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Agri & Gardening regenerative agriculture  basics for safe food  part 1 of 3  | Upload General

Regenerative Agriculture: Basics For Safe Food (Part 1 of 3)

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by: Sharai Hoekema
regenerative agriculture  basics for safe food  part 1 of 3  | Upload

Agriculture has been around as long as mankind. In the earliest days of humanity, an important part of the day was spent hunting for food - whether by chasing after animals, by foraging for nuts and fruits, or by working on the land. From the Stone Age to the Middle Ages, right up to the Industrial Age and our current time. As we evolved, so did agriculture - yet its role remained unchanged: feeding those who depend on it for their daily meal.

Exploiting valuable natural areas in order to turn it into farmland

Another fact is that the world population has grown significantly: only 200 years ago, there were fewer than one billion humans alive. Today, we share our planet with over 7 billion others. And as space hasn’t increased significantly - you could argue that it has even been reduced, considering the extra land taken up by our cities and industrial areas -, the challenge seems obvious. There are many more mouths to feed, yet we have to do so using fewer resources and smaller areas of land.

Bar chart share of world population by 2100

Of course there are some who would say that we ought to be, in fact, delivering by 'creating' more space and resources. This has actually been a common practice in recent decades, with eager producers exploiting valuable natural areas in order to turn it into farmland; or using up some of our earth’s most precious commodities in order to provide the energy and raw materials needed to live up to the skyrocketing demand.

While many of us would be condemning those kind of practices today - hindsight is 20/20 -, there are all too many examples of similar practices long before that. Some innovations might, at the time of their introduction, have been considered groundbreaking and a huge leap forward. Yet looking back with today’s knowledge, they would not even be considered a feasible option because of the inherent and often disastrous consequences.

Safe food

Through artificial crops, advanced fertilisation methods and many other sophisticated techniques, it became possible to substantially ramp up food production. Through the multiplication of livestock, production of high yield and resilient crops, and smart techniques for fertilising and harvesting crops, production reached unparalleled heights. Yet it is not only about increasing production: increasing food safety and ensuring accountability throughout the supply chain have been moving to the forefront as well.

This newfound abundance of 'safe' food might just be a scam. Yes, we are delivering more while seemingly using less. But at what additional cost? The negative impacts of quick-gain practices are slowly but surely becoming painfully obvious. Not only does the ruthless exploitation of vast areas of land leave them plundered and abandoned, having irreversibly harmed the local ecosystem; there’s also matters like atmospheric pollution, choking waterways, antibiotic crises, pesticide disasters, and dangerous greenhouse gas emissions. Estimates have put the cost of agriculture to society staggeringly high, potentially reaching some $6 trillion by 2050.

Type, degree, cause degradation

So let’s rewind a bit: is this really worth it? Does the end really justify the means? 

At its core, the problem can be found in the business-like attitude of farms. Farms feel the pressure to deliver and meet demand, hence forcing them to start thinking and acting like a corporate machine. Profits will be put before anything else, with automation and innovation following suit. 

The big issue with this? Agriculture, in contrast with other industries, is dealing directly with nature. While many things can be automated and forecasted, this decidedly does not apply to animals. To the insects that pollinate the crops; to the weather events that might damage or destroy the harvest; to the water on the surface and in the ground that is used to irrigate; or to the soil that is needed to provide a fertile environment for crops.

All of those things just will not let themselves be automated, or made subject to linear production processes. Although we are often too tempted by greed to let this stop us from trying to do so - which is exactly what resulted in the negative consequences listed above. An area that is roughly the size of England is left to waste every year, requiring us to look further and start exploiting valuable savannah or rainforest lands in order to take its place. We try to take ‘more’ from the earth, resources and animals then they realistically have to offer - with all that this implies.

Regenerative agriculture

Enter regenerative agriculture. This new school of thought within agriculture operates on the principle that we should recognise the complexity and resilience of the world’s ‘natural technology’. Basically, it means that we move to a food system that respects our nature’s ability to regenerate and produce rich, unique and fertile natural environments, as it has done for centuries before we came around.

In an ideal world, this would feed the growing world population with an equally rich diet that thrives on variety and freshness. While doing so, it ought to find a way through which ecosystems are rebuilt and thriving in the process. Not only does this go a long way in combatting the degradation of ecosystems, it also holds the potential to counter climate change.

