5 Top Regenerative Practices to Introduce To Your Farm
Updated: Nov 7, 2022
Our planet is facing unprecedented challenges today, and the way we grow food is often part of the problem. But, while most sustainable farming techniques focus only on minimizing harm, one methodology goes further by leaving the land in better shape after each growing season.
This farming philosophy, known as regenerative agriculture, offers real hope for a more sustainable future. It’s easier than you think to implement regenerative farming strategies into your own operation. Here’s what you need to know to get started.
What is Regenerative Agriculture?
The regenerative farming movement got its start in the 1980s when organic agriculture experts at the Rodale Institute coined the term to refer to holistic farming practices that prioritize building healthy soil.
The four basic principles of regenerative agriculture include the following:
Promote a biodiversity of plants and animals
Decrease tilling (or eliminate it entirely)
Reduce the use of synthetic fertilizers and other external inputs
Graze livestock according to regenerative management standards
At its core, this agricultural approach views soil health as the foundation of a thriving planet. Regenerative farm techniques offer many ecosystem benefits, including promoting biodiversity, improving the water cycle, and sequestering carbon to combat climate change.
Five Ways to Incorporate Regenerative Principles on Your Property
No matter what scale you operate on, there are ways to follow regenerative agriculture principles on your property. Here are five ideas for inspiration.
1. Prioritize Crop Diversity
Biodiversity is a primary principle of regenerative farming. Fields that support a variety of crops better mimic the growing conditions in the natural world and develop healthier soil biomes because of it.
Consider skipping the conventional monoculture planting strategy and instead incorporate multiple species into each garden bed through intercropping, companion planting, and seasonal crop rotation. Ideally, you want a mix of perennial and annual crops growing together at different root depths.
2. Integrate Livestock Into Cropland
Modern farming sees plants and animals as two separate categories of food production—regenerative agriculture works to bring them back together. This better mimics the natural world and the mutually beneficial relationships that exist between them.
Best of all, bringing animals and cropland together eliminates many of the problems associated with both by optimizing nutrient cycling between them. Manure is a primary source of pollution with conventional livestock operations, but it provides in-field fertility in a regenerative farming system.
Consider putting sheep or goats out to pasture after taking in your hay harvest or to graze on your cover crops when it’s time to till them in. Not only will these herd animals produce natural fertilizer to the fields, but their grazing can stimulate the plants to grow faster.
3. Create a Conservation Buffer
Natural habitat space is shrinking worldwide at alarming rates. Make your property part of the solution with a conservation buffer. These small strips of land are strategically placed throughout rural properties to act as a barrier between fields and natural spaces.
Conservation buffers work to slow down erosion and stop the spread of nutrients and chemical runoff from the farm to surrounding ecosystems. You can plant these strips with native plants to create habitat space for beneficial species, and you’ll promote biodiversity both in the soil and above it for healthier land in the long run.
4. Experiment with Silvopasture
Go one step further with livestock on your property by incorporating them into a silvopasture management system. This is the process of keeping grazing animals within a managed woodlot or orchard for the benefit of both.
Farmers get the benefit of managing a profitable tree operation, and the animals enjoy the shade, wind protection, and diversified diet that natural foraging allows them. Over the long run, a well-managed silvopasture builds up soil and reduces energy and expense for feeding your livestock. Continual grazing also keeps brushy growth down so the woods stay more pleasant for people to walk in.
On my own property, I frequently graze my American Guinea hogs under apple and nut trees. This heritage pig breed thrives on pasture and makes quick work of any windfalls from the orchard. Others create silvopasture by planting perennial ryegrass within their woods to support a herd of goats.
5. Build Soil with Biochar
Wildfires are a natural ecological process, and you can reap the rewards for soil health on your property by making and using biochar.
This natural soil amendment has been used for thousands of years in the Amazon. It can enhance crop yields, enrich the soil, and improve water retention by increasing the ground’s carbon content and creating habitat space for beneficial microorganisms.
Make your own through a controlled burn of woody brush. Pile up woody debris in a shallow pit or burn barrel, and let it burn uninhibited until the smoke thins. Toss soil on top to restrict the air supply and make the pile smolder. Let things burn down until the wood is thoroughly charred before wetting the wood to put out the fire. Once cooled, break up the large pieces until the char fits through a garden soil sieve.
You’ll need to “charge” the biochar before spreading it in your fields to ensure it absorbs nutrients and beneficial microorganisms. Strategies vary, but one method is to mix it 50:50 with grass clippings before covering and leaving it undisturbed for at least three months.
Experiment with Regenerative Farming Today
A farming business is only as strong as the foundation it’s built on. Look for ways to incorporate regenerative farming principles into your property management plan, and you’ll reap the rewards of healthier soil.
There are other ways to optimize your farm operation. Here at Farmbrite, we offer software designed to help you manage your entire agriculture business. This comprehensive management system will improve farm performance and sustainability, highlight inefficiencies to reduce wasted time and resources, and help you increase production and sales for better success in the long run.
Additional regenerative farming resources:
Author Bio: Lydia Noyes is a freelance writer and hobby farmer in West Michigan. She writes about food, farming, health, and wellness topics related to the planet and people within it. When not tied to her computer, you’ll find Lydia weeding, reading, or chasing after her ever-growing flock of chickens.