2,990 days until 2030

Ending the climate crisis means creating a society that is going in the right direction at the right speed by 2030, a rate of change that will lead to zero net emissions before 2050. That means halving emissions by 2030 and then halving again by 2040. Regeneration starts now.

About Regeneration

Regeneration means putting life at the center of every action and decision. It’s an inclusive and effective strategy to end the climate crisis in one generation.

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A producer in Stanly County, North Carolina, rolls down a cover crop just minutes before planting corn.

A producer in Stanly County, North Carolina, rolls down a cover crop just minutes before planting corn. The ”blanketlike” results of rolling or crimping provide season-long weed protection, moisture retention, and food for soil microbes.

Credit: NCRS Photo

Regenerative Agriculture

Call to action:

Since 1850, industrial agriculture has created a legacy of water pollution, animal abuse, degraded land, and wildlife habitat destruction. It has been responsible for over a third of all carbon dioxide emissions generated by humans. We must switch to regenerative agriculture, which is modeled on nature, sequesters carbon, heals land, and honors life.

Regenerative agriculture focuses on restoring and maintaining biologically healthy soil. It takes its cues from nature, which has a long record of successfully growing things. By recarbonizing soils via photosynthesis and biology, regenerative agriculture produces healthy food, protects watersheds, strengthens ecological and cultural diversity, and expands economic resilience. It is a low-cost “shovel-ready”, solution to climate change. It can restore degraded land. It can feed the world. Regenerative agriculture has ancient origins and is the foundation of Indigenous and traditional food systems worldwide.

Action Items

Individuals

Learn why regenerative agricultural is being used by farmers and ranchers to improve soil health, sequester carbon, and make our food healthy again. The rediscovery of regenerative agriculture by industrial societies began with the work of Sir Albert Howard, who studied traditional farms in India and observed that “health of soil, plants, animals, and humans is one and indivisible.” Today, regenerative agriculture is seen as both a sustainable way to produce healthy food and repair environmental damage. Practices include agroforestry, no-till, silvopasture, rotational grazing, cover crops, and crop diversification (see Farmers and Ranchers below).

Understand that modern regenerative agriculture is based on Indigenous and traditional foodways. Food was produced organically and regeneratively long before the rise of industrial agriculture. These systems fed billions of people. They still exist and form the foundation of regenerative agriculture today (see Agroecology Nexus).

Buy food and other items produced by regenerative agriculture. Farmers and ranchers have implemented campaigns that promote their products and practices. Purchasing these products supports the agricultural enterprise and encourages others to adopt similar practices.

Speak up. Write an op-ed to a newspaper or social media site advocating for regenerative agriculture. Consider writing longer pieces for online sites such as Medium, like this one.

Join a social media site run by an advocate for land protection and restoration. A sampling of social media sites (see Key Players below):

Take a training course to understand soil health and how regenerative agriculture can help. There are a variety of online courses that range from the basics of soil health to detailed how-to for gardeners and others.

Groups

Farmers, Ranchers, and Other Landowners

Research regenerative agriculture practices to decide which ones would be best to implement on your farm or ranch. Primers on regenerative agriculture include Gabe Brown’s book Dirt to Soil and his workshop Treating the Farm as an Ecosystem; Mark Shepard’s book Restoration Agriculture, about growing perennial food crops, and its companion, Water for Any Farm. The USDA provides a list of resources on soil health. There are also scientific papers (such as this one) and research journals that can help farmers and ranchers decide on appropriate practices, including Indigenous and traditional farming systems (see Agroecology Nexus and Agroforestry Nexus). Practices include:

  • Organic no-till is a combination of chemical-free and no-tillage agriculture, often achieved with the use of cover crops.
  • Conservation tillage falls between no-till and full-till and usually involves cover crops.
  • Cover crops keep the ground covered using a wide variety of plants in order to protect the soil and build organic matter.
  • Polycultures and food forests traditionally employ two or more food types grown together, often utilizing trees in a multistory system.
  • Agroforestry is the integration of trees and shrubs into crop and animal farming systems. It has been practiced around the world for centuries.
  • Composting is the aerobic decomposition of carbon-rich material, such as wood, manure, and food waste, into a soil-enriching amendment (see Compost Nexus).
  • Silvopasture is the integration of trees and grazing livestock on the same land, managed intensively for both forest products and forage (see Silvopasture Nexus).
  • Pasture cropping is the intercropping of an annual crop within a perennial pasture and usually includes livestock grazing.
  • Perennial crops are trees and vegetables that grow every year without seeding, including olives, asparagus, rhubarb, and globe artichokes (see Perennial Crops Nexus).
  • Integration of livestock into cropping is the deliberate use of grazing animals as part of annual crop production (see Animal Integration Nexus).
  • Biochar is a supercharged charcoal traditionally used as a method to boost the fertility of soils and capture water (see Biochar Nexus).
  • Biological fertilizers are created by earthworms and microbes that break down carbon and minerals naturally in the soils for plants to use.
  • Multispecies grazing, such as combining cattle and sheep into a single herd, can deliver multiple ecological and economic benefits (see Grazing Ecology Nexus).
  • Keyline and permaculture use landforms and natural processes, such as water flow, as part of a design process for farming and regeneration.

