Knowledge is the foundation of a paradigm shift in global agriculture. The Climate farmers Academy is here to collect and share knowledge needed to become a climate farmer.
Let's start with the basics. What is Regenrative Agriculture?
It’s time to celebrate farmers
Farmers around the world are the heroes and heroines who feed us. They are the basis for our societies, yet we overlook them constantly. Portraying them as the problem is wrong. The problems are the social, cultural and economical structures which favour the use of heavy machinery, monocropping and ever growing farm sizes to keep up with investment costs. Farmers are often trapped in cycles of debt and are forced to invest in even more machinery and chemical inputs into the farm to keep business going. To many of them, it appears as if there was no other way of doing things.This is why as a global community we’re building Regenerative Farming as a viable alternative to Industrial Farming.
There still is a big lack of understanding and misconception about regenerative agriculture. We understand it as a productive form of agriculture which restores soil health, rebuilds ecosystems and provides a range of ecosystem services. However, access to training and best practices is still not offered in any institutionalised way. Farmers need to have access to the best information to make confident long-term decisions.
That is why one of our main goals is to support people with in-depth knowledge and experiences from already established regenerative farms.
Keep the Soil Undisturbed
Imagine it is a hot summer day and you are lying naked on the beach without any sunscreen. How long would you enjoy it? This is very similar for soil. Cover crops add protection for the soil. They provide shade for the soil to keep water from evaporating and microorganisms from getting burned. Their cover prevents weed seeds from germinating.
Plants also protect soil from heavy rain. Every raindrop is like a tiny hammer hitting the soil. This leads to soil getting compacted over time. When the soil is compacted, water can’t infiltrate and it is more difficult for roots to grow down. The soil can become hard like concrete. When very dry periods are followed by heavy rain, water can’t infiltrate and washes away on the surface, carrying with it valuable topsoil. This form of erosion can turn into floods.
Cover crops prevent this. Not only do they protect the soil from above, their roots also break open the soil, increasing water infiltration into the soil. As a result these soils can store much more water when it rains and become more resilient in a drought. Plants also protect soil from wind erosion with their bodies and roots. Additionally, plants build biomass and what they drop builds soil above ground.
A covered and undisturbed soil is the basis of a regenerative farm. In nature, soil never stays uncovered for long, and we should do the same. Naked soil is like an open wound and should be avoided at all cost.
The Power of Diversity
Working with nature and not against nature. This important principle got lost over decades of industrialisation and monoculture cultivation. Regenerative agriculture aims to recover natural resources and mimic natural processes. These processes are based on a diverse range of plants and animals working together and supporting each other. A healthy and resilient soil with a high biodiversity is the result.
Nutrients, light, air, water and space are basic requirements for a healthy ecosystem, including the terrestrial ecosystems. Each organism has specific needs in order to survive and reproduce. Polyculture benefits the cooperation of different species, where plants and animals help each other with their specific needs. Humans can engage in this symbiotic relationship, while contributing with sustainable agriculture practices to obtain high yield and a healthy soil.
Sustainable and regenerative agriculture practices includes the choice of crop diversity and the incorporation of animals. These living organisms can exchange nutrients like Nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, sulfur and calcium among each other. High biodiversity can also reduce the risk of pests and diseases. A well-maintained and supported ecosystem supports the farmer in the production of nutrient-dense food.
Living Roots and Soil
Living roots are crucial for healthy soil. As plant roots grow down, they break open the soil, which makes it possible for air and water to enter deep into the soil. There are a lot of plants that act like nutrient pumps. They grow down very far, where they can reach minerals and other nutrients.
Plants are also feeding life in the soil. Through their roots they give sugars and other carbohydrates to microorganisms and fungi in the soil. In return they receive nutrients and water. Where does the sugar come from? Through photosynthesis, plants use carbon molecules from the atmosphere to produce sugars. They are turning the problem that we have in the atmosphere into amazing food in the soil.
Carbon gets locked up in the organisms that consume it. These organisms take it further down into the soil. When they get eaten by other organisms it goes further and further. This exchange also happens with fungi. Through a network of fungi, plants can increase their reach multiple times. Thanks to this exchange at the root level, plants grow much better and can survive harsher conditions.
When chemical fertilizer is applied, plants don’t develop this relationship. The plant has no need to produce extra sugar for the organisms around it. However, as soon as the chemical fertilizer washes away or is used up, the plant is left hungry and a dependence on chemical fertilizer occurs. When soil is tilled, these networks get destroyed as well. Undisturbed living roots are crucial for healthy soil life.
Living Roots and Soil
Animals are essential in every living system. Animal manure is an important step to bring nutrients back into the soil. When animals are grazing the land, it acts as a natural form of pruning. Plants have a similar amount of matter above ground as below. With each bit a plant loses above the soil, a similar amount of roots die off in the soil. There, it becomes food for microorganisms that feed the plant in turn. Roots become long chains of compost deep down into the soil. Pruning in the right rhythm encourages plants to grow back and store even more carbon in the soil.
The impact of animal hooves on soil, mix in biomass, which acts as food for microbes. It also creates small indentations that enable seeds and water to collect. Periodic grazing greatly increases health and carbon storage of fields.
To ensure that areas don’t get overgrazed, animals need to move between different areas. When animals are managed holistically and are rotated between fields, they help to keep plants healthy and bring many nutrients back on and into the ground.
In addition to farm animals, wild animals are crucial for a healthy farm. Beneficial insects, pollinators, birds, worms and countless others are part of the farm ecosystem. They provide ecosystem services for us to keep a healthy balance.