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Regenerative agriculture

Regenerative agriculture (also known as 'carbon farming'[1]) is an umbrella term for forms of land use and agricultural techniques whose common feature is to regenerate damaged soils while providing food, feed, raw materials, active ingredients and energy. The methods can be combined in a variety of ways and sometimes include reduced or ‘ploughless’ tillage, organic farming, agroforestry systems and perennial crops, although not all are suitable for every climate and soil[2]. Regenerative agriculture is a sub-sector of agroecology[3].

 

Aim and innovation

The agriculture is dependent on the condition of the soil and, in current industrial agriculture, contributes both to soil loss and degradation. The idea of Regenerative Agriculture is essentially to restore and improve damaged soils in urban and rural ecosystems by strengthening soil life and building humus[4]. This holds the potential to bind more CO2 in the soil than is emitted by the use of the soil[5], and at the same time to produce food and other goods in the process[6]. According to the Rodale Institute, more than 100% of the CO2 currently emitted each year can be fixed in the soil using simple, affordable, biological, regenerative methods, thus mitigating climate change[7]. Furthermore, cost-intensive inputs can be replaced by natural processes and fossil fuels can be saved[8].

A relatively new and widely used tool in regenerative agriculture for the past two decades has been conservation tillage[9] (also known as 'ploughless tillage'[10]  or 'mulch sowing'[11]). This concept does not include the use of the plough[12]. Instead, the soil is not turned, which means that some of the crop residues on the arable land are preserved[13]. Due to this method, the soil life gets disturbed as little as possible, which helps to stabilize the topsoil and to build up humus[14].

Conservation methods that completely avoid the use of tillage before sowing are known as 'no-tillage farming' or 'direct sowing'[15]. A further method of regenerative agriculture is the year-round greening of arable land, which can be made possible through nurse crops and catch crops. The idea behind this approach is to cover the soil for as long as possible, thus reducing leaching losses and protecting soil life[16]. Other tools include the use of organic fertilizers, adapted crop rotations and compost systems[17].

Examples

Grüne Brücke (Dietmar Näser)[18], New Forest Farm (Mark Shepeard)[19], Rodale Institute[20], SoilCapital[21], Ökoregion Kaindorf[22], Bio-Gemüsehof Dickendorf

 

Category

intermediate consumption, production

 

Actors

farmers

 

State of development

Due to the growing awareness of soil degradation as a consequence of industrial agricultural practices, regenerative practices are gaining increasing popularity globally[25]. While regenerative agriculture is considered to be consolidated in America, it has so far been a rare practice in German-speaking countries. In Germany it is applied to an estimated area of 50,000 hectares[26]. Many practitioners report positive experiences, however there is still little scientific data available in Germany. An example for good documentation of successful humus formation by regenerative methods is to be found in the Ökoregion Kaindorf[27].

 

Sustainability potential

Ecological

  • biodiversity
  • soil
  • water
  • climate
  • air
  • resource efficiency in production and consumption
  • promotion of regional, closed nutrient cycles

Economic

  • increase of food security
  • promotion of recycling economy

Risks / disadvantages

According to the German Federal Statistical Office, on about 40% of the arable land the soil is partially cultivated without ploughing, while only on one percent of the arable land ploughing is abandoned completely.[28] This trend of recent years towards no-tillage is largely implemented by conventional farmers. In order to control weeds in their crops they often use herbicides[29], and thus fail to meet the goals of regenerative agriculture by a pesticide-free cultivation.[30] So far, there are yet few organic farmers who actually reach these goals.[31]

It is challenging and requires a great deal of experience to incorporate the nurse or cover crops[32]. Other methods of regenerative agriculture also require expertise, training and time. In addition, the methods used have to be adapted to the respective local conditions and soil, which in turn requires very good knowledge. Farmer Benedikt Bösel points out the lack of encouragement regarding multifunctional land use in Germany, which makes it difficult for farmers to build up experience with regenerative agriculture[33].


[1] Biswas, S. et al. (2017): Regenerative agriculture: Replenishing soil carbon under changing climate.

[2] Neely, C., Bunning, S. Wilkes, A. (2009): Review of evidence on drylands pastoral systems and climate change. FAO, Rome.; Hes, D., & Rose, N. (2019): Shifting from farming to tending the earth: A discussion paper.

[3] Von Koerber, H. (2018): Definition Regenerative Landwirtschaft - Ansätze, Verfahren, Initiativen.

[4] Beckhoff, J. (2018): Regenerativer Ackerbau. oekolandbau.de. https://www.oekolandbau.de/landwirtschaft/pflanze/grundlagen-pflanzenbau/regenerative-landwirtschaft/regenerativer-ackerbau/ (20.02.2020)

[5] Zukunftsstiftung Landwirtschaft (n.d.): Regenerative Landwirtschaft - Zukunftsstiftung Landwirtschaft.  https://www.zukunftsstiftung-landwirtschaft.de/zukunftsstiftung-landwirtschaft/aktuelles/termine/regenerative-landwirtschaft/ (20.02.2020)

[6] Lal, R. (2010). Managing Soils and Ecosystems for Mitigating Anthropogenic Carbon Emissions and Advancing Global Food Security. BioScience, 60(9), pp. 708–721. doi.org/10.1525/bio.2010.60.9.8

[7] Rodale Institute (n.d.): Regenerative Organic Agriculture and Climate Change. A Down-to-Earth Solution to Global Warming.  https://rodaleinstitute.org/wp-content/uploads/rodale-white-paper.pdf (20.02.2020) 

[8] Biswas, S. et al. (2017): Regenerative agriculture: Replenishing soil carbon under changing climate.

