I prefer the the term Biological Farming to Regenerative Agriculture. Biological farming accurately describes what Regen Iowa is doing in the area of Regen Ag. It encourages us to think about the transition from mechanical farming, to chemical farming to the next stage of food production – using biology to meet human needs. Regenerative agriculture is a new term, and despite the buzz associated with regenerative, sustainable, natural – and our conviction that each is good and necessary – I often encounter people who are not exactly sure what it means.
Images associated with RegenAg are a bit like the blind men describing the elephant. In the children’s story, each blind man likened the part of the elephant he could feel, to something more familiar. Since each was touching a different part, there were 5 distinctly different perspectives. RegenAg is the culmination of multiple approaches, each bringing history and context that impacts their interpretation of the meaning of the term.
As the consumer product brand managers start using the term Regenerative Agriculture (or RegenAg), in marketing natural products, the term will increasingly be in the public consciousness. This is positive, as it will increase the conversation around soil health, soil based carbon sequestration, clean water and air and environmental improvement more generally.
RegenAg offers a powerful tool for addressing multiple problems confronting humanity: food security, mitigating climate change, improving nutrient density in food, reducing irrigation needs by agriculture and improving profitability for farmers.
We thing there 5 major perspectives on RegenAg, each that brings validity and value:
- The CPG approach, where regenerative agriculture is a marketing label, and cannot be used independently of terms like “organic”. Many who advocate this approach are focused on validation and confirmation that the farmers are making good on their claims of regenerative practices.
- Permaculture which is best suited for small farms and homesteading. It focuses on multiple crops, food forests, and looks to nature. The key is thoughtful land management and working with what nature wants … for example, water naturally runs downhill, so some areas will be drier and others have more moisture, so using that insight into choosing what is planted where. This is in opposition to straight lines of a typical orchard, for example.
- Ranching using Holistic Management approach. Today, this is probably the most effective and best documented approach to Regenerative Agriculture. Based on Alan Savory’s insights into the natural behavior of animals – how they move, consume grasses and participate in the complete ecology of land. This approach is taught by the Savory Institute. Since Regen Iowa is focused on solutions for row crop farmers in the Midwest, we cheer from the sidelines.
- Living Systems Frameworks put forward by the Carol Sanford Institute and the Regenerative Business Alliance. This is one of the most cerebral approaches to Regenerative Agriculture.
- Soil Health through Reseeding the Soil Microbiome.
Scientists now know that soil-based carbon sequestration is driven by the existence and growth of fungi. The fungal hyphae are coated in bacterial slime, glomalin, which creates what humans recognize as healthy soil. These hyphae, and the attendant glomalin glue, are the reason no-till farming is effective. Tilling, like chemical fertilizers and fungicides kill fungal hyphae.
We also now know that plant nutrient cycling is managed by the soil microbes, which are “farmed” and fed by the plants. The success of permaculture and regenerative ranching is improving the soil microbial ecosystem. But waiting for the restoration usually takes years. We wouldn’t farm without seeds, and yet the organic, permaculture and holistic approach presume we should wait for nature to restore the ecosystem.
SymSoil’s approach is to reseed these microbes. Find and grow the regionally specific microbes, reseed them and let the plant extrudates feed and grow them in the soil. This approach to regenerative agriculture reduces farmers costs, speeds up soil-based carbon sequestration, thereby mitigating climate change, while increasing flavor and nutrient density of food.
Reseeding the soil microbiome is an approach to RegenAg that draws on inspiration from other lineages and insights from biotechnology, but with a focus on what works for growers – bottom line profits through increased soil health.
This type of Regenerative Agriculture bypasses preconceived ideas and costs associated with organic certification, while helping growers deliver better quality food to consumers with significantly less agrichemicals (decreasing farmer inputs) and improving soil through restoring the soil microbe biome.