Understanding Regenerative Agriculture

When I first heard about regenerative agriculture, I was immediately intrigued. You see, I am not a traditional farmer at heart.

I dislike using any kind of chemicals on our garden or farm. Yet, traditional organic farming doesn’t seem to work either.

From a financial viewpoint, organic farming is much more profitable than conventional farming due to the lack of input costs, but in a sense, it’s not really beneficial to the soil.

What I learned was that Regenerative Agriculture is an amazing way of farming that is not only beneficial for the soil, but also for the climate and for the health of the people.

When you manage your land the way that God intended it, the foods you grow are healthier, and you can help reverse climate change.

The main focus of Regenerative Agriculture is soil health but the benefits far exceed that of soil microbiology.

When you first start studying regenerative agriculture, it feels so confusing. How to start, and what to do are only a few of the many questions that I had. 

My aim is to share what I am learning about regenerative farming, in simple terms.

It is much more than no-till farming.

In fact, it is a thinking man’s game, so if you are someone that is very analytical, and likes to look at nature to find solutions to problems, then regenerative farming might be for you.

These notes are from a webinar by Gabe Brown. He was the one to introduce me to regenerative agriculture and is a great teacher.

Understanding Regenerative Agriculture and What it is.

Understand the Principles

The first step in learning about regenerative agriculture is to understand the principles. You need to:

1. Understand context.

Different areas of the world, require different techniques. Take into consideration your growing season as well as what kind of operation you run.

2.Least amount of chemical and mechanical disturbance.

Sometimes you might need to disturb the soil, but the aim is to have the least amount of mechanical or chemical disturbance. On our organic operation, that means we at times do have to cultivate. But we need to do it as little as possible. That living root should stay in the soil as long as possible.

3. Armor on the Soil.

When you look at a natural habitat, the soil is never bare. Regenerative Agriculture seeks to copy that, therefore the soil needs to have armor as much as possible.

4. Diversity.

Natural habitats have a cocktail of different plants growing together, at all times. It is never a monoculture (or a single species), at a time.  

5.Living Root as Long as Possible.

Living roots are what feed biology, which is a fundamental principle in this type of farming. In our garden, we planted cover crops to increase the soil health. This works because of the living root in the soil for so much of the year.

6.Livestock Integration

This one is often the one that is most difficult for farmers to integrate, but it is crucial for the health of your soil. High-density grazing, over a short amount of time, benefits the soil greatly.

Understand the Power of Sunlight

God gave us the sun to rule the day. The power of photosynthesis and how it works together to support life on earth is an amazing study of God’s great faithfulness.

We have to realize that plants and soil are one. The greatest geological force on earth is life.

Proper Soil Testing 

While soil testing is something that is fairly common among farmers, new studies now bring to light that the majority of them only test the inorganic part of the soil, meaning that only half of the nutrients that are available are actually accounted for.

In a study done on the prairies of Canada, they found that none of the soils actually lacked nitrogen, potassium, etc. When testing both inorganic and organic soil matter, the abundance of nutrients was clear.

Which raised the next question: why were the plants not using these nutrients if they were so readily available?

Most soil tests miss the mark. The soil has both inorganic and organic soil matter. Both need to be tested.

You have to Insist on proper soil testing if you want to know the true health of the soil.

Most of the time there are no deficiencies, but rather an availability issue. Not short on nutrients, but short on biology. Biology is what transfers nutrients to plants.

***Great soil test is Haney Soil Test

***Spade in the ground also helps you analyze the soil.

Understand How Soil Functions

In understanding how soil functions, we need to remember that biology is our silent partner. If we feed it what it needs, it will thirve and in turn help our plants to thrive and be more disease resistant.

Biology is the interaction of life.

There are more microorganisms in a teaspoon of healthy soil than there are people on the planet. 

Plants rely on microbes for nutrient acquisition, protection from pathogens and gene regulation 

Ask ourselves, how do we get more biology?

Diverse Living Plants 

A natural habitat always has a lot of different species inhabiting together in an area. To understand regenerative agriculture, you have to look at how nature operates.

The whole ecosystem is a wonderful example of eb and flow of life. 

A short term green cover crop doesn’t not do enough to build soil health. 

We need to Integrate full-season cover crops into crop rotation.

Covers For weed control

Weed control is something that organic farmers in particular struggle with. We don’t spray, so the only other option seems to be cultivation.

However, cover cropping does wonders for weed control, as it suppresses weeds. Also, keeping armor on the soil at all times also suppresses weeds. 

Another thing we need to consider is that weeds are actually nature’s way of building soil health. Different types of weeds have different purposes, and while this is something that I dont understand completely, it’s worth looking into.

What do these weeds mean for my soil?

Understand Carbon:Nitrogen Rations

A big problem that we faced when first introduced to regenerative agriculture was what kind of cover crops our soil needed.

This is something that we still have not been able to figure out, but taking into consideration the carbon and nitrogen ratios is important.

What you intend to grow the next year is what you need to take into consideration. Some covers break down more easily, and provide the nitrogen for your crop earlier in the season, while covers that break down later in the season will provide nitrogen later in the season.

If you are planting a crop into your covers that requires nitrogen later in its growing season, you want to plant a cover crop that breaks down slower. And vice versa.

Move livestock regularly 

The more often you move, the greater the compounding, with adequate recovery in between.  Every day moving is what is most beneficial, and moving multiple times a day has an even greater effect on soil recovery. 

Recognize the detrimental effects of haying

This is something even a lot of conventional farmers recognize because they know they have to add more fertilizer when they take off the hay. However, in northern parts of the country, you have to make some hay in order to feed your animals throughout the winter.

What Gabe Brown suggests is to make hay, but then feed your cows that hay in the same field where it was cut. That way the microbiology from those plants remains in that field and you still get your cows fed.

Be intentional

Regenerative Agriculture is not easy. It requires intentional effort at learning how the whole process works, as well as making decisions and learning from trial and error.

Understanding Regenerative Agriculture can seem difficult, but once we start studying the natural processes that occur in nature, it becomes much simpler.

Also, it’s not a cut and dry process. Rather, it takes the willingness to experiment and keep on learning.

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