Regenerative GREEN Land-Use
Regenerative ag. creates carbon sinks; turning farms into healthy ecosystems that sequester carbon with vibrant plant life, while also producing crops for food.
Regenerative ag. involves land use dedicated to polyculture, healthy ecosystems, soil nutrition, plant growth, and biodiversity. Land use practices that favor organic plant growth in addition to food crops, such as sustainable and regenerative agriculture practices, are among the top readily available climate change mitigation solutions.
[Note: Sustainable and regenerative agriculture techniques do include land use where livestock are raised on farms for food, done with the sustainable technique of managed grazing - see more details below. A quick note about the terms in this article - all regenerative agriculture is sustainable agriculture, but regenerative agriculture has specific techniques and practices that make it a unique form of sustainable agriculture.]
What exactly is regenerative agriculture?
Regenerative agriculture focuses on farming with the implementation of specific sustainable farming methods. Here are some key points in defining regenerative agriculture.
Regenerative agricultural practices include:
diverse cover crops
in-farm fertility (no external nutrients)
no pesticides or synthetic fertilizers
consistent year-round crop rotations
Cover crops, no-till farming, crop rotation, organic soil fertility, and polyculture (vs. monoculture) - are all a few agricultural practices that also increase soil health.
Cover crops refer to a variety of crops grown on farmland during off-seasons in order to maintain soil health.
Examples of cover crops include buckwheat, alfalfa, annual cereals (rye, wheat, barley, oats), clovers, winter peas, cowpeas, turnips, radish, forage grasses such as ryegrass, and warm-season grasses such as sorghum-sudan grass.
Polyculture is the practice of introducing and maintaining multiple species of crops and plants on farmland. Polyculture involves the consistent year-round farming practice of creating diverse crop and farmland plant species.
The biodiversity of a farm's crops and other ecosystems on the farm improves soil health, deters pests, and helps to maintain healthy ecosystems.
A major component of regenerative agriculture is a focus on proper soil nutrition. All other components of regenerative agriculture (no-tillage, crop rotation, cover crops, organic fertilizers, no pesticides, polyculture) also support soil nutrition.
Cover crops, crop rotation of a variety of perennial crops, and no-till farming, for example, are designed to increase soil health. Conventional animal grazing is a much less sustainable land use practice and has almost no considerations for proper soil health, versus farmland used for regenerative agriculture.
Sustainable and Regenerative Agriculture
The United Nations (UN) has advised that a global shift towards plant-based food will help steer the world in the right direction toward net zero goals. The UN’s International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) came out with a report in August 2019, about how the global community must switch now to sustainable land use in food production.
All countries and farm industries globally must adopt sustainable agriculture practices, as the world begins transitioning to more sustainable food consumption habits. Effective global climate action depends on sustainable land use practices, such as regenerative agriculture, as the foundation for successful action. However, sustainable and regenerative ag. still involve raising livestock on farms, with managed grazing.
In sustainable and regenerative agriculture, raising animals on farms is done sustainably. With sustainable land use practices on farms that have livestock, farms focus on "well-managed grazing practices [that] stimulate improved plant growth, and increased soil [health]" [- quote from regenerationinternational.org/what-is-regenerative-agriculture].
Managed grazing with livestock enhances the regenerative agriculture practices of diverse food crops, and land use with a focus on plant growth, biodiversity, and healthy ecosystems. Managed grazing helps with regenerative farming practices such as soil health and carbon farming (see information on carbon farming below).
Project Drawdown also ranks managed grazing as a top climate solution; offering the following key points-
Managed grazing imitates herbivores, addressing two key variables: how long livestock grazes a specific area and how long the land rests before animals return. There are three managed-grazing techniques that improve soil health, carbon sequestration, water retention, and forage productivity:
- Improved continuous grazing adjusts standard grazing practices and decreases the number of animals per acre.
- Rotational grazing moves livestock to fresh paddocks or pastures, allowing those already grazed to recover.
- Adaptive multi-paddock grazing shifts animals through smaller paddocks in quick succession, after which the land is given time to recover.
For more information about sustainable agriculture practices and techniques, including permaculture, please see>>>
Here's a brief snippet from an article by The Union of Concerned Scientists on sustainable agriculture:
Environmental sustainability in agriculture means good stewardship of the natural systems and resources that farms rely on. Among other things, this involves:
- building and maintaining healthy soil with low till or no till farming
- crop rotation
- use of cover crops during off-seasons
- polyculture vs. monoculture
- managing water wisely
- minimizing air, water, and climate pollution
- promoting biodiversity
There’s a whole field of research devoted to achieving these goals: agroecology, the science of managing farms as ecosystems. By working with nature rather than against it, farms managed using agroecological principles can avoid damaging impacts without sacrificing productivity or profitability." FROM - ucsusa.org/what-sustainable-agriculture
Carbon farming and cover crops to improve soil health
Sustainable farms enhance environmental quality and the agricultural economy through the enhancement of natural resources. For example, carbon farming is a sustainable agriculture practice that maintains healthy soils and is common practice in most organic farming... In carbon farming, agricultural techniques (such as the regenerative ag. techniques mentioned above) are designed to sequester carbon dioxide into the soil, crops, and plants.
