Regenerative agriculture is a farming practice that “goes above and beyond today’s organic standards to actively regenerate the natural resources used while supporting healthy, thriving communities” (Rodale Institute, 2021). There are seven principles of regenerative agriculture that can be defined as;
Increase in diversity of plant species
More surface cover of plants, ending erosion and increasing beneficial microbial populations near the surface
Without chemical fertilizer and pesticide use, a greater mass of plants and other life exists in the soil.
More perennials and other plants with vigorous root systems begin to grow.
Past patterns of weed and pest interference with growing systems are disrupted
Nutrients tend to either move upward in the soil profile or to accumulate near the surface, thereby becoming more available for use by plants.
Overall soil structure improves, increasing water retention capacity
(Rodale Institute, 2020)
When these seven principles of regenerative agriculture are practiced, farmland is able to evolve into an eco-system rather than man made and controlled farm. The soil health also improves immensely as regenerative agriculture includes the practice of no-till farming. Refraining from traditional tilling practices allows for the growth of microbes and insects that produce healthy soil biology. In line with the 15th UN Sustainable Development Goal – Life of the Land, no-till farming conserves the health of the soil as it creates nutrient rich and fertile soil.
No-till farming also allows for carbon sequestration to occur as it minimizes the soil disturbance. Soil naturally stores carbon, however when it is tilled the carbon rises to the surface and is emitted into the atmosphere. Therefore, refraining from tilling allows for the carbon to be absorbed by the soil rather than emitted into the atmosphere and contributing to the greenhouse gas emissions that are causing global warming. In Saskatchewan in particular, ‘the 2019 Saskatchewan Soil Conservation Association report found Saskatchewan growers who use minimal, or zero tillage sequester about 8.75 million new tons of CO2 every year on more than 23 million acres of farmland’ (Pierce, 2021). Therefore, the carbon sequestration that is a direct result of regenerative farming helps to combat climate change and addresses the 13th UN Sustainable Development Goal – Climate Action.
Earl talks about how his personal inspiration for deciding to implement regenerative agriculture into his farming practices stem from his desire to preserve the soil and ensure that the land he farms will still be fertile for generations to come. Earl emphasized the importance of preserving the soil is not only a huge environmental concern as farmers must find a way to protect the land and ensure sustainability but also as a business concern because if their land does not remain healthy their business is no longer sustainable. Earl mentions that the importance of preserving the soil goes beyond an environmental concern or a business decision for him, he discusses how he connects to the issues on a personal level as his family has been farming the land he farms today since 1919. Earl takes pride in the fact that his family has farmed the same land for over 100 years and wishes to ensure its sustainability as his son now has now entered the family business marking the fourth generation of Bean’s to farm the same plot of land. Earl may have motivation coming from different sources for why he has decided to implement regenerative agriculture but regardless of where the motivation comes from the goals remain the same, Earl wishes to ensure the continued prosperity of the land and keep soil healthy and fertile preserving the land for generations to come.
Considering the ongoing climate crisis, innovation is the way through to a more sustainable human presence on the earth. The innovative practices of regenerative farming can result in significant long-term reduction in CO2 emissions as we work towards a carbon neutral economy. As stated above, soil CO2 emission from farming practices is a noteworthy contributor to the climate crisis. By switching to regenerative practices and lowering agricultural CO2 emissions, we have a strong chance at getting climate change under control and minimizing the temperature increases of global warming.
The evidence of impact is clear in the numerous farms that are beginning to make the switch to regenerative farming. As more and more businesses initiate these practices, we will see more sustainability in farming and decreasing agricultural CO2 emissions over time. The beauty of these practices is that their impact is measurable, and can be sufficiently documented as change accelerates through the onboarding of new farms.
Farmers benefit from regenerative practices in many ways. First, the whole basis of farming revolves around environmental wellbeing. If we continue to see increases in temperature due to climate change, farmers will be facing higher risks to environmental hurdles such as drought. By introducing regenerative farming practices, farmers can mitigate these risks before they present themselves. Second, these practices increase the quality of the crops being produced. The use of natural fertilizers and absence of pesticides makes the products more attractive to consumers and could even allow farmers to increase their prices. In addition, input costs can be reduced by the organic matter now found in the soil. The need for additional external fertilizer to ensure nutrient rich soil would decrease significantly. Crops grown in this naturally rich soil have been proven to be more resilient, leading to less loss for the farmers. By constantly overturning the crops, Earl is able to grow diverse types of crops and enter new markets throughout the year. The additional time spent seeding and increasing demand for regenerative practices has allowed Earl to expand his business and employee base from 2 to 5 people.