Implement regenerative agriculture practices. The goal is to increase soil organic matter in tandem with enhanced cycling of carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus, and water. A key step in the transition from conventional to regenerative is to stop using synthetic chemicals and fertilizers, which kill beneficial insects, soil microbes, and fungi. Farmer Gabe Brown explains the next steps: “I follow five principles that were developed by nature over eons of time. They are the same anyplace in the world where the sun shines and plants grow.” Here are Brown’s Five Principles:

  • Limit physical disturbance of the soil. Tillage destroys soil structure. It tears apart the “house” that nature builds to protect the living organisms in the soil that create natural soil fertility.
  • Keep the soil covered at all times. Nature abhors bare soil. By providing a natural “coat of armor” of plants, farmers protect the soil from wind and water erosion while providing habitat for macro- and microorganisms.
  • Strive for diversity of both plant and animal species. Grasses, forbs, legumes, and shrubs all live in harmony with each other. Some have shallow roots, some deep. Some are high-carbon, some are low-carbon, some are legumes. Each of them plays a role in maintaining soil health.
  • Maintain a living root in the soil as long as possible. When you see green growing plants any time of year it is a sign of living roots. Those living roots are feeding soil biology by providing its basic food source: carbon. This biology, in turn, fuels the nutrient cycle that feeds plants.
  • Integrate animals. Nature does not function without animals. The grazing of plants stimulates the plants to pump more carbon into the soil. This drives nutrient cycling by feeding biology (see Animal Integration Nexus).

Improve livestock grazing practices. For ranchers, the regenerative goal is to mimic the “graze-and-go” behavior of native herbivores with domesticated livestock. This supports the biological health of the soil, improves water cycling, reduces erosion, and can increase the amount of carbon that can be stored in rangeland soils (see Grazing Ecology Nexus). Elements include:

Consult with regenerative agriculture experts. The Rodale Institute, a leader in organic and regenerative farming in the U.S., has a consulting guide for landowners. The Savory Network links progressive ranchers around the world. There are many individual consultants who work with landowners to improve their land and/or teach workshops and seminars, such as the Soil Health Academy, the Land Stewardship Project, and Rhizoterra. Here is a list of consultants associated with Elaine Ingham’s Soil Food Web training.

Learn how to become certified in regenerative agriculture. The Regenerative Organic Alliance has a certification program for farmers and ranchers who produce food, textiles, and personal care ingredients. The Rodale Institute has an immersive training program in regenerative organic practices focused on aspiring farmers, who get to experience the entire production cycle of a diversified crop and livestock farm. Other programs:

Sell your regenerative products to consumers either directly or through a wholesaler or retailer. Direct marketing to consumers through online sales, farmers markets, a food cooperative, or other venues is a viable option. Here is an article about branding and different market options. The Sweetgrass Cooperative in Colorado and New Mexico is an example of a rancher-owned regenerative food marketing and distribution co-op. For examples of businesses that use and make regenerative products see Individuals above.

  • Here is a story about a pioneering regenerative dairy farm in California (including links to other regenerative dairy farms).

Explore ways to get paid for sequestering carbon in the soil of your farm or ranch. Efforts are under way to develop markets for carbon credits generated by regenerative farmers and ranchers for sequestering carbon in their soils, sometimes called carbon farming. (see Companies below)

  • Here is an overview of the carbon farming marketplace today and the challenges and opportunities it presents for regenerative farmers and ranchers.
  • Here is an overview called Carbon Markets 101 from the University of Kentucky that spells out the basics.
  • IndigoAg is a company developing a carbon marketplace for farmers who follow regenerative practices.
  • Here is a story about a farmer who was paid by a privately run farmer-focused marketplace for sequestering just over 8,000 tons of carbon. Here is a video about that farmer.
  • Zero Foodprint is a nonprofit organization that helps to crowdfund grants for farmers to enable them to switch to regenerative agricultural practices to address the climate crisis.

