Regenerative agriculture, returning to farming in balance with the countryside
For Farmers Farm, regenerative agriculture is not a new concept. These are agricultural practices they have done all their lives. Such as sterilising, grazing their crops, watering naturally according to the rainfall or tending their own beehives.
In other words, farming in harmony with the countryside, trying to return as many of the resources used as possible to the land. All the farmers who are part of the project are personally aware of the importance of caring for natural resources.
With a focus on soil, water and biodiversity, regenerative agriculture brings together different processes to halt environmental devastation and reverse the damage caused by industrialised farming. But more than an agricultural model, it is the best partnership to fight climate change and hunger.
The sustainable and environmentally friendly transformation of dry land into fertile fields is a challenge. And even more so in the case of our farmers, bearing in mind that many of their crops are located on the map of the Geopark of Granada, an area classified by the European Union as depopulated and disadvantaged, with an arid semi-desert climate.
What are the minimum criteria for agriculture to be considered regenerative?
Regenerative agriculture prioritises environmental sustainability and human health. It means that any farm must contribute to the protection of nature, in addition to producing cash crops How?
There is no single formula, it depends largely on the conditions of each territory, but there are some best practices. For example, the AlVelAl association establishes these minimum commitments for regenerative crops:
- Protect vegetation cover, whether spontaneous or sown, by keeping it mowed either with a brush cutter or by allowing livestock to graze. Preserving vegetation on the ground increases rainwater infiltration, slowing runoff and erosion, and increases biodiversity by providing refuge for pollinators and natural enemies of pests.
- Fertilise the soil with compost every three years to enrich the soil. The raw material must come from organic farming, never from super-intensive production and never use fresh manure because of the high release of nitrogen (ammonia) and greenhouse gases.
- Minimise tillage to three per year and with a maximum depth of about 10 cm, because over-tillage reduces organic matter, damages soil microbiology and releases greenhouse gases. Landfill machinery should not be used, as overturning and exposing soil flora and fauna causes their death. It also creates a zone of compaction that prevents the creation of a stable sleep structure and encourages erosion.
- Grazing integration. Livestock is an enriching element in regenerative crops because it increases biodiversity and contributes organic matter to the soil. The stocking rate must be adapted to the capacity of the ecosystem (according to the EU it should not exceed 170 kg nitrogen production per hectare per year) and the livestock must be organic and respect animal welfare standards.
- Water harvesting through green roofs, ditches and ponds. In the Altiplano of Granada, which has an average rainfall of 300 mm per year, it is vital to slow down runoff and maximise rainwater infiltration into the soil.
- Crop rotation, or at least crops of different varieties, to increase diversity and encourage pollination. It is also advisable to encourage the development of hedgerows of native species along the boundaries to protect against potential contamination.
- Plant health. Use all preventive measures to avoid the use of biocides and, of course, chemical and toxic pesticides. Only in emergencies, products permitted by EC are allowed, except for Spinosad, which can be harmful to bees, and products containing piperonyl butoxide.
The future is regenerative
As farmers, talking about sustainability is no longer enough. Sustainable agriculture focuses on damage reduction, a crucial first step for natural wealth. A producer can start by, for example, avoiding the use of pesticides. The health of the soil will improve and eventually they will not be needed. But when, in addition, methods are applied to enrich and care for the soil, such as planting vegetation, we can say that we have gone a step further and have a regenerative farm.
To sum up, we cannot simply limit ourselves to reducing our negative impact on the earth. We must reverse its degradation so that, on the one hand, we can increase the quality and quantity of food produced, and on the other hand, we can combat climate change.