As the world grapples with the challenges posed by climate change, the agricultural sector is being forced to reevaluate its practices.
Regenerative agriculture is emerging as a potential solution to the twin problems of feeding a rapidly expanding global population while reducing the impact of farming on the environment. With mounting concern over the negative consequences of intensive farming, regenerative agriculture offers a potential path forward for a sustainable and resilient food system.
In Australia, a growing number of farmers are making the shift, with the goal of striking a symbiotic relationship between food production and nature. With the movement spearheaded by groups such as Farmers Footprint and RAF.
What is Regenerative Agriculture?
Regenerative agriculture is a holistic farming approach that aims to improve the health of the soil and the entire ecosystem. The primary goal of this approach is to mimic the natural systems that have evolved over millions of years to sustain life on earth. Think of it as a return to the way things used to be – a vast expanse of grasslands where wild ruminant animals roam freely, grazing and fertilising the soil with their manure. This leads to the flourishing of grasses, providing food for ruminants and creating vibrant ecosystems that attract more wildlife. Regenerative agriculture seeks to create a self-sustaining ecosystem that requires little to no synthetic fertilisers or pesticides, as the soil is alive with microorganisms from manure that break down organic matter and make nutrients available to plants. By working with nature, regenerative agriculture promotes sustainable and healthy food systems for all.
The principles of regenerative agriculture vary depending on the specific farm or region, but there are some key practices that are commonly used.
- Minimise or eliminate tillage: Tillage disrupts soil structure and decreases soil health. Therefore, regenerative agriculture practices aim to reduce or eliminate tillage to safeguard soil health and structure.
- Protect the soil: Regenerative agriculture prioritises soil protection through practices such as cover cropping, crop rotation, and reduced chemical use. Such practices can prevent erosion, improve water retention, and promote healthy soil biology.
- Encourage biodiversity: Regenerative agriculture practices strive to promote biodiversity by planting diverse crops, using cover crops, and welcoming wildlife and pollinators.
- Integrate livestock: Incorporating livestock into farming systems can provide natural fertilisation, decrease the need for synthetic inputs, and create additional income streams for farmers.
5 Key Benefits of Regenerative Agriculture
Improves soil health and biodiversity
A 2015 report by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization and the Intergovernmental Technical Panel on Soils suggests that approximately 90% of Earth’s soils could be degraded by 2050 – unless we take protective measures.
Regenerative agriculture could be a viable solution as it improves soil health and biodiversity by prioritising the use of practices that enhance the natural processes that occur in healthy ecosystems.
The integration of livestock is a central driver of this process as they mimic the grazing patterns of wild herbivores. This means that the livestock selectively graze and move around the pasture, preventing certain plant species from becoming dominant. This creates opportunities for other plants to thrive, resulting in a more balanced, diverse and resilient ecosystem.
In addition, the manure and urine left behind nourish the soil and enrich its microbiome. This is important because a healthy soil microbiome can help to promote nutrient cycling, improve soil structure, and reduce the risk of soil erosion. By adding cow manure and urine to the soil, farmers can help to build up the population of beneficial microorganisms, which can in turn improve the health of the entire ecosystem and improve crop yield.
Reduces the need for fertilisers
The detrimental effects of fertilisers and pesticides on both our health and our ecosystems are no secret. Since regenerative agriculture promotes healthy, biodiverse soil, the result is more resilient and robust ecosystems that can better resist pests and disease.
Mitigates the effects of climate change
Soil health plays a crucial role in mitigating climate change, and carbon sequestration is a vital component of this. In fact, the buildup of soil organic matter is the main way that carbon is stored in the soil. However, ploughing can disrupt this process by exposing the organic matter to the air, which causes oxidation and releases carbon into the atmosphere. This not only harms the soil but also contributes to climate change.
Adopting regenerative agriculture practices like reduced tillage can help to maintain soil health and prevent the release of carbon into the atmosphere.There’s growing evidence to suggest that regenerative practices can help keep the carbon in the soil, rendering it more productive.
For example, The Life Cycle Assessment conducted at White Oak Pastures, a regenerative farm in Georgia, provides compelling evidence that regenerative agriculture can significantly reduce the carbon footprint of farming operations.
The assessment found that the farm’s holistic management practices, which include rotational grazing and the use of cover crops, sequestered more carbon than the farm emitted. In fact, the farm was able to sequester so much carbon that it became carbon-negative, meaning that it actually removed more carbon from the atmosphere than it produced.
Additionally, a 2021 study published in Frontiers in Sustainable Food Systems compared the environmental impact and economic feasibility of regenerative and conventional cattle production systems in the Midwest United States. The study found that regenerative systems had lower greenhouse gas emissions, energy use, and land use per kilogram of beef produced, along with higher soil health indicators. The findings suggest that regenerative cattle production can provide environmental benefits while being economically viable, although the initial costs of transitioning may pose a barrier.
Ethical for animals
Naturally, regenerative agriculture stands in stark contrast to factory farming. It allows livestock to graze on open pastures – encouraging their natural behaviours and lifestyle. The animals live a healthy, stress-free life as they roam with their herd, consuming nothing but plant matter – as nature intended for them.
Yields the Highest-Quality Beef
Aside from the fact feedlot cows are pumped with hormones and antibiotics that pass into the meat, cows that graze on grass provide greater nutrient density.
Research shows that grass-fed beef is leaner, and richer in vitamins and minerals like vitamin E, and B12, as well as higher in healthy fats such as omega-3 fatty acids and CLA.
But what’s even more interesting is, grass-fed beef has also been found to be richer in phytochemicals such as polyphenols, tocopherols and carotenoids due to the fact they are raised on a diet of plant matter.
Regenerative agriculture is shaping up to be a sustainable farming practice that has the potential to address some of the biggest challenges facing our food system today, despite ongoing challenges such as financial costs and scalability. By healing ecosystems and minimising CO2, regenerative agriculture provides a high-quality food system for better health, making it the most viable solution for the future.
At Vital Origin, we are committed to supporting this movement and the local farmers who are driving it. That’s why all of our products are sourced from grass-fed and finished cows that roam freely on regenerative farms here in Australia. Our organ capsules not only promote fundamental health but also contribute to a sustainable future for our planet.