Current farming techniques and the massive food production system are leading to numerous environmental problems, such as soil erosion and wear, loss of biodiversity, climate change, etc.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, approximately one-third of the world’s soil is moderately or highly degraded.
As an alternative, other forms of agriculture with less environmental impact are emerging, such as regenerative agriculture, which claims the importance of soils. In addition, more and more consumers are demanding environmentally friendly food.
We recommend that you download the complete guide that we did in Fervalle on soil studies.
Importance of agricultural land
Soil is the most appreciated natural resource by farmers. It is considered non-renewable, since its training period is prolonged.
Current agricultural practices break the soil balance, considerably reducing its quality and favoring its degradation.
On degraded soil:
- The structure of the soil is lost, decreasing the porosity and the degree of aeration.
- The surface layer compacts and crusts.
- It reduces water holding capacity (less useful water for plants).
- The rate of water infiltration is reduced.
- There is less availability of nutrients.
- Biodiversity loss occurs.
- Having the necessary nutrients for the correct growth and development of plants.
- Providing support for the plants to keep them firm during their development.
- Ensuring plant roots are properly aerated and moist.
- Providing good drainage to avoid excess moisture.
In addition, the practice of regenerative agriculture will be different depending on the type of soil. We will be able to find dry, arid soils, and therefore, we will have to use dry farming techniques to regenerate the soil. Or irrigated soils, including organic or traditional agriculture.
What is regenerative agriculture?
Regenerative agriculture, or organic-regenerative agriculture, is a type of agriculture based on reestablishing the properties of the soil and maintaining its fertility over time.
Regenerating is to restore or improve something deteriorated or worn. Therefore, the objective of regenerative agriculture is to recover, stimulate and preserve the fertility and biodiversity of agricultural land, in addition to protecting the environment.
Regenerative agriculture provides numerous advantages and benefits, among which the following stand out:
- It increases soil fertility.
- It covers the world’s food needs.
- Forest clearing is avoided.
- It adds organic matter to the soil.
- It captures carbon dioxide, thus reducing the greenhouse effect.
- It fights climate change.
- It reduces water and soil pollution.
- It improves biodiversity.
- It increases crop yield.
- It favors the local economy.
- It regenerates grasslands.
Principles of regenerative agriculture
The principles of regenerative agriculture were defined by Gabe Brown, a pioneer of today’s soil health and resource regeneration movement, and are:
Suppressing harmful cultivation techniques
Eliminating those cultivation techniques such as mechanical, chemical and physical field treatments, which degrade the soil and cause loss of biodiversity.
Applying cover crops throughout the year
Plants that improve soil health and crop yields and also serve as feed for livestock. In this way, the soil is not exposed and erosion is minimized.
Enhance biological diversity
Through practices such as crop rotation and the mutually beneficial integration of trees, forage and animals, regenerative agriculture enhances biological diversity.
Integrating animals in agricultural production
Like cattle, their waste being excellent fertilisers for soils Biological enemies of unwanted species can also be included in crops, thus preventing pest problems and avoiding the use of chemical pesticides.
Preserving the living roots of perennial crops,
they will improve the structure and quality of the soil.
Regenerative agriculture techniques
There are many agricultural techniques that are used for soil regeneration. We will describe those most important agricultural practices that are compatible with soil reuse and regeneration.
Zero tillage or direct sowing is the best option when it comes to preserving the health of the soil, since mechanical work is eliminated. Planting is done with specialized machinery, on the plant remains of previous crops.
The cultivation of grasses is part of regenerative agriculture, as it prevents soils from being exposed and therefore minimizes erosion.
In organic crops, the application of chemical fertilizers and pesticides is avoided and, as a consequence, it promotes soil protection.
Organic fertilisers provide soil with nutrients and restore its fertility, the primary objective of regenerative agriculture. In addition, organic amendments promote microbial life and modify the properties of the soil, thus increasing the stability of the structure, porosity, water retention capacity, etc.).
Crop rotation consists of temporarily alternating different types of crops on the same piece of land. This practice prevents pests and diseases, thus reducing the use of pesticides and protecting the soil.
Perennial crops benefit and protect the soil, preventing erosion caused by tillage and reducing herbicide treatments.
It is about integrating trees, forage and grazing animals. In this way, the trees provide shade for the animals on hot days and serve as windbreaks, as well as being able to feed.
A mycorrhiza is a symbiotic (mutually beneficial) association between a fungus and a plant root. The hyphae of these fungi provide positive effects to soils as they facilitate the grouping of particles and maintain their structure and, therefore, their quality.
Importance of animals in regenerative agriculture
There are many animals that benefit agriculture,so agriculture and livestock are two economic activities closely linked to each other.
Regenerative livestock or regenerative grazing pursues the recovery of soils through the cohabitation of animal and plant species, interacting with each other in a symbiotic way (they benefit mutually).
Animals play a fundamental role in recycling nutrients. When they graze, their excrements and urine remain on the ground, thus allowing nutrients to become available again for the plants and biodiversity of the land. In this way we can see how the soil regenerates organically.
In addition, by introducing biological enemies of unwanted species to crops, pest and disease problems are prevented and the use of chemical pesticides is avoided.
Lastly, maintaining soil fertility is very important both for food production and for producing the necessary fodder for livestock. The more fertile it is, the animals will have more food.
The use of animals in soil regeneration is also fundamental in biodynamic agriculture, where other aspects, including astronomical ones, must also be taken into account.
Regenerative agriculture in Spain
Spain is one of the leading countries in terms of regenerative cultivation. The large number of benefits it brings, both to production and to the maintenance and conservation of the soil, means that the number of farmers interested in this type of agriculture is growing more and more.