Published by AMTEC on 22nd Mar 2022

The Pros and Cons of Regenerative Agriculture

We explore the pros and cons of regenerative farming

Blog Image

Pros and Cons of Regenerative Agriculture 

Regenerative farming, or regenerative agriculture, is a specific way of practicing farming. It utilises methods that have a positive impact on the environment and offers a host of benefits. Despite these benefits, however, regenerative farming has proved a divisive subject, and many are sceptical of its advantages.

In this blog, we’ll provide an expert guide to regenerative farming. We’ll discuss what regenerative farming means, how it works, and take a look at its pros and cons.

 

What is Regenerative Farming?

First of all, it’s important to understand what is meant by ‘regenerative farming’. Regenerative farming is a term used to describe a system of farming and agricultural practices that work to improve the overall health of a farm’s ecosystem. Advocates for regenerative farming claim that this method of managing crops and livestock reduces carbon emissions, and can even have a positive impact on the wider environment. 

Regenerative farming focuses on conserving and improving farm resources through a host of principles. In general, regenerative agriculture aims to improve soil health, reduce water usage by increasing water retention in the ground, and capture carbon from the atmosphere through a process called biosequestration. 

Other key focuses of regenerative farming include increasing biodiversity, and reducing reliance on chemical fertilisers and pesticides.

 

The 5 Principles of Regenerative Agriculture

Regenerative farming, or regenerative agriculture, is based on 5 core principles. The 5 principles of regenerative agriculture are: 

  • Increasing biodiversity, within both plants and livestock 
  • Reducing soil disturbance, increasing soil health
  • Reducing the use of chemicals, using less fertiliser and less insecticide
  • Adapting to the local climate and environment
  • Reducing the soil’s exposure by keeping soil covered with growing crops wherever possible

Regenerative farmers follow these core principles in order to rehabilitate their farm’s ecosystems. In general, these principles encourage taking an integrated approach to agriculture.

In more typical, industrialised agricultural systems, crops and livestock are separated. Regenerative agriculture does the opposite, integrating the two in a circular system. Holistic grazing techniques mean that the land feeds the animals without depleting resources. In turn, this grazing feeds the plants, as the animals’ excrement redistributes nutrients to the land. 

Regenerative chicken farming also helps to maintain the health of farm land. As well as offering more nutrient distribution, chickens will eat harmful weeds and pests, regulating the health of soil and crops. 

Regenerative farmers use specific growing practices to improve the health of their local environment and land. These practices and techniques are led by the five principles of regenerative farming. A handful of the most common regenerative farming methods include: 

  • Reduced tillage or ‘no-till’ systems – reducing the need for ploughing or disc harrowing and leaving soil undisturbed  
  • Integration – integrating plants and livestock within a co-efficient circular system 
  • Reducing use of chemicals – using fewer chemical fertilisers and pesticides will have a positive impact on farm biodiversity. It can also minimise pollution
  • Covering soil with ‘cover crops’ – cover crops are used as placeholders, filling the space left after commercial crops have been harvested. Keeping soil covered means the soil will experience less erosion. Cover crops can also be eaten by livestock through holistic grazing techniques
  • Improving biodiversity – improving biodiversity in soil increases the amount of nutrients in the soil, contributing to greater health

We’ve covered the core principles of regenerative farming, so now let’s take a look at some regenerative agriculture pros and cons.

 

Pros of Regenerative Farming

We’ve now established what regenerative farming is, as well as what techniques regenerative farmers use. Now, it’s time to delve deeper into how regenerative agriculture can be beneficial. The main advantages of regenerative agriculture are:

Improves Soil Health

As you’ll have read, one of the core principles of regenerative farming is to improve soil health. Improving soil health is a great thing in itself, but it also has a multitude of knock-on benefits.  

Healthy soil has greater capability to absorb and store water. This means that less water is wasted, and also prevents run-off and soil erosion. The healthier the soil, the more nutritious the food grown in it. Plus, nutrient-rich soil makes plants stronger against pests and diseases. 

Healthy soil even has economic benefits. By reducing the need for input, profit is increased. On top of this, healthier soil can withstand more extreme weather conditions, which means the farm will be more stable and productive.

