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A-to-Z of Regenerative Agriculture

By FAI Farms
Regenerative Farming - FAI Farms

Regenerative agriculture is an approach to farming that puts more back into the environment and society than it takes out. But the terminology around regenerative agriculture can be confusing and alienating to some, so we decided to start 2021 with our A-to-Z to shed light and bust some myths. If you missed our social media campaign, you can catch up on the regen lexicon here!

A is for AMP Grazing

First in our #AtoZofRegen is AMP Grazing, or Adaptive Multi-Paddock Grazing. This is a system that focuses on rest periods rather than utilisation and involves grazing in small paddocks and moving the herd or flock frequently in response to the conditions. It leaves grass cover and manure, which regenerates the land by feeding the soil biology.

Carbon Cowboys is series of 10 films about regenerative agriculture and AMP grazing – check out our Farm Gate podcast featuring producer and director, Peter Byck.

B is for Biodiversity

Nature is declining globally at rates unprecedented in human history, and the rate of species extinctions is accelerating. Our lives depend on a healthy biosphere. By its very definition, regenerative agriculture restores biodiversity at all trophic levels, for nature and the long-term viability of agricultural production.

We enjoyed this account of how regen enhances biodiversity from the Savory Institute.

C is for Climate mitigation

Regenerative agriculture presents an extraordinary opportunity to attain multiple sustainability goals, including climate mitigation through natural solutions. Using the Oxford University’s GWP* metric for carbon budgeting, farmers can better understand the role of short-lived climate pollutant methane, and the closed-loop biogenic carbon cycle, a characteristic of regenerative agriculture with low dependency on fossil carbon.

To learn more, check out this episode of our partnership podcast Farm Gate to learn more.

You can also watch our recent webinar alongside Vet Sustain and The Webinar Vet with Oxford researcher John Lynch, FAI’s Director of Regenerative Agriculture Clare Hill and Farmwel’s ffinlo Costain.

D is for Data

Regenerative agriculture is not synonymous with “old ways” of farming. Deploying technology and data solutions support decision making around land use, livestock and grazing management, as they do in other systems.

Listen to FAI’s regenerative agriculture director Clare Hill talking to BBC Oxford about the high- and low-tech solutions used on the FAI farm in Oxford.

E is for Ecosystem

At its heart, regenerative agriculture is about regenerating our depleted ecosystems. A degraded ecosystem has poor biodiversity at all trophic levels, poor conversion of sunlight energy, sub-optimal water cycling, increasing reliance on inputs and depleting profitability for the farmer.

Half of habitable land is used for agriculture, presenting us with the most urgent task to adapt our use of agricultural land to restore nature whilst producing healthy food and creating vibrant rural economies.

Check out FAI Farms’ consultant and wildlife vet Alex’s Tomlinson’s views on the potential of regenerative agriculture for regenerating the whole system.

F is for Food

Regenerative agriculture is all about nourishing us, as well as our animals and our shared environment, and ultimately must be scalable to achieve the levels of food supply we need to sustain our population.

Check out our Farm Gate podcast with host ffinlo Costain in conversation with Forum for the Future’s Lesley Mitchell on a successful regenerative transformation, drawing on experience from USA.

G is for Grass

Regenerative agriculture is synonymous with grass-based, mixed systems that focus on restoring and improving biodiversity at all trophic levels. Regenerative livestock management is informed by daily observations of grass cover and length, and is rewarded by species-rich swards supporting healthy soils.

Read an account from FAI director Murilo Quintiliano on a beef grazing system integrating silvopasture in Brazil.

H is for Health

Soil degradation affects human nutrition and health by compromising the quantity and quality of food production. Properly restored soils, for example through regenerative agriculture, have the capacity to grow adequate and nutritious food for present and future populations.

Read more in this interesting paper.

I is for Investment

Farmers often need financial confidence to make the transition from extractive high input-high output systems, to regenerative agriculture.

Ffinlo Costain spoke to Robyn O’Brien of RePlant Capital for Farm Gate podcast on their ground breaking new Soil Fund, supporting the regenerative and organic movements – investing in a healthier planet for future generations. In another recent podcast episode, ffinlo talked to Caroline Grindrod from Roots of Nature about the training courses and one-to-one consultancy a farmer may choose to invest in, to support their regenerative journey (listen from 32:10).

J is for Job satisfaction

Workforce issues continue to challenge conventional farming - an issue that could be tackled through regenerative agriculture, which at its core seeks to restore the whole system including worker wellbeing and rural communities.

Read this blog from FAI’s Murilo Quintiliano, our Director in Brazil, who feels he has the most important job in the world: “To support our families and communities by producing quality food, ultimately supporting the survival of mankind.”

K is for Kids!

Regenerative agriculture is all about investing in a healthy future for the generations that follow us. And after months of home schooling for many - what better way to integrate lessons on healthy planet, healthy animals and healthy people than starting a conversation on regenerative agriculture! Check out our home-schooling podcast episode, here.

L is for Livestock

By many, livestock are considered an important tool in regenerative agriculture, performing ecosystem services including increasing soil carbon – as demonstrated by this recent study by researchers from Michigan State University.

Other services performed by livestock include feeding soil fertility and diversifying landscapes to provide ecological niches for wild species, as described here by the Woodland Trust.

M is for Mindset

Mindset is critical in the adoption of regenerative agriculture. Regen is guided by principles, not compliance to a set of standards. It’s a proactive whole system approach and cannot be achieved simply by adopting regenerative practices within an existing conventional farming system. Getting it right requires new knowledge and a change of mindset.

Read more in our article on our new regen training course for supply chain professionals.

