We hear the term 'Regenerative Agriculture' a lot. But what exactly is regenerative agriculture? Is it a fad, a buzzword used for marketing purposes or is it a helpful solution to combat climate change, increase biodiversity and prevent erosion that's here to stay?
While often positioned as such, regenerative agriculture is not a new concept: it goes back to the indigenous approach to agriculture, mimicking nature and leveraging its natural qualities. A closer look at its definition reveals that there isn't consensus around one definition just yet. A common thread though across all definitions is the restoration of the degraded soil: making sure that the soil becomes more fertile over time, leaving the land better and more resilient than its current state.
The Natural Resource Defense Council, the well-known non-profit, environmental advocacy group, interviewed about 100 farmers and ranchers who are helping to build healthy soils across the country and developed a guide on regenerative agriculture. It defines regenerative agriculture as follows:
"(...) a philosophy and approach to land management, regenerative agriculture asks us to think about how all aspects of agriculture are connected through a web (...) instead of a linear supply chain. It’s about farming and ranching in a style that nourishes people and the earth, with specific practices varying from grower to grower and from region to region. There’s no strict rule book, but the holistic principles behind the dynamic system of regenerative agriculture are meant to restore soil and ecosystem health, address inequity, and leave our land, waters, and climate in better shape for future generations."
The ambiguity in the definition is also reflected in the two main certification schemes that exist today: Regenerative Organic Certified ("ROC") and Land to Market ("LtM"). Whereas ROC focuses on the process of regenerative farming, LtM focuses on the regenerative outcomes of farming. This article by Modern Farmer describes the difference between the two certifications in detail.
In conclusion, a promising and increasingly touted concept in land management, until we agree on a common definition and measurement, regenerative agriculture's outcomes cannot be expected to be consistent and its use at risk of being labeled 'an empty buzzword'.
Photo credit: Modern Farmer, 2023