According to the United Nations, we only have 60 years of agriculture left before we deplete the topsoil rendering it useless (1). Regenerative agriculture (RA) claims it can prevent that. It touts we can mimic farms after healthy ecosystems that actually build topsoil year after year. But what are the regenerative agriculture criticisms?
Is this just a bunch of hype? In this article we’ll cover the top criticisms. If you’re new to RA skip to the FAQ at the end to learn more about what it is and what it claims.
The Top 5 Regenerative Agriculture Criticisms and Myths [Not Debunked]
- It’s not scalable. RA requires learning the land for your farm. You can’t force crops through tilling and adding fertilizers and pesticides like you can in standard farms. You have to spend time figuring out a crop diversity, a set of mixed plants that build soil and can fight off local issues with pests, disease, and rainfall patterns. Once you figure it out for your farm at best you can scale it out throughout your county. You won’t likely be able to move it to a new state easily.
- It’s not profitable. Efficiency and profits are sacrificed through crop diversity. Mixed crops may be better for the soil but it doesn’t allow the farmer to choose the most profitable crop for the market. And what if the market changes after you find the perfect crop diversity for your farm? Figuring out a new crop diversity that works for you and can sell will take time. That time will cost you money.
- It’s not mainstream. If it worked (i.e. scalable and profitable) it would be mainstream by now. Gabe brown claims that it is. Watch his TEDx talk below to learn more. Other farmers aren’t so sure.
- The math behind the carbon sink is weak. RA farms aren’t the same. They vary. To say that all RA offers a net carbon sink is oversimplifying the math.
- Conventional farms can be sustainable. Soybean farmers produce twice as much yield while using 8% less energy (2). Corn farmers increased yield while using less pesticides and fertilizers thanks to GMO varieties. A dwarf form of wheat by Norman Bourlag increased yields and prevented massive famine (3).
Learn More – TEDx Talks on Regenerative Agriculture
What Is Regenerative Agriculture?
RA seeks to increase topsoil health by regularly adding organic matter. They primarily do this through no till farming which slows the degradation of organic matter, using cover crops, integrating livestock to add manure and break up the soil naturally with their hooves, and using crop diversity to build an antifragile farm.
Why Regenerative Agriculture?
Stronger soils, antifragile crop diversity, and everlasting agriculture. With RA you’re building soils and building wealth through agriculture. You’re not simply mining the topsoil for profits for the next 60 years till we run out (according to a United Nations study).
How Regenerative Agriculture Works
RA uses a variety of farming methods and will vary depending on the local climate for each farm.
Overall some of the most common practices include:
- No Till Farming – Till the soil kills weeds and aerates the soil. This in turn kills beneficial bacteria and fungi in the soil that would otherwise help your crops by offering more nutrients and helping them fight off disease. The increased aeration also helps consume the organic matter in the soil faster.
When you switch to no till you retain those helpful organisms helping your crops fight diseases.
You retain more organic matter helping your soil hold more water between rainfalls. Each 1% increase in organic matter helps your soil hold 20,000 gallons of water extra per acre (4).
- Cover Crops – Cover crops prevent erosion and topsoil from washing away after each rain event. Most, like legumes, also add nitrogen to the soil. They also help prevent weed growth of unwanted species.
- Crop Diversity – Crop diversity is where you find the ideal mix of plants for your climate that like living together. Why does that matter? They will be better at fighting pests and diseases when together then when separated. This also is called companion planting when done in the garden. See Gabe’s TEDx talk for more examples of this on a real farm.
- Integrating Livestock – Livestock add manure to the soil. This increases its nutrients and organic matter content. That in turn let’s the soil hold more water and offer more nutrition to your standard crops. Livestock all break up the soil when using pigs or cows. That helps reduce weeds and aerates the soil but not as intensely as you would with full tilling. Chickens also eat pests, insects, and worms.
Can Regenerative Agriculture Reverse Climate Change?