The demand for healthy, local, good food and healthy land has never been greater. More consumers, producers, food distributors and government programs are engaged in producing more of this food, and the potential for the effects on the planet are huge.
Why? Because an agriculture focused on regenerative practices is by definition an agriculture focused on improving soil health through increased soil carbon and life in the soil. While industrial agriculture has been mining the soil of minerals, fertility, and life for the last 50+ years, regenerative agriculture is about growing and feeding soil life.
We know that tools like compost tea, compost, no-till, cover cropping, polyseeding, Keyline plowing, Permaculture, and Holistic Planned Grazing, among other practices, actually build soil health and tilth so that not only is food for humans produced, but also food for all the micro- and macro-fauna in the soil.
In healthy soil, there should be more organisms under the ground than above the ground. In symbiotic relationships with the living root in the soil, these organisms build soil carbon, sequestering carbon from the atmosphere and storing it in the soil. This carbon acts like a giant sponge so that more water can infiltrate and be retained in the soil.
Whether farming or ranching, large scale or small scale, regenerative agricultural practices that focus on soil health are critical to a healthy land base that is more resilient against the volatility of weather, such as drought or floods. They are also critical for the long-term sustainability of agricultural businesses because with those practices they are less dependent on fossil fuel inputs that will only continue to rise in costs. Lastly, it is with these practices that more atmospheric carbon will be stored in the soil, reducing CO2 in the air where it is a problem and putting it in the soil where it increases land productivity. That’s why these agricultural practices are necessary for the survival of this generation—but also many generations to come.
Does it seem hard to believe that so much can be accomplished with these practices? Read on and learn about the power of symbiotic relationships.
Let’s start with what happens in the grazing process. When an animal takes a bite of grass, it prunes the plant at a given height and the roots die back in mirror image below. The remaining leaf is the solar panel of the plant to capture more solar energy and grow more leaf. It is also pulling carbon out of the air and putting it into the ground where the micro-organisms in the soil are having a feeding frenzy on the carbon coming out around the roots. In turn, the micro-organisms’ waste becomes the food for the plant. It’s a big party down there with lots of benefit for the land steward if they manage it well and keep those micro-organisms well-fed.
The challenge is to not only graze and put some of the plant through the animal, but allow the grazing animal to push organic matter into the soil, add their own fertilizer, and break the surface of any bare soil to allow for good water infiltration then allow the plant adequate time to recover. All this needs to be done while also working to leave a good portion of the plant so it can be the conduit for the party down below.
On the farming side of things, farmers who don’t till, don’t destroy the soil life and its habitat. If they feed the soil with compost or other natural amendments, the soil life grows strong. If the farmer makes sure there is always a live root in the soil through planting a combination of cover crops and cash crops then the soil life has food to eat and the soil can capture more moisture and keep it in the soil—reducing need for irrigation and increasing the ability to withstand droughts and floods.
That means a farmer or rancher has to manage for soil life. The tangible results of this kind of this management are many as you can see by clicking on the icons below.