There are some challenges to the farmer when making the switch to regenerative practices. As Earl stated in our interview, these practices can be expense to finance and require greater upfront costs when making the switch. Regenerative farms are more profitable than regular farms because they are more self-sustaining and able to produce different crops year-round. Additionally, due to the constant crop rotation and usage of covered crops, more effort goes into practicing regenerative farming. Earl expressed he was using these practices however because we need to “move into ethics and switch away from just wanting to spend less money.”
Regenerative farming has a remarkably beneficial impact on the environment. Earl explained to us that when you disrupt the soil, the rich density of carbon contained within the ground is emitted into the air as carbon dioxide. Farmers can reduce their soil emission by participating in regenerative farming practices such as crop rotation, cover crops and natural fertilization methods. Cover crops are plants that protect the soil. They are seen as a long-term investment planting practice to improve the quality of the soil by minimizing erosion, providing nutrients to the soil’s microorganisms, maintaining low soil temperatures, and protecting the soil from external factors such as wind and pests. Crop rotation refers to the continuous use of the same field for multiple diverse types of growth. Earl explained to us that by continuously overturning the crops, the crop is never left to die. Finally, regenerative farming practices emphasize the use of natural and nutrient rich fertilizers as opposed to chemical additives to enrich the soil and produce foods without synthetic nutrition. Earl explicitly outlined the importance of the life of the land in our interview. He described for us how these regenerative farming practices can ensure a healthier soil that is more sustainable and produces better growth. By not leaving crops to die or overturning the growth and allowing it to regain its health and nutrients through regenerative practices, we are improving the life of the land. Environmentally, using natural fertilizers decreases the amount of pollution being mixed into the water supply and leads to increased quality of natural water sources. This is also supported using covered crops, which mitigate the contribution of pollution to the soil from external sources by keeping the crops protected.
The environmental impacts discussed above also have a positive effect on society. By reducing the additives and pesticides incorporated into farming practices, consumers are less exposed to synthetic nutrition, leading to more nutrients in our food and overall better human health. Society needs to be convinced of the benefits of regenerative farming and consuming foods that have been grown in naturally rich soil. This industry is very market driven, and the demand for these products needs to be substantial enough for farmers to make the long run switch to regenerative practices. As Earl stated, “it is all about the money.” At the end of the day, farmers need to be convinced the innovative practices are worthwhile and profitable. This means, society has a considerable amount of control over the degree to which these sustainable practices are implemented in the agricultural industry.
Regenerative agriculture produces higher quality soil that is better able to retain water. This can help protect communities from extreme weather events. Earl pointed out in our interview that healthy soil can hold onto increased quantities of water and therefore it is more sustainable in the event of a drought. Communities are less likely to lose their crops and have a better chance of recovering from drought.
Sharma, A., Bryant, L., Lee, E., & O'Connor, C. (2021, February 24). Regenerative Agriculture Part 4: The Benefits. NRDC. https://www.nrdc.org/experts/arohi-sharma/regenerative-agriculture-part-4-benefits.
Our Story. Rodale Institute. (2021, March 15). https://rodaleinstitute.org/about/our-story/.
Regenerative Organic Agriculture. Rodale Institute. (2020, October 29). https://rodaleinstitute.org/why-organic/organic-basics/regenerative-organic-agriculture/.
Nick Pearce, L. J. I. (2021, June 10). State of Agriculture: Sask. farmers dig into fresh soil for sustainable agriculture practices. thestarphoenix. https://thestarphoenix.com/news/local-news/state-of-agriculture-sask-farmers-dig-into-fresh-soil-for-sustainable-agriculture-practices.
Earl Bean, Farmer
Keep this story going! Share below!
Rouleau, Saskatchewan, CA
Year Founded: 1919
Number of Employees: 2 to 10