Read our blog on the benefits of healthy soil to find out more.

 

Reduces Carbon Emissions

Regenerative agriculture reduces carbon emissions. We’ve already discussed how improving soil health can provide a host of benefits. Another one of these benefits is that healthy soil’s ability to capture carbon is increased. 

By reducing tillage, soil is left undisturbed, and therefore sees an increase in organic matter and biodiversity. This increases the amount of carbon the soil is able to draw out from the atmosphere. As a result, regenerative farm land becomes a carbon sponge, reducing the amount of CO2 gas emitted into the atmosphere through biosequestration.

 

Increases Water Infiltration

Water infiltration is a term which refers to the downward entry of water into soil. The use of ‘cover crops’ in regenerative farming practices reduces the effects of erosion in soil, increasing water infiltration.  

Reducing soil tillage also contributes to increased water infiltration. As soil is left undisturbed, surface pores in soil remain connected, and can accumulate more organic matter. Less tilling also means less soil compaction, increasing soil porosity.  

Greater water infiltration also contributes to healthier soil and healthier plants, meaning that a farm is healthier across the board.

 

Reduces Reliance on Chemicals

Reducing the use of chemicals, like improving soil health, has a host of benefits. Industrialised agriculture has become dependent on chemical fertilisers and pesticides to improve soil health and crop yields. But the use of the chemicals pollutes the atmosphere with greenhouse gases, which have a negative impact on our environment. 

Since regenerative farming reduces the use of chemical fertilisers and insecticides, these pollutants are reduced in turn. Moreover, regenerative agriculture leans on the integration of livestock and plants. In this circular economy, livestock can act as both fertiliser and pesticide, reducing emissions even further. 

Beyond regenerative agriculture, there are a number of other farming practices emerging which reduce reliance on chemicals. These include vertical farming, sea farming, and mobile farming, all of which are farming practices of the future and are becoming increasingly prevalent.

 

Cons of Regenerative Farming

It’s clear that there are many potential benefits when it comes to regenerative agriculture. But, as with anything, there’s always a catch. For all the positives, regenerative farming has its drawbacks. The main disadvantages of regenerative farming are:

 

Time-consuming

Though regenerative farming can be beneficial, as it increases farm productivity, its results can’t be seen overnight. Establishing the principles and methods of regenerative farming can take years, so reaping the benefits will be a long time coming.

 

Difficult To Do on a Large Scale

Regenerative farming is also difficult to do on a mass scale. The need for crop rotation limits how many types of produce can be grown at one time. Plus, adopting holistic grazing techniques requires greater land mass than traditional agriculture. Because of this, mass production of crops is difficult to achieve through regenerative practices.

 

Takes Careful Planning and Organisation

Regenerative agriculture also requires careful planning and a lot of organisation. Crop rotations must be planned out in advance to ensure minimal effect on yields. Though growing holistically through regenerative practices can be less labour intensive, the need for organisation is increased, so adopting regenerative principles is far from easy.

 

Is Regenerative Farming the Future?

As it stands currently, regenerative farming cannot offer the same production level as traditional, mass-scale agriculture. But it’s important to remember that there was once a time where organic farming on a large scale seemed impossible. As is the case with anything new, increased use will lead to increased viability. The more farmers adopt regenerative practices, the more sustainable regenerative farming will become. 

Though regenerative farming practices may be hard to adopt in the short term, they do have clear long-term benefits. The increased capability for carbon capture has the potential to positively impact the environment. Increased soil health will grow more resilient crops, increasing farm productivity year-round. And as consumers become increasingly wary of sustainability, there will be rising demand for goods produced through regenerative methods.

 

How Can I Start Regenerative Farming?

Starting out on the journey to regenerative farming can be intimidating. Perhaps the easiest change you can make would be to reduce soil tillage. Using a min-till or direct seed drill will greatly reduce soil disturbance, providing you with healthier soil. 

Plus, if you’re trying to make your farming methods more sustainable, purchasing machinery second-hand is a great option. Our expert team sources used farm machinery and approves it for resale through our platform.  

Get in touch today to source quality used farm machinery, and get started on your regenerative farming journey. 

 

 

Contact us