There are 5 major principles of regenerative agriculture that improve and support the adaptation of regenerative farming methods. These principles distinctively improve agricultural productivity as well as creates a sustainable ecosystem.
Regenerative agriculture is a conservation farming approach to increase soil biodiversity, fertility, and to improve soil structure. It is an agricultural practice that restores groundwater, refills watersheds, and improves the natural ecosystem, along with carbon fixation in soil and ground biomass.
At the same-time, it improves agricultural and pastoralist communities yields and enhances resistance to rapidly changing climate. Regenerative farming can be represented as:
Regenerative Agriculture = (Conservation Agriculture) + (Holistic Grazing) + (Enhanced Biodiversity) + (Organic Farming)
5 Principles of Regenerative Agriculture
5 principles of regenerative agriculture are listed below which apply distinctively to specific climatic zones and bioregions:
- Minimal tillage
- Protect the soil
- Improve soil biodiversity
- Keep living roots in the soil
- Integrate livestock
The ultimate focus of regenerative agriculture is to restore natural soil conditions, starting with the soil’s health. To achieve this primary goal, agriculturists believe that minimization or elimination of tillage has significant importance.
Tillage i.e., plowing or harrowing, instantly disrupts the soil physical structure and provides oxygen, to soil microbes to start the breakdown of soil organic matter that holds soil fertility and structure together. Tillage instantly increases the concentration of soil nitrates, but due to the unavailability of plants in the field, it results in huge nutrient loss. It also increases the probability of soil erosion and nutrient loss during the next rain and windstorm.
Therefore, agriculturists prohibit excess tillage practicing to maintain soil stricture and soil fertility. Better soil structure will also provide strong anchoring to plants and consistent nutrient uptake.
Protect the Soil
The most concerning the second principle of regenerative agriculture is the protection of the soil or the upper layer of soil. To protect the upper layer of soil, agriculturists recommend developing soil cover using cover crops and herbs. It is very important that the soil must be covered to avoid erosion if once it starts raining the upper layer of soil will blow away and the soil will lose its nutritive abilities.
Ideally, it is well appreciated that living plants should be kept in the soil at all times, so it will protect the soil during heavy rains and high winds. This practice will reduce soil erosion, improve soil water absorption restoring groundwater tables, and help the roots in anchoring and nutrient uptake.
These soil covers will also improve the microbial communities and their plant-associated activities. Besides living plants, straw mulch can also act as an excellent soil cover and protect it from climatic factors such as heat, rain, etc., and will greatly increase water infiltration.
However, implementation of this practice is not well accepted for crops like potatoes, carrots, etc., because of their growth pattern. These crops require a well-tillaged soil because of their underground growth and harvesting method, Similarly, small seeded vegetables also need shallow planting, therefore avoid the implementation of soil protection principle.
To protect the soil, it is also very important to reduce the use of chemicals, herbicides, and pesticides. Apart from their soil side effects, they also cause serious health risks for the farmers and the consumers as well. Therefore, extremely controlled use of synthetic inputs should be applied.
Improve Soil Biodiversity
Soil biodiversity has an important role in agriculture and crop yield. Therefore, for a better adaptation of regenerative agriculture, an increase in soil biodiversity should be a priority. This practice will help in the development of a diverse mix of plants from different ecological niches which will ultimately complement the growth of other plants, in nutrient and nitrogen fixation.
Most of the combined crops are grown as mono-culture to facilitate harvesting, but a varied crop rotation with a wide range of plants, e.g., deciduous crops, cereals, and legumes, is critical. However, multi-species cover crops constantly supply much more biomass than crops from mono-species.
Keep Living Roots in The Soil
As mentioned above, living-roots make the soil very useful. Sowing cover crops immediately after the harvest of the previous crop provides optimal photosynthesis and also helps in fixing atmospheric carbon dioxide and convert it into stable soil carbon. This soil carbon in return supports the entire food web and regulates groundwater water and nutrient cycling.
Much of the magic of farming takes place under our feet between a root system full of mycorrhizal fungi and microbes. Long-lived roots of earlier plants play an important role in microorganisms’ nutrition, and these microorganisms, in turn, help nourish plants during the growing season. These incredible plant mycorrhizal networks create a porous soil that retains and provides water to plants during droughts.
In regenerative farming, an intensively managed grazing, known as holistic management, is usually applied to increase the value of crops and nutrient recycling through animal manure. In holistic management, animal grazing increases the productivity of the farm and its produce.
This principle is recognized as an exact copy of nature and increases natural biodiversity. Grazing animals help the farmers in improving soil fertility and controlling weeds, providing additional income sources. However, cattle are suspected as a major greenhouse gas emission source, despite being the best CO2 fixer and climate reverser.
So far millions of acres of land have been restored using holistic management globally. Agriculturists highly recommend this method because of its environmental feasibility and ability to restore natural resources.
According to agricultural philosophy and the 5 principles of regenerative agriculture plant, land, and natural resources have a very close relationship that affects the productivity of plants and their resilience to environmental factors. Growers have a close relationship with their plant ecosystem which acts as a foundation of regenerative farming. Animals and plants can not be reared and cultivated individually, both act as a symbiont and improve natural conditions for each other. Both can help each other in recycling natural resources and increase soil organic matter.