Today, we are going to talk climate change. As you know, the climate crisis is already here. From wild fires all summer on the west coast, to frigid winters taking out the power grid in Texas, it feels there is one crisis after another. We are in dire need of structural changes across all systems to better prepare for our changing world.
The agricultural industry is one sector where vast improvements are needed to stop CO2 emissions. On a broad scale, the agricultural industry is one of the largest emitters of CO2 and greenhouse gasses. When you add in emissions from forestry and other land use, agriculture accounts for just under 25% of human created greenhouse gas (CHG) emissions. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), “Leveraging the mitigation potential in the agriculture, forestry and land use sector is extremely important in meeting emission reduction targets.”
This is where the importance of regenerative agriculture comes in. Regenerative agriculture “is a system of farming principles and practices that seeks to rehabilitate and enhance the entire ecosystem of the farm by placing a heavy premium on soil health with attention also paid to water management, fertilizer use, and more. It is a method of farming that improves the resources it uses, rather than destroying or depleting them.” (Rodale Institute)
One of the first steps to securing a bountiful and sustainable food eco-system in our world is soil health. What if, along with creating abundant and healthy top soil, the agricultural industry was able to pull CO2 from the atmosphere and sequester it to the ground? That is one of the amazing abilities of practicing regenerative farming, instead of traditional farming!
When you have healthy soil, you not only grow a more abundant and fruitful crop, you also set up the soil to withstand climate change disasters such as flooding and drought. Regenerative farming techniques also diminish erosion and runoff, which leads to improved water quality on and off the farm. That, in simple terms, sets us up to have secure food systems in the future.
The most basic principles of regenerative agriculture are:
- Conservation tillage - In farming, a big cause of the emissions of CO2 is plowing and tilling. Regenerative farming cuts out this step. With low, or no-till farming, there is less disturbance of the soil which allows for more organic soil matter to thrive and keeps carbon where it belongs, in the soil.
- Diversity - When farmers plant diverse crops, they all release a plethora of necessary nutrients into the soil. This allows for nutrient dense soil, which gives space for a more abundant yield.
- Rotation and cover crops - If you till your field, you leave turn the nutrient rich soil below the surface and expose it to the elements. This leads to erosion of the soil. Along with this idea, if you plant the same crop in the same area every year, your soil is not receiving the abundance of different nutrients that is needed from different crops. Again, regenerative agriculture fights this. Along with a more abundant yield, a diverse soil also keeps away pests and avoids disease.
- Healthy biodiversity - Practicing these other techniques, makes it so farmers (and gardeners) have to mess with their soil less. This means that the natural microorganisms of the soil will thrive. In the long run, artificial fertilizers and soil amendments are not needed.
The climate crisis has not only led to rising temperatures across the world, it has also changed the foundational water cycle around the world. Shifting precipitation patterns and increased evaporation cause more frequent rainfall events along with more severe droughts. Across the world, rainfall has either become catastrophic or non-existent. Middle ground not existing, it is either too much or too little.
Polluted runoff and erosion, has become a common problem due to extreme downpours. The ground simply can not absorb enough of the precipitation at the rate that it falls. Plants will drown in this extreme weather.
When there is not enough rain, there is increased heat which leads to more droughts. In extreme cases (which is more and more common), the land is driven to desertification, which leads to a complete loss of farm production in these areas.
As we continually see in this day and age, climate crisis magnifies already existing problems ten-fold. Agriculture industry problems are no different. We have seen the slow erosion of our topsoil for many years, but the climate crisis exacerbates those problems. Regenerative farming seeks to solve this. The less you mess with soil, and allow spaces for natural processes to occur, the more organic matter you have in soil, i.e. more water-holding capacity.
Switching to regenerative agriculture allows our soils and crops to be more abundant. It is adapting to the climate crisis and learning how to live with it. By creating more resilient soil, farmers are able to take action for fight the crisis long term.
Adapting to the climate crisis is our most actionable path forward to living with it.