Rooted in sustainability, regenerative agriculture is a system of farming that aims to restore and conserve the soil and environment in which crops are grown. It uses a holistic approach, creating a cycle of farming that enriches rather than degrades the soil, supports instead of getting rid of insects and other biodiversity, and builds an intricate system rather than simplifying it. As Golden State Grains, we hope to encourage California farmers to include grains in their farming system. Grains provide a myriad of benefits to a system, including being a successful overwintering crop and a source of protection from erosion and runoff post-harvest. Below we go in depth on the steps toward and benefits of regenerative agriculture.
Soil health is determined by the living and nonliving factors below ground. A variety of micro fauna exist, such as bacteria, fungi, and decomposers. These organisms run processes that are helpful to plant growth, like fixing nitrogen and aerating the soil.
When diversity of soil organisms exists, providing ecosystem services for the soil, plants will thrive and the farmer needs fewer synthetic additives like pesticides and fertilizer. The natural system takes care of itself.
Biodiversity above and below ground is crucial for successful agriculture. Biodiversity of the plants grown above ground improves the biodiversity of the soil because each plant requires a different set of time, space, and nutrients.
Variety in crops also breaks cycles of pest and disease infestation. In monocultures, pests and crops have similar lifecycles. In a diverse system, natural enemies to pests prevent outbreak, and field layout disallows disease from damaging entire fields.
Some practices of biodiversity in regenerative agriculture include multiple levels of growth, cover crops, and rotational crops.
For example, grains are often grown as overwintering crops. Especially advantageous when grown in succession with legumes, grains use nutrients from the soil later in the year when many other crops no longer need such a large amount. Straw left on the field post-harvest contributes carbon to the soil and is beneficial in reducing pests, soil erosion, and water runoff.
Regenerative agriculture depends on growing a myriad of crops on the same farm. The current food system favors monocultures in which large farms grow a small number of crops, each grown in large fields often surrounded by other large farms that are growing the same small number of crops. Monocultures are more vulnerable to pests and are less likely to regenerate healthy soil and protect the environment. We need to develop a supply chain that rewards growers who grow a variety of crops in the same space.
This supply chain needs to include growers, processors, and consumers. For grains this means seed suppliers, farmers, millers, bakers, and then consumers.
Instead of supporting commodity agriculture and mass marketing, shop local, shop small, and shop smart.
When fields are planted with the same crops year after year with no rotation and no variation, nutrients like nitrogen are unable to regenerate in the soil naturally. Without rotation and nature maintaining the needed nutrients, the only choice that remains is to chemically add what has been depleted. However, in regenerative agriculture, each crop in rotation also contributes something back to the soil, allowing the soil to be replenished naturally without severe depletion and artificial enrichment.
More biodiversity means more nutrients in the soil, which means more nutrients for the plant, which leads to a more nutritious crop. Regenerative agriculture not only improves soil and environmental health, but it also improves human health through a more nutritional diet.
To "regenerate" means to restore and create again. Therefore, the idea behind regenerative agriculture is the continuous renewal of soil, its nutrients, and its processes. Unlike in monoculture systems, where a new chemical cocktail is needed each year, a regenerative system pays the soil health forward year after year.
Rotating crops, keeping plant residues covering the soil, and refraining from tilling are all strategies aimed to regenerate successful crops. This allows growers to retain fields for agriculture instead of further desertifying it.
There is no final step in regenerative agriculture. Instead, it acts as a positive feedback loop that rebuilds from the soil up.