Regenerative agriculture: it’s in the news but what is it?

You may have seen the term ‘Regenerative Agriculture’ turn up in unexpected places, like in the advert breaks on prime-time tellyIt is unusual for environmental considerations to get such overt treatment, but hearing phrases in the context of a commercial can open up a host of questions, such as: is this all a fine-sounding fantastic greenwash?

For a full answer, you can come along to the SCI/RSC/BSSS conference on Regenerative Agriculture: the Science, Economics and Practice on 14 February 2024. 

For a short answer, keep reading… 

Regenerative agriculture is not a precisely-defined term, but mostly is considered to include the restoration of soil health (organic carbon and microbial activity in particular).  Alongside this is the improvement of biodiversity and a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.  Implementation of regenerative methods on a farm will vary from place to place, because the philosophy is about responding to local conditions rather than prescribing a fixed protocol.  The menu of options open to farmers who take this road include: 

  • Minimising or avoiding soil disturbance 
  • Maintenance of soil cover 
  • Maintenance of living roots 
  • Fostering plant and soil diversity 
  • Enhancing water percolation 
  • Integrating on-farm livestock/cropping operations 

Using a selection of these techniques is assumed to lead to measurable improvements in the environmental profile of the farm and the economic return in the long-term. 

External inputs (pesticides and fertilisers) are not excluded in regenerative agriculture (making this system distinct from ‘organic agriculture’), but their use is expected to be within a holistic approach to crop health that looks to natural solutions in the first instance.  For soil fertility, an example would be to optimize biologically-created soil nitrogen before looking to mineral fertilisers.  For pest control, you might consider integrating chemical pesticides with varietal resistance or biological control methods.  However, the need to minimize soil disturbance might require a chemical weedkiller where once weed control was achieved with the plough. 

Farming today is in many ways damaging to the environment because we are taking a natural space and cultivating it.  This is the inevitable cost of producing food.  There is a global imperative to minimize this impact: regenerative agriculture can form a strong element of our response.  Regenerative techniques have gained credibility in the academic community and are now finding broad commercial uptake too (https://groundswellag.com/principles-of-regenerative-agriculture/).  It is too early to say how much our environment is improved because of the increasing adoption of regenerative agriculture, but it is certain that there is a benefit.  It is not just a greenwash. 

We are keen to help all our clients engage with Regenerative Agriculture.  There are opportunities here and Enviresearch can help to maximise their potential. If you want to know more, contact us today.