How to be a regenerative farmer?
You’ve heard the term – Regenerative Farming. It’s the latest trend in agriculture and it’s here to stay. Not only is regenerative farming beneficial for the environment, but crops grown using regenerative agricultural practices are in increasing demand. Large corporations such as Mars, PepsiCo, and McDonalds have recently announced commitments to prioritize regenerative agriculture in their supply chains. On top of all that, there is research that shows regenerative agriculture increases the nutritional value of the crop produced.
So how can you start incorporating regenerative practices into your farm or even your home garden? Here some tips for starting to incorporate regenerative or biodynamic concepts into your farm:
Have an open mind: Regenerative agriculture contradicts much of what is considered “conventional farming.” It’s often difficult for a 3rd or 4th generation farmer to shift away from how they were raised and “traditional” agricultural practices. In the long run, regenerative agriculture will be better for your farm financially and better for the environment. You can take incremental steps to incorporate regenerative practices – it doesn’t have to be done in one day.
Be Patient: Regenerative agriculture takes time to master. Remember: Rome wasn’t built in a day but there is a reason large brands like Pepsi and Mars are standing behind regenerative agriculture. Your crops will command an increasing premium and you’ll be able to capitalize on auxiliary income such as carbon credits.
Be Practical: One of the most frustrating things from regenerative agricultural fanatics is that there is no compromise when it comes to regenerative ag. We love the enthusiasm but also think it’s important to support farmers as they transition. In reality, it can be very difficult and cost prohibitive for a farmer to transition to regenerative growing techniques instantaneously. Transition can occur in phases – make a plan that works for you (operationally and financially).
Lose the Till: One of the fundamental principles of regenerative agriculture is to eliminate the need to till or reduce the depth in which tilling is required. The reason for this is as follows: when crops are grown they pull carbon from the atmosphere through photosynthesis, this carbon is subsequently stored in the ground, when you run a deep till – you essentially are releasing all that carbon you store historically back into the atmosphere and depleting your soil’s health.
Cover Crops and Beneficials: Cover crops can not only enhance soil biodiversity and build soil health, they can help block out invasive weeds and attract beneficial insects. Since you’ll no longer be using synthetic herbicides and pesticides, you should carefully consider which cover crops will work best within your growing plan and geographical region. For instance, we often incorporate fennel in our hemp grows to attract parasitic wasps. These predatory wasps will prey on spider mites, aphids or even corn earworms – all of which can create issues for our hemp plants.
Incorporate Animals: Incorporation of animals on your regenerative or translational regenerative farm is a great way to increase biodiversity, reduce soil compaction, and naturally fertilize soil. It’s also a great and cost effective way to feed your animals. On our hemp farms, we often bring sheep or cattle in after harvest to graze on remaining hemp stocks and foliage. Prior to planting, we often bring in chickens which feed on seeds and add additional nitrogen to the soil. As a plus, you can then market your eggs or poultry as pasture raised.
Grow what you know: Regenerative agriculture can have a steep learning curve – especially when just starting out. We recommend focusing on the crops that you have had success growing in the past – just now incorporating regenerative techniques. Once you’ve mastered those crops, focus on incorporating new crops.
Involve the Community: Don’t be afraid to share with your community that you are transitioning to regenerative farming. You’ll find you have more support than you thought. That support can lead to distribution opportunities that never existed before.
Consider a Certification: Certifications can help you get a premium price for your crop. Certifications such as the USDA Certified Organic Certification and Regenerative Organic Certification were created to help ensure consumer confidence. Both can be a helpful path as you build your distribution network
Don’t be afraid to ask for help: there are many available resources in the community as you transition to regenerative farming. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Here are some great resources.
Local Universities: Local universities are putting a lot of resources into support regenerative ag. Reach out to your local university and asked to be put in touch with the agricultural department. They may have grants or opportunities available.
Rodale Institue: https://rodaleinstitute.org/
Regenerative Organic Alliance: https://regenorganic.org/
MAD Agriculture: https://madagriculture.org/
USDA Grants: https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/detail/national/programs/?&cid=stelprdb1048817