Agriculture is one of the main sectors significantly contributing to global CO₂ emissions (1, 2, 3). The agricultural practices adopted in the last centuries were all developed with regard to mass production and the everlasting desire to optimise production streams (4). Heavy use of synthetic fertilisers and tillage have been causing significant loss of nutrients and fertility in soils and a steep decline of biodiversity while also reducing soils’ capacity to absorb carbon.
However, in the last decade the idea of regenerative agriculture has been gaining increasing popularity. The sustainable farming concept follows the idea of restoring the health of the land used and with it the entire ecosystem. Regenerative agriculture is not tied to a specific practice, but incorporates a holistic approach by working with the land’s natural systems instead of against them (5, 6). This practice therefore poses quite the opposite approach to conventional farming techniques which mainly focus on short-term high yields. Regenerative agriculture enhances soil organic matter, providing more nutrient-rich and fertile soil for long-term high yields, and more climate change-inducing CO₂ can be stored in the topsoil.
The following principles help to get an idea about what regenerative agriculture means and what its purpose is.
Principles of regenerative agriculture
- Nurture relationships within and across ecosystems
- Prioritise soil health
- Reduce reliance on synthetic inputs
- Nurture communities and reimagine economies (6, 7)
As mentioned above, regenerative agriculture does not follow one specific practice. Farmers can decide to live up to these principles in whichever way suits them best.
A very popular and promising method of regenerative agriculture in regards to reducing the carbon footprint is carbon sequestration. Carbon sequestration refers to the practice of storing CO₂ in soil rather than emitting it into the atmosphere. By storing as much carbon dioxide as possible in the soil, the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is reduced which contributes to reaching the goal of containing climate change (8, 9, 10). Places that retain a lot of carbon dioxide can be referred to as carbon sinks. In scenarios in which the soil is worked in a way that it is able to retain the maximum amount of carbon dioxide, it also serves as a carbon sink which fosters the reduction of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere (11). These practices can become very interesting when looking at carbon management. The possibility of being able to store emissions in the soil instead of releasing them to the atmosphere simply by adopting different farming techniques has incredible potential. At Cozero we aim to provide our customers with carbon management solutions that enable them to do exactly that and more. Leveraging carbon management solutions to enable the overall reduction of carbon emissions in day-to-day business, which also entails carbon sequestration.
Common practices for carbon sequestration and regenerative agriculture include:
- No-till farming: Refraining from tillage when planting and growing crops keeps the soil nutrient-rich and healthy as organisms in the soil are not disturbed. Farms practicing 100% no-till, therefore, tend to have higher yields than farms that practice some level of tillage, while labor is reduced at the same time.
- Composting: Natural process of turning organic waste into fertiliser that enriches plants and soil, while storing carbon.
- Cover Crops: Crops planted between main crops to e.g increase soil carbon and prevent wind and water erosion.
- Contour planting: Plants follow the natural outline of the landscape forming ridges, so the water flow is slowed down and water can soak into the soil. This practice reduces soil losses due to rain which would occur in straight-line planting as topsoil is often washed away (9,11,12).
The list could go on infinitely. Generally, adopting practices of regenerative agriculture has countless benefits that go way beyond the obvious environmental aspects of e.g. an increased biodiversity, reduced soil erosion and improvements in the overall health and fertility of the soil, just to name a few. This holistic approach also has benefits from an economic and social perspective. The reduced use of chemical fertilisers e.g. is cost saving for the farmers and increases their health and well-being as they have to inhale fewer toxic substances. Regenerative farming strengthens the bonds between farmers and fosters building a sense of community, building stronger relationships and exchanging information, tools etc. with each other (6, 13).
Concluding it can be said that regenerative agriculture is a sustainable approach to farming. It belongs to the many actions we need to take in order to mitigate the climate crisis and sustain our ecosystems.
How you can contribute to regenerative agriculture in your daily life
If you are interested in supporting regenerative agricultural farming, here is what you can do at home:
- Compost at home
- Buy from farmers practicing regenerative agriculture
- Grow some of your food at home
- Spread awareness (13)
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- The regenerative revolution of food – BBC
- Can regenerative agriculture reverse climate change? Big food is banking on it - NBC News
- Agriculture, Climate Change and Carbon Sequestration - NRCS
Text by Leonie Neumann, Marketing/Climate Tech Working Student at Cozero and Felicitas Buck, Junior Sustainability Success Manager at Cozero