Problem: Today, we rely heavily on conventional agriculture, which is built upon a model of extraction. According to the Scientific American, the causes of soil destruction include chemical-heavy farming techniques, deforestation which increases erosion, and global warming. The earth under our feet is too often ignored. On average the US loses 545 million TONS of topsoil each year due to corn, and 5.8 TONS of topsoil are LOST PER ACRE. The UN conducted a soil survey that came up with a shocking discovery, if current rates of degradation continue, all of the world’s topsoil could be gone within 60 years.
Solution: Mother nature, left to herself, is adaptive, resilient, and regenerative. We must examine and duplicate those natural systems. Regenerative agriculture has a mindset of looking at mother nature as a system, that holistically promotes working together to improve as a whole. As Lauren Tucker, Executive Director at Kiss the Ground, puts it, “At the most basic entry point, it’s about healthy soil and soil carbon. Then the next level looks at the plants and animals of the ecosystem and their welfare. At deeper levels, we’re looking at the farmer’s well-being and whether the communities that interact with the farm are taken care of.”
Problem: It is a fact that humans, animals, and plants need water to survive. Close to 40% (over 600 gallons per day per person in the U.S.) of freshwater withdrawal coming from diversion for farm irrigation and livestock use making water and soil undeniably connected. With the Mississippi River in our backyard, the impact on watershed has become detrimental and we are watching it unfold right in front of our eyes. Draining 31 U.S. states and parts of Canada, the Mississippi River meanders southward and picks up contaminants like sediment, mercury, fertilizers, and pesticides. Pollution from fertilizers, sewage treatment plants, and industrial facilities combine to create a Dead Zone in the Gulf. Since the 1970s, the Dead Zone has grown to the size of Connecticut (about 5,500 square miles).
Solution: By using regenerative agriculture we are able to increase the soil’s water holding capacity, making water more readily available during dry spells and sequester more water, faster in times of flood. When soils are at their best, they are able to filter water and decrease runoff, which then improves water quality in several bodies of fresh water, like the Mississippi River. According to the U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service, every 1% of organic matter in the soil holds an additional 20,000 gallons of water per acre, per rain event. If we did this math on 500 acres x 20,000 gallons of water = 10,000,000 gallons saved! Using this method of practice, we are able to keep soil, nutrients, and pesticides out of the waterway.
Problem: It will come as no surprise, that climate change is an ever-pressing issue challenging human and natural life sustainability on Earth. The global climate solution is not possible without addressing the impact of agriculture which contributes upwards of 1/3 of the global greenhouse gas emissions from human activities. With a lack of tangible, capable solutions to address the severity and urgent time crunch to the problem, not only do we need to severely reduce the amount of carbon dioxide being put into the atmosphere, but we also need to start utilizing the carbon that already exists. Soil destruction creates a vicious cycle, in which less carbon is stored, the world gets hotter, and the land is further degraded.
Solution: The simple solution to a world-wide problem can be summed up into one environmental word, photosynthesis. According to Green America, the idea behind regenerative agriculture is relatively straightforward: excess carbon in the atmosphere is bad because of its role in climate change, and carbon in the soil is good because of its role as a fertilizer. Regenerative agriculture is the mechanism, a set of tools and practices, that pulls carbon from the air and transfers it underground—storing carbon and re(storing) agricultural soils.
Problem: There has been an ever-growing rivalry between agriculture and the environment. The problem is, that the environment is losing. Agriculture and food production is increasing, forcing production against nature. When putting a focus on the demand for producing food, it takes away from the great opportunity of having them work together for the better good of the people and the planet.
Solution: When farming in a way such as regenerative agriculture, the system functions more like a natural ecosystem rather than a monoculture field. Alan Savory explains, “Regenerative agriculture incorporates beneficial insects, birds, and other animals into the whole, leaving roles for them to be beneficial. Regenerative agriculture builds soil, improving soil carbon content, fertility, availability of nutrients, and soil life. It does all this while still producing food for human consumption.”
Problem: Savory Institute claims, 1/3 of the Earth’s land surface is grasslands, and of that 1/3, seventy percent are facing desertification. On top of wreaking havoc on our land, the UN FAO’s estimate if nothing is done there will be only 60 years left to farm due to the current rate of soil degradation, and globally it will cost approximately $24,000,000,000,000 (Trillion) by 2050 to maintain poor land. And even if we do maintain the poor land, the food will not contain the nutrition we need.
Solution: Research shows properly managed lands are both ecologically and economically beneficial for humans and nature. Regenerative agriculture holistic management is broken up into four parts, Planned Grazing, Land Planning, Financial Planning, and Ecological Monitoring. When considering these, Earth and people can again work together as one. We have proven by properly managing the land and grazing we can regenerate topsoil, reverse desertification and gain all the benefits of doing such.