Although some may consider it to be unrealistic and radical, it is actually nothing new. It goes right back to the way our ancestors harvested the land, based on a near-scientific understanding of the earth’s needs and limits. Soil, water, farms and animals are all working together to create a rich ecosystem. For once, farms do not take the lead, trying to manage and manipulate the other elements - they will be an active part of the ecosystem. A farm will not just ‘withdraw’ from nature as if it were an ATM, but rather it gives back and feeds into it as well.

Make no mistake: this will be complicated. As there are so many different ecosystems, the exact way of dealing with each environment will differ. Geologist David Montgomery put it as follows: “What works for temperate grasslands may not work so well in tropical forests. We need to tailor practices to the land and be mindful of the geographical and social context.”

It will be a process that requires thought and science, along with an inherent respect for flora and fauna. This does not make it impossible. Some elements of it are already in use. For instance, the use of livestock to graze grassy farmlands has already been accepted as a sensible practice. Through their eating, walking and disposing of waste, they ‘feed’ the grasslands and fertilise the soil. Using techniques like ‘rotational grazing’, livestock and poultry are used as an active player in guarding the health of the farm and environment as a whole.

Agriculture and cattle rotation yellow, green land

Photo by: Peter Bergquist

On the top of the hill, on the leveller ground, this farmer is rotating, corn, oats, and alfalfa in 60’ contoured strips. This proven crop rotation practice will build soils, produce good yields, limit erosion, limit required inputs, produce grain for sale and forage for winter feeding of livestock. 
The steeper land below the perimeter electric fence is in permanent pasture and being rotationally grazed. Each day this farmer moves poly wire electric fencing to create a new paddock big enough to feed his animals for 24 hours. He also moves a small water tank and a Shade Haven portable shade structure.

The concept seems clear: regenerative agriculture will help us to find a new way of producing the food we so direly need, while respecting the world around us. That balance between not exhausting natural resources and still getting the food that we need is crucial - that is, if we are hoping to have a planet left to eat our meticulously produced food on.

Part 1 of 3 of a series on Regenerative Agriculture. Part 2 will be uploaded on May 23.

https://www.whatsorb.com/category/agri-gardening

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Regenerative Agriculture: Basics For Safe Food (Part 1 of 3)

