REGENERATIVE FARMING & SOIL HEALTH

Young Agrarians is working to grow a new generation of
regenerative farmers and land managers in Canada.

The state of our planet calls for an overhaul of our farming practices. We need to grow a new generation of farmers leading this change by managing soils in a way that mitigates climate change and restores ecosystems. Given the right practices, farming is uniquely positioned to address some of the largest challenges affecting all of us today.

Kwesi Haizel and Meghan Vesey of Akesi Farms are mentors in the YA Alberta Apprenticeship Program. They are helping grow the next generation of regenerative farmers. Photo by Akesi Farms.

What is regenerative agriculture?

Regenerative agriculture is a method of farming that “improves the resources it uses, rather than destroying or depleting them.” It includes farming and grazing practices that, among other benefits, mitigate climate change by rebuilding soil organic matter and restoring degraded soil biodiversity – resulting in both carbon drawdown from the atmosphere and improving the water cycle.2

What does it look like?

Regenerative Principles2:

  • Minimize  or eliminate tillage
  • Protect and cover the soil
  • Maintain living roots in the soil
  • Increase biodiversity
  • Integrate livestock
Digging into the soil. Regenerative farming includes practices like intercropping which adds biodiversity above the soil and below. Photo by Melisa Zapisocky.

Regenerative Practices: The principles can be expressed in a number of different farming practices that include but are not limited to:

  • Zero-till gardening and cropping
  • Using multi-species cover crops in between cash crops
  • Agroforestry, silvopasture and food forests
  • Planting shelterbelts,  ecobuffers and pollinator strips
  • Integrating livestock grazing into cropping systems
  • Planned grazing with one or multiple species
Cover crop seed mix. Cover crops help extend living roots in the soil, provide cover for the soil, can be part of integrating livestock and provide habitat for pollinators. Photo by Krissy Teall.

How do we know regeneration is happening?

Farms across Canada are demonstrating the impact of regenerative farming that can benefit all of us.

Soil health – Civilizations rise and fall based on the quality of their soil. Regenerative farms focus on improving soil biology and see a return of microbes, fungi and macro-fauna, like earth worms! These soils are better able to fend off disease and pests but most importantly grow nutrient dense food.

Watersheds – Regenerative farms show improved water holding capacity in their soil. If farmland was better able to infiltrate water in the landscape, it would reduce the occurrence of urban flooding downstream. They also lower the use of inputs reducing nitrogen, phosphorus and pesticide run-off that enters into the water system.

Carbon Sequestration – Drawing carbon from the atmosphere is arguably one of the most important things we can do to mitigate climate change. Regenerative farming sequesters carbon into the soil, benefitting all of us.

Biodiversity – Regenerative farms are not only good for the farmer and the consumers, they create habitat for pollinators, native plants, and wildlife.

What about regenerating farmers?

In thinking about how we avoid depleting resources in our farming systems, one of the resources we need to remember is the farmer! Regenerative farming, for Young Agrarians, is also about replenishing and growing the farmers on the land and the communities around them.

At the same time that we are faced with the need to transition farms towards regenerative practices, we are also faced with a significant land transfer and succession challenge, as well as engaging more people into farming. Young Agrarians is uniquely positioned to address these converging challenges of transitioning farm practices, farms and farmland.


Sources:

1Rodale Institute
2The Carbon Underground and Regenerative Agriculture Initiative, 2017
3Washington State University: Regenerative Agriculture: Solid Principles, Extraordinary Claims