Problem: It is a growing concern for individuals to know where their food comes from, and how it is grown or raised. While it is important to be mindful of your own food practices, it is also important to stay informed about the treatment of all people, land, and animals involved in the production.
Solution: Regenerative agriculture stands on the grounds of raising animals in a humane way. They are raised in pasture settings where they can express their natural behaviors and not experience the pain and discomfort of a CAFO. Raising cattle in a respectful way is our responsibility and simultaneously contributes to healthy soil, which creates high-quality nutrient-dense forages. As Wendell Berry quotes “We cannot live harmlessly at our own expense; we depend on other creatures and survive by their deaths. To live, we must daily break the body and shed the blood of Creation. The point is, when we do this knowingly, lovingly, skillfully, reverently, it is a sacrament; when we do it ignorantly, greedily, clumsily, destructively, it is a desecration.”
Problem: Nutrition is at the root of good health. Without steady, nutritious food, humans simply cannot live, learn, fight disease or lead fruitful lives. Health and wellness are key in thriving on a day to day basis.
Solution: The solution is quite simple, according to UN FAO, health goes beyond human health to also include animal, plant and environmental health, a One Health approach. Healthy animals contribute to healthy people and to sustainable food production. Promoting best practices aimed at making animal production efficient and sustainable while protecting public health and ensuring safe trade. Makes sense, doesn’t it?
Problem: As the UN Food and Agriculture Organization reads, Climate change is expected to exacerbate the challenges rural communities are confronting. Scientists expect climate change to increase the number of both droughts and extreme precipitation events. Both of these impacts, in turn, reduce agricultural productivity and further aggravate climate change—droughts reduce vegetation growth, which limits carbon sequestration; extreme precipitation worsens erosion, which causes soil carbon stocks to be lost. The NCA points out, rural communities bear the brunt of these changes.
Solution: The model of regenerative agriculture is not only beneficial for rural economies because it helps support a larger labor force, but it can also provide millions of dollars’ worth of ecological services all while remaining profitable. An Iowa State University research study shows that moving from a 2-year to a 3- or 4-year crop rotation can cut energy, synthetic nitrogen, and herbicide costs. Labor costs increase in the longer rotations (hello, rural jobs), but profitability remains essentially unchanged. Claire O’Connor, director of Water and Agriculture at NRDC states, “Regenerative agriculture could be what we need to finally bridge the infamous rural-urban divide, revitalize rural communities, confront climate change, and restore some of the “greatness” that some rural Americans feel they’ve lost.” Restoring grasslands for multi-species managed grazing requires more labor but eliminates tilling, traditional crops and rotations, synthetic nitrogen, herbicides, while regenerating soil. A beautiful, nature-designed model at its best will re-vitalize rural economies.
Problem: The amount of accessible food on Earth is both amazing and harmful to our demanding society. According to UN Food and Agriculture Organization, Among the great challenges the world faces is how to ensure that a growing global population – projected to rise to around 10 billion by 2050 – has enough quality food to meet their nutritional needs for a healthy life. This for a planet experiencing increasing water and land scarcity, soil, land and biodiversity degradation and more frequent and severe weather events.
Solution: Regenerative agriculture focuses heavily on soil health and all of the benefits that come with it, including rich and diverse grasslands which then provides livestock an accessible source of protein and fat that are nutrient-dense and locally-grown without relying on fossil fuels. Our soil becomes exponentially more productive and nutritionally fortifying when we bring the micro-biology back to life and increase the carbon and organic matter. It’s not that we don’t have enough ag land, it’s that the ag land is being depleted from our current conventional ag practices.
WHAT IS CARBON FARMING?
Carbon Farming (n.) a farming method that reduces Greenhouse Gas emissions or captures and holds carbon in vegetation and soils. It is managing land, water, plants, and animals to gain the benefits of Regenerative Agriculture.
WHY IS IT IMPORTANT?
The amount of carbon in our atmosphere is at an all-time high. It is warming our earth at an alarming rate and crippling our climate. However, in our soil, it is having the opposite effect. Because of long-term tilling, overgrazing, erosion, and chemical use, our soils have lost up to 80% of its carbon.
WHAT CAN WE DO?
By moving carbon down from the atmosphere into the soil we will be able to help combat climate change! Soil is fueled by carbon molecules, which in return those microorganisms feed all the plants, those plants feed the animals, that then feed us.
Grass-fed beef can play an important role in carbon farming when properly managed. The issue is that not all grass fed beef produced with the same practices. Thousand Hills Lifetime Grazed teams up with Renegades who practice regenerative agriculture on their farms, helping to create healthy soils and diverse forage for the animals.
“Properly managed grazing, if applied on 25% of our crop and grasslands, would mitigate the entire carbon footprint of North American agriculture.”
—Teague & Rowntree 2016
“Soil from properly managed grazing operations can sequester 4-7 tons more carbon/hector/year compared to continuous grazing.”