Regenerative agriculture is revolutionising the way we think about farming. It’s not just a set of practices; it’s a philosophy that seeks to restore and enhance the health of our soil, ecosystems and communities.

This holistic approach to agriculture is gaining traction across the globe as a core solution to many of the environmental challenges we face today, including climate change, biodiversity loss and soil degradation. Here’s a quick guide to help you understand the benefits for farmers, communities and planet Earth.

What is regenerative agriculture? 

At its core, regenerative agriculture is about improving soil health and promoting biodiversity. It involves a variety of practices and techniques that work with nature, rather than against it, to produce food and other agricultural products. 

Unlike conventional farming, which often relies on chemical inputs and intensive tillage, regenerative practices emphasise the interdependence of all components within the ecosystem.

Why is it so important for farming communities to embrace it?

According to the World Economic Forum, within 50 years there may not be enough soil left to grow food to feed the world, with our current population of over 8 billion increasing by an estimated 73 million people per year.

Ensuring food security for a growing global population requires healthy land resources and flourishing ecosystems. Yet, current agricultural practices are causing soils worldwide to be eroded up to 100 times faster than natural processes replenish them. ​

Land degradation also disrupts rainfall patterns, exacerbates extreme weather like droughts or floods, and drives climate change.​ It leads to social and political instability, which drives poverty, conflict, and migration. ​

According to a UN-backed study, more than one-third of global greenhouse gas emissions caused by human activity can be attributed to the way we produce, process and package food, with roughly two-thirds of food system emissions coming from agriculture, land use and changes in land use.

For these reasons, developing regenerative agriculture and farming methods that enhance soil health, cut emissions, and improve farmers’ incomes, is imperative. Here are four major reasons to embrace regenerative agricultural practices:

  1. Soil health: Healthy soil is the foundation of healthy crops and ecosystems. By focusing on soil health, regenerative agriculture increases the organic matter and microbial activity in the soil, leading to better nutrient retention and water infiltration.
  2. Climate resilience: Healthy soils act as carbon sinks, capturing and storing atmospheric carbon dioxide. This not only helps mitigate climate change but also makes agricultural systems more resilient to extreme weather events.
  3. Biodiversity: Diverse plant and animal life in farming systems enhance resilience and productivity. Regenerative practices promote biodiversity both above and below ground, creating more robust ecosystems.
  4. Food security: Healthier soils and ecosystems produce more nutritious food and ensure long-term productivity, supporting global food security.

EXPLORE: Cool Farm Tool equips farmers with metrics to quantify and inform farm management plans, empowering them to make improved decisions, on-farm.

From our 2023 programme, Farming a Greener Future. (This partner film is produced by the ITN Business commercial team and is not created by ITN news staff journalists.)

What are some of the innovative farming practices that are gaining traction?

Innovative farming practices that are at the heart of regenerative agriculture include:

  • No-till farmingMinimising soil disturbance helps maintain soil structure, reduces erosion, and promotes biodiversity. This practice also reduces the need for chemical inputs and fossil fuels.
  • Cover croppingPlanting cover crops, such as clover or radishes, during off-seasons prevents soil erosion, enhances soil fertility, and suppresses weeds. These crops also improve soil structure and water retention.
  • Crop rotation and polyculture: Growing a variety of crops and rotating them through different fields disrupts pest and disease cycles, improves soil fertility, and increases biodiversity.
  • Composting and organic amendments: Applying compost and organic matter enriches the soil with nutrients and beneficial microorganisms, enhancing soil fertility and structure.
  • Agroforestry: Integrating trees and shrubs into crop and livestock systems enhances biodiversity, improves soil health, and sequesters carbon. Trees provide shade, windbreaks, and habitat for beneficial organisms.
  • Holistic grazing management: Rotational grazing and adaptive multi-paddock grazing mimic natural grazing patterns of wild herbivores. This approach enhances soil health, promotes plant growth, and increases carbon sequestration.

By integrating these practices, regenerative agriculture not only reduces greenhouse gas emissions but also builds more resilient and sustainable farming systems. The focus on soil health, biodiversity, and efficient resource-use creates a synergistic effect, enhancing the capacity of agricultural systems to mitigate and adapt to climate change.

RELATED: Sustainable farming: Exploring the secrets to higher nutrition in farm food

Is regenerative agriculture scalable? Yes, regenerative practices can be adapted to various scales, from small family farms to large commercial operations. The principles are flexible and can be tailored to different environments and contexts.

Does it work everywhere? While specific practices might need adjustment based on local conditions, the overarching principles of regenerative agriculture are universally applicable.  Local knowledge and adaptive management however are crucial.

Is it economically viable? Initially, transitioning to regenerative practices may require investment, but the long-term benefits include reduced input costs (less reliance on expensive chemicals), improved yields, and increased resilience to market and climate fluctuations.

Moreover, regenerative practices can open up new markets for farmers, as consumers increasingly seek out sustainably produced foods.

How does it compare to organic farming? Regenerative agriculture encompasses and extends beyond organic practices. While both avoid synthetic chemicals, regenerative farming places a stronger emphasis on soil health, biodiversity, and ecosystem restoration.

What is the role of tech in regenerative agriculture?

From soil health analytics to digital farming solutions, innovative tools are being developed to support farmers in adopting regenerative practices. These technologies help monitor soil health, manage resources more efficiently, and ultimately, improve the sustainability of farming operations.

Our 2024 programme

In our upcoming programme, ‘Future of Farming: Cultivating Resilience’ we’ll explore how the sector is pioneering innovative farming solutions, collaborating with like-minded partners, and supporting the development of strong and resilient ecosystems.

Presented by Lukwesa Burak, the programme will feature contributions from industry thought leaders the Innovation for Agriculture (IFA), Regeneration International and the Soil Association.

There are commercial opportunities for leading organisations to be featured in the programme and spearhead their own news item. If your organisation wants to share what you stand for and be part of this important conversation about agriculture, please contact ITN Business’ Programming Director, Valerie van der Graaf or Jeff Blackmore.