Agriculture has been around as long as mankind. In the earliest days of humanity, an important part of the day was spent hunting for food - whether by chasing after animals, by foraging for nuts and fruits, or by working on the land. From the Stone Age to the Middle Ages, right up to the Industrial Age and our current time. As we evolved, so did agriculture - yet its role remained unchanged: feeding those who depend on it for their daily meal. Exploiting valuable natural areas in order to turn it into farmland Another fact is that the world population has grown significantly: only 200 years ago, there were fewer than one billion humans alive. Today, we share our planet with over 7 billion others. And as space hasn’t increased significantly - you could argue that it has even been reduced, considering the extra land taken up by our cities and industrial areas -, the challenge seems obvious. There are many more mouths to feed, yet we have to do so using fewer resources and smaller areas of land. Of course there are some who would say that we ought to be, in fact, delivering by 'creating' more space and resources. This has actually been a common practice in recent decades, with eager producers exploiting valuable natural areas in order to turn it into farmland; or using up some of our earth’s most precious commodities in order to provide the energy and raw materials needed to live up to the skyrocketing demand. While many of us would be condemning those kind of practices today - hindsight is 20/20 -, there are all too many examples of similar practices long before that. Some innovations might, at the time of their introduction, have been considered groundbreaking and a huge leap forward. Yet looking back with today’s knowledge, they would not even be considered a feasible option because of the inherent and often disastrous consequences. Safe food Through artificial crops, advanced fertilisation methods and many other sophisticated techniques, it became possible to substantially ramp up food production. Through the multiplication of livestock, production of high yield and resilient crops, and smart techniques for fertilising and harvesting crops, production reached unparalleled heights.   Yet it is not only about increasing production: increasing food safety and ensuring accountability throughout the supply chain have been moving to the forefront as well. This newfound abundance of 'safe' food might just be a scam. Yes, we are delivering more while seemingly using less. But at what additional cost? The negative impacts of quick-gain practices are slowly but surely becoming painfully obvious. Not only does the ruthless exploitation of vast areas of land leave them plundered and abandoned, having irreversibly harmed the local ecosystem; there’s also matters like atmospheric pollution, choking waterways, antibiotic crises, pesticide disasters, and dangerous greenhouse gas emissions. Estimates have put the cost of agriculture to society staggeringly high, potentially reaching some $6 trillion by 2050. So let’s rewind a bit: is this really worth it? Does the end really justify the means?   At its core, the problem can be found in the business-like attitude of farms. Farms feel the pressure to deliver and meet demand, hence forcing them to start thinking and acting like a corporate machine. Profits will be put before anything else, with automation and innovation following suit.   The big issue with this? Agriculture , in contrast with other industries, is dealing directly with nature. While many things can be automated and forecasted, this decidedly does not apply to animals. To the insects that pollinate the crops; to the weather events that might damage or destroy the harvest; to the water on the surface and in the ground that is used to irrigate; or to the soil that is needed to provide a fertile environment for crops. All of those things just will not let themselves be automated, or made subject to linear production processes. Although we are often too tempted by greed to let this stop us from trying to do so - which is exactly what resulted in the negative consequences listed above. An area that is roughly the size of England is left to waste every year, requiring us to look further and start exploiting valuable savannah or rainforest lands in order to take its place. We try to take ‘more’ from the earth, resources and animals then they realistically have to offer - with all that this implies. Regenerative agriculture {youtube} Enter regenerative agriculture. This new school of thought within agriculture operates on the principle that we should recognise the complexity and resilience of the world’s ‘natural technology’. Basically, it means that we move to a food system that respects our nature’s ability to regenerate and produce rich, unique and fertile natural environments, as it has done for centuries before we came around. In an ideal world, this would feed the growing world population with an equally rich diet that thrives on variety and freshness. While doing so, it ought to find a way through which ecosystems are rebuilt and thriving in the process. Not only does this go a long way in combatting the degradation of ecosystems, it also holds the potential to counter climate change. Although some may consider it to be unrealistic and radical, it is actually nothing new. It goes right back to the way our ancestors harvested the land, based on a near-scientific understanding of the earth’s needs and limits. Soil, water, farms and animals are all working together to create a rich ecosystem. For once, farms do not take the lead, trying to manage and manipulate the other elements - they will be an active part of the ecosystem. A farm will not just ‘withdraw’ from nature as if it were an ATM, but rather it gives back and feeds into it as well. Make no mistake: this will be complicated. As there are so many different ecosystems, the exact way of dealing with each environment will differ. Geologist David Montgomery put it as follows: “ What works for temperate grasslands may not work so well in tropical forests. We need to tailor practices to the land and be mindful of the geographical and social context .” It will be a process that requires thought and science, along with an inherent respect for flora and fauna. This does not make it impossible. Some elements of it are already in use. For instance, the use of livestock to graze grassy farmlands has already been accepted as a sensible practice. Through their eating, walking and disposing of waste, they ‘feed’ the grasslands and fertilise the soil. Using techniques like ‘rotational grazing’, livestock and poultry are used as an active player in guarding the health of the farm and environment as a whole. Photo by: Peter Bergquist On the top of the hill, on the leveller ground, this farmer is rotating, corn, oats, and alfalfa in 60’ contoured strips. This proven crop rotation practice will build soils, produce good yields, limit erosion, limit required inputs, produce grain for sale and forage for winter feeding of livestock.  The steeper land below the perimeter electric fence is in permanent pasture and being rotationally grazed. Each day this farmer moves poly wire electric fencing to create a new paddock big enough to feed his animals for 24 hours. He also moves a small water tank and a Shade Haven portable shade structure . The concept seems clear: regenerative agriculture will help us to find a new way of producing the food we so direly need, while respecting the world around us. That balance between not exhausting natural resources and still getting the food that we need is crucial - that is, if we are hoping to have a planet left to eat our meticulously produced food on. Part 1 of 3 of a series on Regenerative Agriculture. Part 2 will be uploaded on May 23. https://www.whatsorb.com/category/agri-gardening