Well, let me start by defining sustainability.
Sustainability has been defined by the United Nations as "Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs."
Regenerative is taking this one step further. Regenerative agriculture (or regenerative farming) is not only about maintaining a status quo, but about continuous improvement, with a focus on environmental parameters. The founders of this idea of going further than sustainability are, in my and many others opinion, the founders of the Rodale Institute in the States. These people have done extensive research in both organic and regenerative agriculture and they are to be respected for this.
They defined the 7 key principles of regeneration which are holistic and on a macro level, but very relevant for good agricultural practice.
For this practice to succeed, the buy-in must come from the farmer, strengthened by the ability to use this practice to tell the story behind the products and the integrity of the farming business. Not some sort of top down instruction(stick) to do things differently, but buoyed instead by positive experiences in farming. By applying regenerative practices, it becomes a lot easier to maintain a healthy level of integrity which pays off from a business perspective.
How? Well, instead of using production as the main driver, we like to trade this driver in for optimal utilisation of free resources like solar energy and atmospheric nitrogen to drive the business. This is where carbon and sunshine can show their true value.
In agriculture, we know that we are pushing the boundaries at times, but we are also aware that our education systems and perception of performance are predominantly focused on production. This has led us to taking shortcuts from time to time, leading to short term gains but long-term consequences. This is not a blame game, but something we, as an industry and society alike are starting to become aware of. It is an ‘in hindsight’ realisation. Quite simply, a production targeted system comes at a cost financially. It sends us spiralling into a pattern of more production and more finance; which leads to soil degradation and more water soluble nitrogenous fertiliser use to boost pasture production. This then leads to lowered food quality and ultimately more pressure on the environment.
Many of the ‘Regen’ ideals are not new - a lot of it has been forgotten or is no longer taught about today i.e. high intensity mob grazing, mixed or companion species, non-synthetic fertilisers and less reliance on crop protection and animal health products. ‘Back in the day’ this was the art of farming and it was a profitable and environmentally sustainable system.
We might have become a bit side-tracked over time chasing that tasty ‘production carrot’, but now we can put the best of both worlds into practise in one farming operation, using the latest technology, science and insights with the fundamental principles of nature.
Some people like me have been in the industry for quite some time, pushing for practises which are and have always been in-line with ‘regen farming’. For me personally, it is very energising to now see what I have been ‘going on about’ for years, and is now also the beginning of a worldwide paradigm shift. And for all the people out there who feel like they are entering new terrain, please know that many of these practises have already been proven to be reliable in the past. We have seen opportunities to take shortcuts, but this may have distracted us in certain areas from the things that really matter.
As many farmers who practise regenerative farming acknowledge, it brings passion back again, to the point where people feel they really are in the driver’s seat of their enterprise instead of being the horse towing the cart/mortgage. I’m not saying that this is the answer to all the challenges we are facing in modern day agriculture, but it is a most valuable framework. The key is to utilise natural resources to enhance farming – this really is the art of farming in a nutshell.