Companies

Integrate regenerative food and other products into supply chains. Investing in regenerative agriculture is good for business.

  • Here is a story about climate-friendly supply chains.
  • Dr. Bronner’s, a company that makes a variety of personal care products, is a leader in supply-chain development for regenerative agriculture.
  • Here is a story about the McDonald’s Corporation sourcing some of its beef from regenerative ranches that use rotational grazing methods.

Assist in the development of carbon markets that support regenerative agricultural practices. Trading carbon credits to reduce greenhouse emissions was embedded in the 2015 Paris Agreement. Companies are either becoming directly involved in fostering markets or considering how to get involved.

  • Here is an article about the challenges and opportunities in monetizing soil carbon.

Use onsets to achieve carbon emission reduction goals focused on credible land protection and restoration projects that improve soil carbon in grasslands and savannas. Onsets are carbon credits that create a net reduction in greenhouse gases. Organizations such as Gold Standard and the Carbon Fund provide verified onsets via their financial support of projects that improve carbon levels in the soil through regenerative agriculture.

Governance

Pass healthy soil initiatives and other legislation that supports regenerative agriculture. Incentivizing soil health and carbon sequestration through regenerative agricultural practices can be accomplished by legislation and policy.

  • State legislatures that have passed initiatives to improve soil health include California, Vermont, Illinois, Nebraska, and New Mexico. These bills can be the foundation for restoring degraded land.
  • Following the Paris climate summit in 2015, the French government implemented a carbon sequestration policy called the 4 per 1000 Initiative, which encourages policies that support regenerative agriculture.
  • The Growing Climate Solutions Act directs the USDA to create a certification program to help farmers, ranchers, and foresters navigate an array of private-sector programs in order to sell carbon credits.

Adopt policies and objectives that support regenerative agriculture and expand technical and financial assistance. Government agencies usually require policies to be enacted before they undertake projects. The USDA’s organic certification standards, for example, provide clear guidelines for producers and consumers. Promoting soil health practices through the agency’s department, such as the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), will help farmers and ranchers make the transition to regenerative agriculture.

Enforce antitrust legislation to reduce or eliminate the monopoly power that a handful of large agribusinesses have over the industry. Breaking up Big Ag would be difficult, but it could lead to numerous benefits for regenerative farmers and ranchers.

End subsidies for corporate agriculture. As a result of Brexit, the U.K. government is planning to phase out subsidies for British agriculture and replace them with financial incentives for environmentally beneficial farm practices.

Bad Actors

Some of the same large agribusinesses that have been deeply involved in the expansion of industrial agriculture are trying to co-opt regenerative agriculture to suit their bottom line, including the dairy industry. Here is an article about greenwashing. These companies include:

Bayer/Monsanto, a large agribusiness that produces a variety of chemicals, including the herbicide glyphosate (e.g., Roundup), that are sprayed on croplands. Bayer Ag CEO is Werner Baumann. His email is werner.baumann@bayer.com. His phone is 49 214 30 47720.

Cargill, a family-owned agribusiness behemoth at the center of the global industrial production of soy, corn, and other commodities and implicated in a wide variety land-degrading, health-damaging, and climate-altering activities. The CEO of Cargill is David MacLennan. His email is david_maclennan@cargill.com. His phone is (952) 742-4507.

ADM, a major food commodities trader and supplier. The ADM CEO is Juan Luciano. His email is juan.luciano@adm.com His phone is (312) 634-8100 (headquarters).

Corteva, a major chemical and seed company. It was split off from the DowDuPont corporation, itself the product of a merger between DuPont and Dow chemical companies whose products have been used in industrial agriculture for decades and linked to a variety of harmful effects. The CEO of Corteva is James C. Collins, Jr. His phone is 800-922-2368.

Learn

Read

The Unsettling of America by Wendell Berry

Salad Bar Beef by Joel Salatin

Grass, Soil, Hope by Courtney White

The Farm as Ecosystem by Jerry Brunetti

Holistic Management by Allan Savory

Goodreads list of books on regenerative agriculture

Chelsea Green Publishing archives on regenerative farming

Civil Eats archive on regenerative agriculture

Mongabay, Farming News

Yale Environment 360, Food and Agriculture

The Guardian, agriculture news

Food Tank’s archives on regenerative agriculture

Science Daily, Agriculture and Food news

Listen

Reversing Land Degradation with Dwayne Beck (no-till specialist)

Podcasts from Food Tank celebrating Indigenous foodways

Farmerama podcasts about regenerative agriculture

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