Happy Canada Day! Celebrate Canada’s farming tradition by learning about regenerative farming. What it is, how it works and why it can boost Alberta’s agriculture industry.
What is Regenerative Farming
Regenerative Agriculture is a growing trend in the agriculture industry. It is an attempt at restoring the soil loss and degradation that has resulted from modern industrial farming practices.
At its most basic, regenerative farming increases yields by rebuilding the soil with organic matter and restoring soil biodiversity. This process not only improves farming yields but results in more nutrient dense food, provides a major carbon sink and improves the water cycle.
A Brief History Lesson
After WWII modern agriculture took off as the desire to feed the world’s population grew. The lack of labour due to the war led to a demand for larger and more efficient farm machinery. Technology developed during the war led to the invention of chemical fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides. This allowed for massive expansion of farms, converting native prairie into cropland.
The result was a major loss of soil health. Over-tilling and the use of chemicals led to the break-down in soil structure. With this break down in soil structure came large scale topsoil erosion (the cause of the dust bowl).
The loss of topsoil increased our dependence on the use of fertilizers to sustain yields. The loss of soil health led to increased pest and weed outbreaks, increasing the reliance on herbicides and pesticides.
A Brief Biology Lesson
Soil is the source of all life on earth. It is a complex ecosystem of billions of micro-organisms that supports the growth of plants. When plants use photosynthesis, they take carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and with the sun’s energy, water, and nutrients from the soil — transform it into carbon which the plant uses to grow. Any extra carbon produced by the plant is then transferred into and stored in the soil. This becomes what is called soil organic carbon and it feeds the microbes and fungi in the soil which then, in turn, make nutrients for the plant.
When farmers focus on soil health and biodiversity, crop yields increase, produce has a higher nutrient density and large volumes of carbon are sequestered from the atmosphere. Not only is our food more nutritious but we can reduce our climate footprint!
Healthy soil also has more structure, allowing it to store more water, thereby reducing reliance on irrigation and improving the water cycle.
Who Is Doing It?
Regenerative farming is becoming increasingly popular with organic farmers and small farm producers. Livestock producers raising grass fed animals can also get involved by rotating animals within pastures and using their waste as fertilizer. Increasingly some of the world's biggest food producers are starting to use regenerative farming throughout their networks.
How Can I Learn More?
We were personally inspired by the book “Kiss the Ground” by Josh Tickell and highly recommend it if you are interested in learning more about regenerative agriculture. “The Biggest Little Farm” on Netflix is a beautiful film that highlights the power of regenerative agriculture in its extreme form.
How It Can Help Alberta
Alberta has always had unpredictable weather which can veer from one extreme to another. This presents a constant challenge for Alberta’s farmers. Regenerative farming practices are important because healthy soil creates more resiliency and higher yields. Though soil health takes years to build, over time, less dependence on the use of expensive herbicides, pesticides, fertilizers and irrigation can provide a better future for everyone. Regenerative agriculture in is most productive form requires major changes to our farming system but every small change that affects soil health is meaningful. Simple practices such as rotational grazing or the use of cover crops, compost and manure can go a long way.
CultivatR is happy to have farm partners that are invested in sustainable and regenerative farming and by supporting them you can help support this new way to produce the food we need.