Regenerative Q & A
What is Regenerative Agriculture?
Loose definitions of regenerative agriculture abound, all of which revolve around improving soil health as measured by soil organic matter, carbon sequestration and/or water retention/infiltration. Tactics include pasturing land, green and brown manure, and keeping soil covered at all times ideally with a diverse mix of plant species and with a minimum amount of tillage, to support the activity of living roots.
How Does Regenerative Agriculture Fit Within the Organic Standard?
Currently ‘regenerative organic’ is a proposed standard, not an established label claim. It includes several tiers of compliance, and labour management standards in addition to organic and regenerative field practices. The U.S. and European organic industries are leading efforts to implement regenerative aspects into organic food production standards. In Canada, regenerative and organic farming advocates differ in opinion on the impacts of minimum tillage versus herbicides.
How Does Regenerative Agriculture Compare to Traditional Cropping Systems?
The economic difference between regenerative and conventional farming systems is that the investments and tactics used to restore a healthy soil profile pay off over multiple years. The single-season decision-making window that characterizes conventional grain production may fail to consider the long-term consequences that certain production activities have on the soil and surrounding environment.
For example, in single-year profitability analysis, monocrop canola or wheat often ranks at or very near the top, leading farms to choose this simple rotation, year after year. Within this framework there’s no place to incorporate the long-term agronomic costs that mount up over time when species diversity is reduced.
What is an intercrop?
This is the practice of planting multiple crop species together on the same field. There are pro’s and con’s to intercropping compared to cultivating a monocrop.
Con’s include the reality that intercropping is more complicated. The timing of seeding and harvest operations gets trickier, spraying options are relatively or totally limited, and the inter-crop has to be separated before it can be marketed.
The benefits of intercropping however appear to exceed the costs. A biodiverse plant species mix has natural resilience to diseases, and an intercrop’s denser stand competes well with weeds, which is why farmers growing intercrops can accomplish the same or better revenues than monocrops, while using less herbicides and fungicides.
Intercropping also starts to alleviate the negative impacts of certain conventional farming practices where costs aren’t explicitly measured. For example, planting the same monocrop repeatedly on the same field may contribute to some weeds in that field developing herbicide resistance. The lack of diversity in crop rotations on some farms is also being cited as a cause of intensified disease pressure. Intercrops are naturally more resilient to weed and disease pressure, reducing the number and cost of spray passes required on the field, and the positive impacts appear to build over time.
Why Should Farmers Try Inter-cropping?
Intercropping is beneficial, economically and agronomically, for conventional and organic farms alike. Conventional farms can use it to create multiple revenue streams from the same fields, and to reduce pesticide and fertilizer costs. Organic farms deploy inter-
cropping in the transition and certified years to help manage weeds and disease and to boost soil and plant ecosystem health overall within their ecologically-designed systems.
The weaknesses in systems that rely too heavily on canola and wheat are subtle, but they come with real future costs and limitations to farm profitability. Regenerative agriculture holds the promise of restoring flexibility and resiliency into crop systems by leveraging natural soil biology to replace externally-applied crop inputs
For More Information:
Brenda Tjaden, Founder + CEO