What is regenerative farming and how can you support it?
You may have recently heard the term “regenerative farming” or “regenerative agriculture”.
The concept of regenerative farming is real. It is a philosophy and a boots-on-the-ground approach to integrating conservation and environmental sustainability into modern farming.
What is regenerative farming? It is not one specific practice, it is a strategic approach to farming that incorporates practices that restore soil health, prevent land degradation, and reduce the use of inputs like water, chemicals, synthetic fertilizers, fuel, etc.
I say “reducing” instead of eliminating, because growing food on the scale needed to feed billions of people requires inputs. Plants – from vegetables to rice to field corn and wheat – need water, nutrients, labor, and equipment. Plants also require a well-aerated seed bed free of weeds. If you have a relationship with farming or have a garden, you know that food plants must be babied.
Regenerative farming is about doing more with less – focusing on practices that reduce the need to disturb the soil, build organic matter, and use technology to reduce the overuse of water, nutrients, and chemicals for weed and pest control.
For example, on my farm, we can forgo some use of synthetic fertilizers in favor of chicken litter (manure). We have moved many acres to a minimum-till environment to reduce soil disturbance. We are investing in technologies and services to lower water, chemical, and fuel usage. We are testing and adding new practices every year. The graphic below downloaded from US Farmers & Ranchers in Action illustrates some of the practices we and others use.
Farmers of 5 acres to 20,000 acres use these practices to improve their operations and environmental impacts. Agriculture in the United States accounts for 9.9% of all carbon emissions. Together, farmers are working to potentially reduce our carbon footprint to 3.8% in the next five years!
IF YOU ARE NOT A FARMER, WHAT CAN YOU DO?
Farmers cannot do this alone. We need support from all Americans who will advocate on our behalf within their communities and with leadership.
Have conversations in which you support ALL farmers. Regenerative farming practices are adopted on a case-by-case basis depending on a farm’s crops, size, soil type, geography, and finances (adopting new practices can be expensive). We practice sustainable farming, BUT we cannot apply all practices in all situations, and we still must use some synthetic fertilizers and some chemicals for weed and pest control. Talk to your friends, neighbors, community leaders, and representatives, and push back on the idea that regenerative farming is all-or-nothing. Start a conversation by forwarding this email or post to the Farmher Hallie Facebook with your thoughts. You can also contact me here.
Support the big farmers. I operate a 2,000-acre farm. I know many farmers of 5,000 to 20,000 acres. These are still family-owned and operated farms that are implementing regenerative farming practices just as I am.
Support big production. Vegetable production isn’t necessarily a small endeavor. I know plenty of produce farmers who operate hundreds and thousands of acres. They too are implementing regenerative farming practices just as I am. We need large-scale production of fresh produce as well as soybeans, corn, rice, wheat, and other crops to feed our domestic population and support our economy via exports.
Potentially hot take alert. Don’t focus on RoundUp. Glyphosate is a public representative of the “evils” of chemical weed and pest control, and conversations advocating for its elimination distract from real change. I want to reduce my use of RoundUp and chemicals like it, and we are taking steps to do just that. However, we cannot eliminate it as a form of weed control. If we demonize RoundUp, we alienate farmers like me who need it and other chemistries to produce enough of our crops to stay in business. And if we alienate farmers, we can't effectively join forces to fight climate change together.
Demand change from other industries. Farmers can reduce their own carbon emissions, but it doesn't address other carbon-intense industries - utilities, oil and gas, and manufacturing. Farmers are one of the groups with the most to lose in the face of extreme weather caused by human-caused, emissions-driven climate change. When you have conversations about supporting farmers, advocate for innovation and investment in these industries to reduce carbon emissions.
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