It is regenerating, improving and conserving agricultural lands and their ecosystem, avoiding excessive degradation and loss of fertility. This is the purpose of what is called “organic-regenerative” agriculture. Inspired by the principles of organic farming, regenerative agriculture goes further, proposing to cultivate according to natural biogenic cycles, producing with few inputs, without over-exploiting, polluting and impoverishing lands excessively. It was a type of ancient agriculture when humans did not yet possess all the means of today, such as cutting-edge agricultural machinery, chemical pesticides and synthetic fertilizers. But still at the forefront, not denying modern technology, with a view to sustainable food production.
The principles of this new approach propose to carry out the cultivation operations in a more respectful way of the surrounding environment, according to a long-term vision to restore the soil’s natural capacities to absorb CO2 emissions. The most important are the diversification and crop rotation, the use of cover crops, the reduction of soil processing, and the adoption of less invasive techniques. Cultural diversification is the first principle, which derives from the past knowledge, fundamental to restoring fertility, obtaining good yields and limiting the use of pesticides. With crop rotation, soil structure is improved, stimulating biological activity, avoiding erosion for the hydrogeological security of the territories and the loss of biodiversity.
Cover crops are also used to protect the soil. These are crop residues used as cover, helping to retain water, nutrients and organic matter to improve and protect the soil structure while waiting for the next production cycle. An example is green manure, which consists in burying one or more herbaceous species to feed the soil through the storage of carbon and other nutrients, which will improve the yield of the next harvest. In this context, the presence of grazing livestock is fundamental to contributing to the biological vitality of the soils, the organic reconstruction, and the natural mineralization of the soil.
Reducing the tillage and the mechanical impact on the soils to a minimum is another principle that helps retain the organic substance and recover fertility. Minimum tillage is one of the practices that limit the tillage of the soil as much as possible. For example, ploughing not more than 20 cm avoids discovering too much of the earth and losing the protection of the carbon stored on the ground. In practice, it is necessary to prevent the intense movement of the soils that invert their layers, as happens with deep ploughs.
The aim is not to have excessive oxygenation of the earth but to practice less intense processing, limiting the soil’s transits. This protects the habitat and life of the organisms that inhabit the soil. Such as earthworms, which, together with the roots of the plants, contribute to its structuring. In regenerative agriculture, we can even get to the total elimination of tillage, a practice that also drastically reduces the consumption of resources, fuel, emissions and therefore the environmental impact.
Since the conversion results to this new approach generally begin to materialize after 3-5 years, the planning should be projected in the long run. It is, in fact, essential to put into practice the new agronomic knowledge, which is constantly evolving, such as plant protection based on integrated biological control. In addition to making a tremendous environmental contribution, regenerative agriculture also arouses economic interest, thanks to its potential to produce carbon credits. Its practices increase the absorption of carbon dioxide and the sequestered carbon, representing a financial advantage for the farmer who wants to sell his credits for compensation. The direct and indirect benefits of its large-scale diffusion are therefore many. Still, it is essential not to remain anchored in the past and collaborate with modern technologies to use resources while efficiently respecting natural balances and biodiversity.