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Regenerative ag: a saviour?

4rd April 2019

There’s a new label in town when it comes to differentiating farming methods and products: regenerative farming. General Mills recently revealed plans to start using regenerative practice on a million acres. “Regenerative agriculture practices are a key way to improve soil health,” said Jerry Lynch, the company’s chief sustainability officer.

So what exactly is regenerative agriculture – one of the issues is there is no exact definition of the term. Some see it as a way for organic and conventional farmers to work together toward environmental ends rather than arguing about the means. To others it’s primarily about a farming system that will soak up carbon. It could attract organic food buyers, which is why it has put some brands that are committed to organic ingredients offside.

Agronomist Andrew McGuire from Washington State University Extension in Moses Lake says various regenerative practices are supported by science and are not new. By minimizing tillage, keeping the land covered with plants at all times,  and rotating crops and livestock across fields, carbon is kept out of the air. However, McGuire says some claims about the methods achievements are overstated.

According to the Rodale Institute, a not-for-profit that supports organic farming, regenerative techniques “could sequester more than 100% of current annual CO2 emissions with a switch to widely available and inexpensive management practices.” McGuire hesitates in pointing out that these claims don’t line up with  the science, because even if they don’t achieve the extreme outcomes, they are “definitely doing a good thing.”

Others are more convinced, co-founder of research and education program Regenerative Agriculture Initiative at California State University Tim LaSalle thinks regenerative farming will solve the climate crisis. LaSalle has been CEO at the Rodale Institute, executive director of the Allan Savory Center and research coordinator at a non-organic foundation. LaSalle says regenerative farming side-steps the “unending debates over agricultural technology and the organic/conventional argument.” Instead of focusing on puritanical arguments, the conversation revolves around soil health, farmer profit and improved water cycles. He acknowledges that some will remain sceptical without strong science to back up the claims, but says it’s just a matter of doing the research and replicating the results.

So regenerative practices may be an opportunity for a more science-based and holistic approach to food production with positive outcome for the environment which consumers could get behind.