Regenerative Agriculture seems to be the lastest buzz word in the food and farming industry. What is it? How does it differ from Sustainable?
When we sustain something, we merely keep it from deteriorating and business continues as usual. What does it mean to regenerate? Do you sustain a broken bone as broken or does it heal? Much in the same fashion, regenerative agriculture has the ability to initially heal the soil and eventually grow soil.
Often soils lack good soil structure with pore spaces, a robust community of microscopic bacteria and fungi and the soil organic matter to feed it all.
We can take stewardship of a degraded piece of land and implement certain practices that reduce erosion and maintain fertility as is but when we are finished, it is still degraded. If we take that same property and implement practices to improve the water penetration and absorption, reduce compaction, increase soil pore space, reduce erosion, improve the mineral cycle and improve plant diversity on the land. All these things lead to a more robust community of microbes and fungi breaking things down and assimilating nutrients. The more nutrients are absorbed by bacteria and fungi, the more productive plants above ground are.
Plants and bacteria and fungi have an amazing symbiotic relationship that is the basis of all life on this planet. As plants grow, there comes a point where they have enough leaf surface area they begin to send the sugars created via photosynthesis down to the roots. Once there the plant exchanges the glucose with bacteria and fungi in exchange for vitamins, minerals or water. This in turn helps bacteria multiply and fungi to grow.
Glucose, C6H12O6, is the main source of carbon entering soils. Where did that carbon via the glucose come from? The vast majority of carbon in plants actually comes from the carbon dioxide in the air. Plants don’t photosynthesize to create oxygen for the all important human race. Oxygen is merely a bi-product. They go through all that trouble to produce glucose giving them something to barter with the soil community for minerals, water etc.
Soil organic carbon, the absorbable carbon in soil available to the soil community, acts as a sponge for water. A 1% increase in soil organic matter on one acre holds an extra 25,000 gallons or the average size personal swimming pool! Just imagine the flood reducing potential if every acre currently in production agriculture in a watershed could hold that much extra water. This also slows the water cycle and helps mitigate temperature swings. This affect leads to fewer tornados and fewer and more mild severe storms.
Soil organic matter is often touted as the engine for the soil while the sugar itself is the fuel. You can have low organic matter but as long as you have green growing plants, you will have some semblance of soil food web. In the beginning of your soil building journey, the soil may only be equipped
For those who wish to learn more, check out this very in-depth article put out by Yale: Soil as a Carbon Storehouse.
If there are any questions, please comment on this post and we will get back to you ASAP.