Making a Move to Regenerative Farming

Farmer planning to farm using technology tablets. Regenerative agriculture.

While organic farming avoids the use of pesticides and herbicides and can incorporate practices to help soil health, such as crop rotation and cover crops, regenerative agriculture focuses on rebuilding topsoil, restoring ecosystems, and revitalizing communities. As a result, regenerative agriculture helps to mitigate climate change and provides financial benefits to our farmers and food producers.  

In order to reach a massive scale with regenerative and to help the environment, farmers are looking at moving from organic farming to regenerative agriculture. By altering techniques when growing crops, there is a huge potential to change the way we view food production and sustainability for the future.

The Demand on Food Production

With an increase in population, comes an increase in the demand for food. Looking at our current means of food production, it is not a sustainable system and has a negative environmental impact that can destroy the land’s natural resources. All this combined, makes equal access to nutrition more difficult.

Organic and regenerative farming may seem similar, but they are vastly different.

Organic agriculture follows rules set by market demands, without the thought of ecological outcomes. It is entirely dependent on consumers’ wants and needs. Alternatively, regenerative agriculture does not stick to the status quo; it allows nature to do the work. By creating a self-sustaining ecosystem that also benefits the environment, regenerative agriculture focuses on restoring soils degraded by industrialization, and through farming and grazing techniques helps rebuild soil organic matter (SOM).

The organic food market has been around for more than 30 years, but still only accounts for 7% of total U.S. food sales. In addition, the rules for growing organic food are outdated given climate change and erosion of biodiversity. Simply put, organic certification does not go far enough to create a more restorative agricultural model. By contrast, regenerative agriculture is a much more holistic approach that focuses on restoring topsoil, helping ecosystems, and renovating communities.

What’s Needed Next

Regenerative agriculture creates a sustainable food system that is better for the environment and everyone on the planet. Farmers transitioning to regenerative agriculture from organic agriculture play a critical role in creating a more sustainable system. We need to support those farmers moving to sustainable practices while educating consumers about the benefits and investing in technology. 

Farmers can use cover crops, no-till farming, and pasture-raised livestock to help restore soil health. These practices are considered regenerative farming techniques, but can also help sequester carbon in the soil, improve water retention, and increase biodiversity.

Regenerative agriculture practices include:

  • Minimizing tillage;
  • Maintaining soil cover;
  • Building soil cover where it does not exist;
  • Carbon sequestering;
  • Reliance on the biological nutrient cycle;
  • Livestock integration into farming;
  • Encouraging water percolation; and
  • Less dependence on chemical agents.

Large-scale or small-scale, farmers can add these regenerative farming principles and decide how intensive or extensive to apply them. The fundamental key is not to work against nature, rather with it. This results in less damage to the ecosystem, while also providing healthier, and more nutritious yields.

When both farmers and consumers are aware of the benefits of regenerative agriculture, they become stakeholders in the journey. We can invest in its research and development, and create new tools and technologies to help make the transition easier on farmers and food producers.

It Starts with Soil

Two ways to meet the growing food demand is to close yield gaps by increasing land productivity and expanding agricultural land. The second option has been the preferred course of action, but this resulted in habitat loss, altered biogeochemical and hydrological cycles. That brings us full circle with the first option, increasing land productivity, or in other words, regenerative agriculture.

Regenerative agriculture focuses on SOM to give plants the best environment to live and thrive. SOM is an important indicator of soil fertility. The amount of soil carbon stored can be increased depending on the starting conditions. A healthy crop begins with healthy soil. The proper nutrients and root systems for plants can create compounds that protect against insects and disease, naturally without the overuse of pesticides. Another advantage to a high percent of SOM is the creation of a microbiome full of bacteria, fungi, and nematodes. This healthy bacteria can cause food to become more nutritious, and improve human health. SOM only makes up 2-10% of most soils, yet it dramatically impacts overall soil health. With only 1% soil organic matter increase, the soil can hold 20,000 more gallons of water per acre. Heightened water retention rate means crops can survive droughts or heavy rain easier. SOM also reduces nutrient runoff and erosion by promoting surface residues, root growth, and maintaining healthy soil structure with aggregation and pores.

Based on natural processes, regenerative agriculture does not use much technology. Instead, it uses the strength of the land. However, some tools, such as low-cost soil sensors and cloud-based phytochemical scanners, could make the technique become seamless and more popular among farmers.

The Future of Farming

Individual farmers do not have the same budgets as large corporations to invest in cutting-edge technology that makes successful sustainability programs possible. However, by increasing public awareness on the relation between soil health and human wellness, the demand for regenerative agriculture will grow, making it easier for farmers to financially support the transition.

Many farmers are a part of a grassroots movement to support regenerative agriculture.

It is the start of restoring our broken agricultural system. With more available farmland, and younger farmers entering the industry, there is a huge opportunity to collaborate for collective change and create a more sustainable future for generations to come.

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Anand Swaroop, Ph.D., is a biochemist, president of the evidence-based nutritional ingredient supplier Cepham and co-founder of Nutrify Today. He earned a Master of Science degree in biochemistry and a doctorate in chemistry from the University of Allahabad, one of India’s most esteemed universities. After a decade in the pharmaceutical industry, he left a lucrative career to devote his expertise to bringing traditional Ayurvedic ingredients from India to the United States. For the next 20 years he developed innovative ingredients for the natural product industry through Cepham. Swaroop’s diverse experience in research, quality assurance, product development, manufacturing and marketing has given him a unique and multidisciplinary perspective on the industry. Today, he shares his insights and knowledge with entrepreneurs and scientists through Nutrify Today with the vision that healthy people can produce healthy societies. Cepham was founded in 1978 as part of India’s science and technology boom. Its early focus was on sharing the healing powers of Ayurvedic ingredients for health and wellness worldwide. Identifying new and active ingredients in Ayurvedic plants continues to be the focus of the company’s pioneering work with headquarters in Somerset, New Jersey, and manufacturing bases in India, China and Africa. As an innovator in using blockchain technology, by being one of the first in the natural products industry to partner with TagOne®, Cepham received the 2020 NBJ Award for Supply Chain Transparency. Cepham is a vertically integrated ingredient company, handling everything from research to clinical studies, to manufacturing to distribution for herbal extracts, branded ingredients and phytochemicals with the goal to shorten the supply chain and make dietary supplements affordable. In 2020, Swaroop co-founded Nutrify Today, a one-stop business development platform for the natural products industry that helps facilitate and launch innovative, evidence-based nutraceutical business ideas worldwide. In addition to being an entrepreneur and leader in the pharmaceutical and nutraceutical industries, Swaroop was selected as a Fellow of the American College of Nutrition in 2016. He is a highly sought-after speaker at national and international scientific and business conferences and has written many textbooks on biochemistry, supply chain management, and functional foods and ingredients and is the author of multiple peer-reviewed publications. Swaroop currently serves as a member of the task force constituted by the Government of India to recommend the development of Ayurvedic medicine for India’s nutraceutical sector and for other countries worldwide.