N is for Nutrients

Healthy soils are the basis of any agricultural system and are vital for fuelling crops with the mineral nutrients and moisture they need. Enhancing the air, water and organic matter in the soil, and protecting all the beneficial organisms that live within it, can result in more sustainable production of quality vegetables, field crops, fruits, timber or livestock.

The use of artificial fertilisers, with the financial costs and risks to aquatic life that they bring, can be reduced through regenerative agriculture. Check out this interesting article from Trees for the Future on reducing chemical use, in particular through the use of agroforestry practices.

O is for Outcomes

Regenerative agriculture is all about driving positive outcomes for ecosystems, animals and communities. Not defined by standards or prescribed practices, regenerative farmers monitor outcomes and respond accordingly.

Read more about FAI’s outcome measure-based approach, here.

P is for Planetary health

Planetary Health is a field spanning multiple sectors and disciplines to guide creative stewardship of our planet, for human, animal and environmental health. Regenerative agriculture is an example of this in practice – a means of regenerating our degraded landscapes, building a healthy food system and fuelling our rural communities.

We’re enjoying this series of events covering all aspects of planetary heath and regenerative agriculture from How Good.

Q is for Questions

Whilst farms are transitioning to regenerative agriculture, questions are plentiful and sharing experiences is essential. Have you converted, and what advice do you have for new entrants?

In a series of two podcast episodes, our experts set out to answer regenerative agriculture questions submitted by farmers by Twitter, email, and through the Primal Web forum. Listen here to Part 1, and here to Part 2.

R is for Regeneration

Regenerative Agriculture is, of course, all about regeneration of life in every niche of our ecosystems. We now realise it’s not enough to ‘sustain’ the status quo for the future, when the status quo isn’t working for us or for nature. It’s time for regeneration.

Check out this article from Charles Massy, author the seminal title Call of the Reed Warbler, on regenerative agriculture as a pathway to transforming earth and human health in the Anthropocene.

S is for Soil

Soil hosts one of the largest reservoirs of biodiversity on Earth: up to 90% of living organisms in terrestrial ecosystems, including some pollinators, spend part of their life cycle in soil habitats. A single teaspoon of topsoil contains around 1 billion individual microscopic cells and around 10,000 different species.

But – soil is being destroyed 10 times faster than it is being created. Regenerative agriculture is a solution to this demise – it recognizes soil as a key building block of ecosystems, food systems and climate security. Check out this seminal film Kiss the Ground to learn more!

T is for Technology

Regenerative farming doesn’t mean returning to pre-industrial farming techniques. Many regen approaches to monitoring and responding to outcomes are more easily applied thanks to the development of new technology, including soil monitoring, remote imaging technology and farm management software.

You can read about FAI Oxford’s use of Soilmentor software, and for a summary other approaches, Agriwebb have created this useful round up of regen technologies.

U is for Uncertainty

We increasingly live in a world in which unexpected and unthinkable events are becoming the norm. Instead of depending on simplified, scheduled practices that can be subject to disruption in our changing world, regenerative agriculture is an agro-ecological approach that mimics nature's processes and principles, which are complex and self-organising.  As soon as you try to separate, study and define the individual parts, or reduce them to practices and standards, you lose sight of the system's incredible capacity as a whole.

To hear about our regenerative transition at FAI Farms, check out this podcast episode of Farm Gate with ffinlo Costain.

V is for Viability

How viable is regenerative agriculture as a means of feeding our population? How does regen ag compare to conventional arming in terms of yields? These are common questions best answered by looking not just at projected yields tomorrow, but looking at them in the years and decades to come.

These questions are explored in this useful article from EIT Food. And for more on viably practicing regenerative agriculture at scale, checkout our podcast with Regen Rock Star, Leontino Balbo Jr., from Sao Paulo, Brazil. His farm yields 35% of the world’s organic sugar, sequesters more carbon than it emits, and his land is now one of the most biodiversity-rich areas in the region.

W is for Water

Clean water is one of the biggest environmental concerns in the world— a critical resource affecting human health, biodiversity and much more. From water scarcity and flood events, to crisis levels of run-off causing soil erosion and water pollution, water problems affect communities across the world, and they are related to the way we grow our food.

Regenerative agriculture can help address this crisis through “water friendly” farming, as discussed in this interesting article from the Rodale Institute.

X is for Xtreme weather events

Agriculture uses 30-40% of the Earth’s land surface with a disproportionate effect on biodiversity, climate and water cycles. Conversely, 52% of global agricultural land is degraded, which in turn makes farmers and their land more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, including extreme weather events.

Farming systems are critical to delivering climate security. Regenerative agriculture holds promise for reducing and capturing carbon emissions as well as mitigating the impact of certain extreme weather events on communities.

Check out this useful article from Cool Farm Tool on regenerative agriculture and climate change.

Y is for You

At the centre of regenerative agriculture are the people driving a paradigm shift in the way we think, farm and eat - suppliers, advisors, farmers, supply chain managers and citizens working together to evolve our food supply with a new set of goals based on regenerating our ecosystems, our health and our rural economies. This means taking the time to understand the complexity that regen ag embraces, and taking the time to invest in YOU.

FAI has launched a new online course for supply chain professionals wishing to be part of this essential and hopeful planetary solution. Take a look at our recent article to learn more and register your interest.

Z is for Zero till

Regenerative agriculture is not defined by a list of practices or standards, but by the outcomes of farming on ecosystems, animals and communities. But some practices are often adopted in regenerative systems: tools in the regen toolbox that can be applied in certain settings for regenerating topsoil, increasing biodiversity, reducing input costs and increasing productivity.

Zero till cropping is one of these tools amongst others, described in this useful article from our friends at Primal Meats.

Still curious about regenerative agriculture and how you might support a regenerative transition in your work? Consider registering your interest in FAI’s regenerative agriculture course for supply chain professionals to learn more.