As it stands, the agricultural sector is one of the biggest emitters of CO2 and is a major contributor to the dramatic changes we are seeing to our climate around the world and here in the UK. Along with forestry, food production and other land use, agriculture is responsible for nearly 25% of human-created greenhouse gas emissions, and clearly, that’s something that needs to change.
So what can we do? The answer is to move away from intensive farming, where the terms are dictated by the sellers of products, and to transition to regenerative agriculture and agroecology, where farmers control the way agriculture is done.
What is regenerative agriculture?
Regenerative agriculture is a method of farming that aims to improve the resources it uses rather than destroy them. Principles and practices are introduced to enhance the entire ecosystem, with close attention paid to soil health, water management and fertiliser use. By creating healthier soil, regenerative agriculture helps farmers produce high-quality, nutrient-dense food while also improving their land. That ultimately leads to more productive farms and communities.
But as well as benefits for food production and soil health, regenerative agriculture can also play its part in reducing the impact of climate change. That’s because regenerating and revitalising the soil allows it to capture carbon rather than release it. That makes it a win-win for farmers and the climate.
What is agroecology?
Agroecology is the application of ecological concepts and principles in farming. The aim is to create a balance between plants, animals, people, the environment, and farming practices to mitigate climate change, harness the power of nature to pollinate crops and control pests, and give farmers and local people the power to adapt agricultural techniques to suit the local area.
Agroecology, in many ways, is the ultimate goal for what our future food production system could look like. It combines regenerative agriculture practices but goes a step further, and considers how food production and nature can co-exist.
How does regenerative agriculture and agroecology improve soil health?
Investing in soil health by implementing regenerative agriculture and agroecology practices can benefit the environment, animal and human health, and helping us to achieve our net-zero target.
Research led by the Institute for Global Food Safety at Queen’s University Belfast has found that:
- Improving soil health on farmland could significantly increase its carbon-storing ability and potentially offset between 5% and 10% of greenhouse gases.
- Updated soil practices could also lead to higher crop yields along with a reduced need for synthetic fertilisers, with more emphasis on natural solutions like biosolids, and less pollution, all while boosting the nutritional value of food.
- Enhancing soil management and quality can also help to mitigate the risk of flood and erosion.
Types of regenerative agriculture and agroecology
Some of the main principles of regenerative agriculture and agroecology include:
- Planting tree crops alongside food crops (agroforestry)
- Banning synthetic fertilisers, herbicides, fungicides and pesticides
- Planting diverse cover crops and perennials
- Regular crop rotations to eliminate monocultures and put nutrients back into the soil
- The holistic grazing of native animals
Innovative Farmers was set up in 2012 to show the benefits of adopting regenerative agriculture and agroecology in practice. For example, it has been found that silvopasture, which is the practice of combining trees with livestock, can boost the availability of grass forage, reduce disease in sheep and cattle, and reduce lamb mortality rates.
Another practice called intercropping, where two crops are grown alongside each other, can reduce weeds by 74% while increasing yields by up to 30%. That suggests it could reduce the need for artificial fertilisers and weedkillers dramatically, leading to a reduction in the associated levels of carbon dioxide production.
The nation that destroys its soil, destroys itself
Although there are still gaps in our understanding, we know that degrading our soils is costing us dear and now is the time to act. The Saving Our Soils Report from the Soil Association suggests seven approaches farmers can take to save our soils.
- Monitor soil health on farms – All farmers should know the state of their soils and how they compare to farms with a similar soil type.
- Increase the plant and animal matter that goes back onto soils – Farms should choose biosolids over synthetic fertiliser to maintain high levels of soil organic matter relative to soil type.
- Improve soil life by reducing tillage and chemicals – Farms should plough less and reduce the use of chemicals to prevent soil erosion and the release of large amounts of carbon.
- Cover bare soil with plant cover – Healthy soil is covered in plants, so farmers should only leave their fields bare for short periods whenever possible.
- Bring more trees onto farmland – If agroforestry is adopted on farms then the level of UK farm woodland will double.
- Reduce soil compaction from machinery and livestock – Compaction should be reduced across all farm systems.
- Use crop rotations to improve soil health – Plan long and diverse rotations or cropping systems.
Want to know more?
If you’d like to know more about regenerative agriculture and agroecology and discuss the practical steps you can take on your farm, please speak to our experts on 01284 811509 or email email@example.com today.