Sustainable Versus Regenerative
To “regenerate” an ecosystem is to actually improve that ecosystem so that is becomes healthier and more productive over time. To “sustain” an ecosystem is to simply prevent it from getting any worse than it already is. Considering the degraded state of almost every ecosystem on Earth it does not make much sense to simply be “sustainable”, we should be “regenerative!”
The Regenerative Movement
Most people believe that agriculture is a zero sum equation: We can produce food for everyone, or we can restore the environment. But not both at the same time.
Thankfully, that view of agriculture has now been proven to be dead wrong!
A collection of very smart people over the past few decades have figured out many different ways of producing food on a large scale while simultaneously improving ecosystems (increasing biodiversity, creating soil, etc).
These techniques have been grouped together under the label “Regenerative Agriculture”. Although there are many alternative words used, some of them refer to specific types of Regenerative Agriculture:
- Holistic Management
- Restoration Agriculture
- Keyline Design
- Ecological Agriculture
Regenerative Agriculture Is Happening
Regenerative Agriculture does not require new technology. It does not require government policy changes. It does not require a cultural shift. It does not require new infrastructure. Regenerative Agriculture is already happening without these things.
It is happening on hundreds of millions of acres in almost every country on Earth. Yes, hundreds of millions of acres. Are you somewhere in North America, Australia, or Europe? If so, there is almost certainly at least one regenerative farm within an hour drive of where you are right now. Regenerative Agriculture food does not have a supermarket label, it is usually not “Certified Organic”, but it is out there and you have probably eaten some of it.
There are tens of thousands of large scale farmers who have adopted Regenerative Agriculture techniques (not to mention the legions of homesteaders and backyard gardeners).
Cattle ranches all across North America have been practicing Regenerative Agriculture (in the form of “Holistic Management”) for decades. This beef is going into the industrial food system.
Large scale grain farmers are also starting to adopt Regenerative methods using cover crops, livestock and the soil food web to produce much higher profits than their conventional counterparts.
There are also people pioneering entirely different models of agriculture. Like Mark Shepard of New Forest Farm who is producing nut crops designed to replace corn and soybeans in our modern food system.
Why is Regenerative Agriculture spreading so fast?
Despite popular stereotypes, many farmers do care about the environmental impact and sustainability of their farm. Most of these are moving to Regenerative methods.
However, even those farmers who don’t care about the environment are starting to use more sustainable production methods simply because they are more profitable!
Regenerative Agriculture farmers usually produce just as much, if not more, food than their conventional counterparts. But they do it with fewer inputs. By using the principles of nature these farmers are able to eliminate expensive fertilizers, pesticides, GMOs, and sometimes even machinery too.
So their income is equal to, or better, than a conventional farmer. But their expenses are far lower. This means they make more profit. No one can argue with profit and sustainability!
Regenerative Agriculture is the way of the future.
Industrial-Chemical agriculture is highly damaging and fundamentally unsustainable: it is utterly reliant on fossil fuels (oil and natural gas) which are a non-renewable resource. We literally have no other option but to adopt sustainable, and hopefully regenerative, agriculture.