Carbon farming practices to maintain soil health are found in regenerative agriculture, as well as in permaculture. A sustainable farm must focus a substantial amount of time year-round on healthy soil nutrition to help maintain long-term soil quality.
Solutions, in order to encourage farmers to implement the widespread use of cover cropping, include: providing government subsidies to farmers that practice cover cropping, proving guaranteed investment of markets for the crops, or at least making sure farmers get detailed information about cover crops. Cover crops not only maintain farmland health but provide a source of potential income, providing useful crops to the community.
One solution to help create more sustainable farms is for governments to simply subsidize farmers to implement sustainable farming practices. This would involve increasing agricultural subsidies through increasing financial incentives, tax breaks, or direct payments, for farmers that practice sustainable ag. techniques; with the easiest practice to implement being cover cropping.
These financial incentives would be for farmers to adopt sustainable agriculture practices such as carbon farming and implementation of cover crops during off-seasons. Some governments worldwide already have legislation to support farmers that use sustainable agriculture practices, but more is needed.
After all, farmers that adopt sustainable agriculture practices are helping improve ecosystems and mitigate climate change. Sustainable farms are carbon sinks; sequestering carbon and transforming conventional farmland into thriving, climate-saving, ecosystems.
Typically after farmland crops are harvested, and especially during wintertime, farmland just lays fallow. A few months later, when it's time to sow seeds for a new harvest - weeds, pests, and unhealthy soil fill the land. Tillage and synthetic pesticides and fertilizers only make the problem worse. The simple remedies for this problem are cover cropping, no-tillage, and organic fertilizers. Cover crops help keep weeds and pests at bay, and maintain soil health during the off-season.
Here's a snippet from World Resources Institute on governments subsidizing sustainable agriculture for farmers willing to adopt practices that actively sequester carbon on farmland (through carbon farming, cover crops, and/ or another sustainable farming practice discussed above) -
"To both feed the world and solve climate change, the world needs to produce 50% more food in 2050 compared to 2010 while reducing greenhouse gas emissions by two-thirds. While government funding has an important role to play, a new World Bank report found that agricultural subsidies are currently doing little to achieve these goals, but have great potential for reform.
What is needed to mitigate the 25% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions contributed by global agriculture, including emissions from land use change? The good news is that many opportunities exist to boost agricultural productivity to provide more food on existing agricultural land while reducing emissions.
Opportunity one is to increase natural resource efficiency by producing more food per hectare, per animal and per kilogram of fertilizer and other chemicals used. Opportunity two is to put in place measures to link these productivity gains to protection of forests and other native habitats. Opportunity three is to pursue innovations, because reaching climate goals for agriculture — just like for energy use — requires new technologies and approaches.
Overall, governments around the world should redirect more agricultural funding to focus on mitigation and the synergies between reducing emissions and producing more food. A first step toward a sustainable food future is to make better use of the large financial support governments are already providing." FROM - wri.org/redirecting-agricultural-subsidies-sustainable-food-futur
Project Drawdown estimates that transitioning global agriculture systems to sustainable practices can reduce global CO2 emissions by over 20 gigatons, stating that “bringing that carbon back home [carbon sequestration] through regenerative agriculture is one of the greatest opportunities to address human and climate health, along with the financial well-being of farmers.”
Additionally, Project Drawdown ranks implementing sustainable agriculture practices, such as regenerative annual cropping, and transitioning the global community to sustainable land use turning farmland into land sinks, as top solutions in their list of most effective ways to mitigate climate change.
Sustainable land use solutions; how to reduce GHGs from agriculture
One solution that will remain politically unpopular for obvious reasons (as the vast majority of the world's population has meat and dairy-intensive diets) - is a carbon tax on meat. It takes on average 11 times more fossil fuels to produce a calorie of animal protein than to produce a calorie of grain protein. That’s a considerable amount of GHGs released per calorie.
Chatham House, otherwise known as The Royal Institute of International Affairs, has called for a carbon tax on meat to help combat climate change. In fact, globally, raising cows for food (in a non-sustainable way) ranks only behind the United States and China as a GHG-contributing segment of the global economy. Raising cattle for food is the #1 source of GHGs from agriculture globally.
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN believes that the conventional (non-sustainable) raising of livestock for food is “one of the top two or three most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global.” This problem is largely due to deforestation to clear land for grazing; a significant amount of which is either directly or indirectly for the global meat industry. Land used for non-sustainable grazing is responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) than all of the world's transport systems combined.
