the potential of soil carbon to act as a buffer against climate change so great that it has introduced the Carbon Farming Initiative (as part of its emissions reduction plan). Under the scheme, land managers are paid to store carbon through carbon credits.
Stephen Brend, Project Officer, Biosphere Foundatio