Regenerative agriculture is a term for farming practices that capture carbon from the air and put it into the soil. Through photosynthesis, plants capture carbon dioxide from the air, which is used to build their tissues, releasing the remaining carbon deep into the ground. Carbon enriched soils have been shown to have greater resilience to floods and droughts.Regenerative agriculture practices include minimizing tillage such as soil disturbance from plowing, keeping the land covered with plants at all times and rotating a diversity of crops and livestock across the fields. By avoiding tilling and minimize soil erosion regenerative agriculture practices are thought to have the potential to store a significant portion of carbon in the soil and improve the nutrition of food. A core concept in regenerative agriculture is a circular economy, which includes steps that reduce or recover losses of nutrients and greenhouse gases.
The Rodale Institute, a non-profit that supports organic farming, claimed that regenerative techniques “could sequester more than 100% of current annual CO2 emissions with a switch to widely available and inexpensive management practices.” While the practices are supported by evidence, there have been objections that claims may be exaggerated beyond the scientific evidence. Tim LaSalle, cofounder of the Regenerative Agriculture Initiative has stated his belief that it will solve the climate crisis, hunger crisis, water crisis and topsoil crisis.
Use of the term “regenerative” in agriculture appears to be initiated by Bob Rodal, who popularized organic farming with lifestyle and gardening magazines. Rodale noticed people were latching onto the word “sustainable” and in a 1989 interview said that he thought that rather than aspiring to a sustained environment, that the average person aspired to live in an environment that is getting better. The term “regenerative agriculture” has pushed forward due to awareness of climate change and also the rise of environmentally conscious farmers who dissociate themselves from “organic”.
A “Regenerative Organic” certification has been planned by the Rodale Institute, Patagonia and soapmaker Dr. Bronner in an effort to have farms capture carbon. The non-organic farmers that are regenerative practitioners come out of the no-till movement. Other practitioners of regenerative agriculture are followers of the grazing practices lead by Allan Savory. There is a spectrum of users of regenerative agriculture methods from farmers that avoid tilling and embrace ag-tech to farmers who dislike ag-tech and tolerate some tillage.
New Zealand uses a pastoral agriculture system that may be considered regenerative compared to tilled fields. By farming animals on pasture, transportation of feed to animals is avoided and nutrients excreted by the animals as manure and urine go back into the land. However animals such as cows, sheep and goats emit greenhouse gas methane due to their stomachs and their diet. Nitrous oxide is a long-lived greenhouse gas that is release into the air when cows urinate. The nitrogen concentrated in urine could be reduced by reducing the protein content of the pasture.
Indigo launched The Terraton Initiative in June, 2019, a program that will pay farmers $15 per ton of carbon sequestered in order to give them incentive to transition towards regenerative practices.