The world should stop the unsustainable practice of deforestation, but an immediate global climate solution is simply improving practices on existing farms. A realistic solution is for the global agriculture community to be encouraged to maintain focused efforts on sustainable and regenerative farming practices.
The global transition to sustainable agriculture would be expedited if the global farming community was simply catering to a majority organic plant-based diet in the consumer food market. However, this ideal sustainable circumstance is far from realistic.
Going vegan, vegetarian, or at least eating less meat, helps reduce global GHGs by helping in the global transition to sustainable, plant-based agriculture. It helps fill the demand for a plant-based consumer diet as the global fight against climate change gains steam. It also helps to reduce your carbon footprint.
Meat & GHGs
An Oxford study published in the journal Climate Change found that the diets of meat-eaters who ate more than 3.5 ounces of meat a day – roughly the size of a pack of cards – contribute to GHGs significantly. These heavy meat eaters generate 15.8 pounds of carbon dioxide equivalent each day; compared to vegetarians - 8.4 pounds, and vegans - 6.4 pounds. This is because the process of raising livestock for food on farms itself is carbon-intensive. Also, the majority of global deforestation is just to create land for cattle to graze.
The average meat-eater has a much higher carbon footprint than people who adopt a plant-based diet - 50-54% higher than vegetarians, and between 99-102% higher than vegans. Of course, there are other ways for individuals in society to contribute to lower emissions, but veganism may be a top solution. Research shows that, as Dr. Fredrik Hedenus of Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden said, “reducing meat and dairy consumption is key to bringing agricultural pollution down to safe levels."
The practice of raising cattle for meat and dairy, in a non-sustainable way, ranks close to the top of the list as a segment of the global economy contributing to GHGs (mostly in the form of methane emitted from grazing cattle). There are a variety of innovative ways to reduce methane emissions from grazing cattle. Raising cattle in a non-sustainable way would rank #3 (compared to entire countries) in tons of GHGs emitted for the unsustainable practice, after China and the USA.
However, transitioning to a plant-based diet now is considered one of the best ways to adopt a more sustainable lifestyle, and to reduce one's personal contribution to the problem of GHGs. A study from the University of Chicago posits that eating less meat (or none at all) is more effective at reducing one's personal responsibility for GHGs than changing from a conventional car to a hybrid.
According to PETA - “…the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has shown that animal agriculture is globally the single largest source of methane emissions and that, pound for pound, methane is more than 28 times more effective than carbon dioxide at trapping heat in our atmosphere. The use of manure storage and of manure being used as fertilizer for crops and feed, which then generates substantial amounts of nitrous oxide, contributes greatly to the greenhouse gases affecting the global warming crisis."
According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, livestock accounts for 14.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions. The three most critical GHGs responsible for climate change are carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide - and together they cause the majority of climate change issues.
Methane is a gas that can be produced from stockpiling of animal and human sewage, manure used as fertilizer, as well animal’s personal “gas emissions”. Methane is a potent GHG (much more potent than CO2, with a much shorter duration in the atmosphere). Methane is released from livestock in large quantities globally, exacerbating climate change, and is closely followed in significance by nitrous oxide in unsustainable agriculture practices.
Agriculture is the largest man-made source of nitrous oxide, with meat, dairy, and other animal-based food industries - contributing to 65% of worldwide nitrous oxide emissions. Nitrous oxide emissions are primarily direct emissions from fertilized agricultural stock, and manure, as well as indirect emissions from the leaching of fertilizers and pesticides; which is when rainwater causes part of the nitrogen in fertilizers and pesticides to leach into groundwater and eventually into rivers.
Nitrous oxide is roughly 300 times more potent a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, and methane is roughly 25-80 times more potent than CO2 (depending on the time frame being looked at). CO2 is the most well-known GHG because it’s the longest-lasting in the atmosphere, and the most significant GHG in terms of quantity of CO2 released in the common industries tracked for GHG emissions (energy generation, manufacturing, transportation, agriculture, buildings).
In basic terms, societies should begin to try and transition from a meat-based diet to a plant-based diet today; and the global farming community absolutely must switch now to sustainable agriculture practices, in order for the global fight against climate change to be truly effective.
Food consumption habits greatly affect land-use/ agricultural practices. Project Drawdown ranks having the global community transition to a plant-based diet as one of the most effective climate mitigation strategies, albeit one that has gained very little global momentum (as eating meat and dairy remains very popular worldwide).
For reference, around 3% of the population in the United States is vegetarian or vegan, and the agriculture sector is responsible for 9% of GHGs from the United States. The U.K. is a lot better than the U.S. as far as the vegetarian portion of the population, with estimates that as much as a quarter of the population of the United Kingdom will be vegetarian by 2025.
Dietary consumer choices directly influence land use and agriculture. One solution to the global climate crisis is to focus on changing cultural dietary choices and, in turn, help foster the transition to sustainable global land-use/ agriculture practices to effectively mitigate climate change.
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