To consider how regenerative agriculture works we first need to understand how nature works.
The nutrient cycle and energy flow
The nutrient cycle is the movement and exchange of organic and inorganic matter back into the production of matter. Energy flow is a unidirectional and noncyclic pathway, whereas the movement of mineral nutrients is cyclic. Mineral cycles include the carbon cycle, sulphur cycle, nitrogen cycle, water cycle, phosphorus cycle, oxygen cycle, among others that continually recycle along with other mineral nutrients into productive ecological nutrition.
As we live, we consume, consumption is one of the definitions of life and all consumption has an impact.
Life is the capacity for growth, reproduction, functional activity, and continual change preceding death, everything alive will die and every atom of material and all the energy consumed is reused and recycled.
Life and homeostasis
In nature these systems have been linked in a continuous ebb and flow of energy since the beginning of life on earth about 3.7 billion years ago, life adapts to changing conditions with feedback loops allowing living organisms to maintain homeostasis.
Coexistence and cooperation
In nature animals and plants always exist together, there are no systems where either lives in isolation, the nutrients and lives are inextricably linked as the flow of energy moves through all living organisms, plants using energy from the sun to convert carbon from the air into carbohydrates that animals can eat and so on.
What is Agriculture
Agriculture is defined as the science or practice of farming, including cultivation of the soil for the growing of crops and the rearing of animals to provide food, wool, and other products.
Agriculture works with nature but seeks to control and manipulate it to suit our purpose, but with that, unfortunately we have pushed natural systems to a point where the chain is broken. By chain we mean these feedback loops that allow nature to regulate and balance, restore, repair and recycle, to grow and to flourish, we’re taking more than we’re prepared to put in and this causes a net loss to that system.
Every way that we choose to feed ourselves has an impact, even when we forage we are either taking a food source from another animal or consuming a plant’s ability to capture sunlight, store energy or reproduce or grow.
Regenerative agriculture seeks to create the conditions to allow nature to use the resources required to repair and grow and become better than their initial condition, to be regenerative a system needs to operate a model of continuous improvement.
The metrics by which we measure continuous improvement can be simple, a natural system is improving if two or more time separated measurements show an increase in the biodiversity of a system meaning that plants and animals, other than the ones being farmed, are increasing in numbers and diversity.
Another key metric for measuring regeneration of an agricultural system is measuring the soil carbon content, an increase in carbon stored in the soil shows regeneration as more organic matter is contained within the soil structure meaning it can hold more moisture and nutrients.
Methods employed to achieve these results are varied and when properly managed they can accelerate change beyond leaving nature to take its course by providing optimal conditions for regrowth.
We have damaged the land that feeds us and we need to help nature to repair it, it might seem contradictory but through correct management we can accelerate the restoration beyond what would be achieved with no intervention.