[9] Beste, A. (2015): Intensivfeldbau: Industrielle Landwirtschaft mit Zukunftsproblemen. Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung.  https://www.boell.de/de/2014/12/16/intensivfeldbau-industrielle-landwirtschaft-mit-zukunftsproblemen (20.02.2020)

[10] Verlag Emminger & Partner GmbH (2019): Konservierende Bodenbearbeitung - Pfluglos.  https://www.pfluglos.de/konservierende_bodenbearbeitung (20.02.2020)

[11] Beste, A. (2015): Intensivfeldbau: Industrielle Landwirtschaft mit Zukunftsproblemen. Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung.  https://www.boell.de/de/2014/12/16/intensivfeldbau-industrielle-landwirtschaft-mit-zukunftsproblemen (20.02.2020)

[12] Verlag Emminger & Partner GmbH (2019): Konservierende Bodenbearbeitung - Pfluglos.  https://www.pfluglos.de/konservierende_bodenbearbeitung  (20.02.2020)

[13] ibid.

[14] Biswas, S. et al. (2017): Regenerative agriculture: Replenishing soil carbon under changing climate.

[15] Derpsch, R. (2008): No Till erfolgreich umsetzen - Pfluglos.  https://www.pfluglos.de/beitraege/articles/no-till-einfuehrung (20.02.2020)

[16] Beckhoff, J. (2018): Regenerativer Ackerbau. oekolandbau.de. www.oekolandbau.de/landwirtschaft/pflanze/grundlagen-pflanzenbau/regenerative-landwirtschaft/regenerativer-ackerbau/

[17] Rodale Institute (n.d.): Regenerative Organic Agriculture and Climate Change. A Down-to-Earth Solution to Global Warming. https://rodaleinstitute.org/wp-content/uploads/rodale-white-paper.pdf (20.02.2020)

[18] Grüne Brücke (2020): Willkommen! - Grüne Brücke—Regenerative Landwirtschaft. https://www.gruenebruecke.de/ (20.02.2020)

[19] New Forest Farm (n.d.). https://newforestfarm.us/ (20.02.2020)

[20] Rodale Institute (2020). https://rodaleinstitute.org/ (20.02.2020)

[21]Soil Capital—Regenerative agriculture (n.d.). http://www.soilcapital.com/ (20.02.2020)

[22] Verein Ökoregion Kaindorf (2018). https://www.oekoregion-kaindorf.at/ (20.02.2020)

[23] Hes, D., & Rose, N. (2019). Shifting from farming to tending the earth: A discussion paper.

[24] Hatfield, J. L., & Karlen, D. L. (1993): Sustainable Agriculture Systems. CRC Press.

[25] Hes, D., & Rose, N. (2019): Shifting from farming to tending the earth: A discussion paper.

[26] Beckhoff, J. (2018): Regenerativer Ackerbau. oekolandbau.de. https://www.oekolandbau.de/landwirtschaft/pflanze/grundlagen-pflanzenbau/regenerative-landwirtschaft/regenerativer-ackerbau/ (20.02.2020)

[27] Verein Ökoregion Kaindorf (2018): Ökoregion Kaindorf. https://www.oekoregion-kaindorf.at/index.php?id=522 (20.02.2020)

[28] Universität Hohenheim (2019): Konservierende Bodenbearbeitung: Fachtagung diskutiert veränderte Pflanzenschutzstrategien. Pressemitteilung. https://www.uni-hohenheim.de/pressemitteilung?tx_ttnews%5Btt_news%5D=42432&cHash=61a935297a040281960f1d472789de87 (20.02.2020)

[29]Agrarheute (2016): Pfluglose Bodenbearbeitung: Pro und contra. https://www.agrarheute.com/technik/ackerbautechnik/pfluglose-bodenbearbeitung-pro-contra-513975 (20.02.2020)

[30] Ökolandbau (2018): Regenerativer Ackerbau. https://www.oekolandbau.de/landwirtschaft/pflanze/grundlagen-pflanzenbau/regenerative-landwirtschaft/regenerativer-ackerbau/ (20.02.2020)

[31]Kretschmann, K. und Behm, R. (2017): Mulch total - Ein Weg in die Zukunft. OLV.

[32] Beckhoff, J. (2018): Regenerativer Ackerbau. oekolandbau.de.  https://www.oekolandbau.de/landwirtschaft/pflanze/grundlagen-pflanzenbau/regenerative-landwirtschaft/regenerativer-ackerbau/ (20.02.2020)

[33] von Ketteler, L. (2019): Regenerative Landwirtschaft in Deutschland. https://www.farm-and-food.com/regenerative-landwirtschaft-in-deutschland/ (20.02.2020)