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1. Defining regenerative agriculture is not simple
There is no one universally agreed upon definition and regenerative agriculture is perhaps better understood as an approach.
In its broadest terms, it refers to agriculture that seeks to work with natural systems to restore and enhance the biodiversity, soil fertility and ecosystem service provision (such as carbon sequestration and water retention) of farmed land.
Because regenerative agriculture in not a one-size-fits-all method, land managers can adopt regenerative techniques to suit their land type and farming business.
This offers flexibility, which is needed within an approach that requires a significant shift of mindset.
2. The key principles of regenerative agriculture focus on improving soil health
Central to the regenerative agriculture model is the concept of protecting and restoring soils, reversing the degradation of soils that has occurred due to the industrialisation of farming and its reliance on chemical inputs.
There are five core principles of regenerative agriculture (see below) which focus on minimising soil disturbance and building soil organic matter.
This increases the amount of carbon fixed within the soil, through the transformation of plant and animal detritus, as well as by certain carbon-fixing bacteria.
As soils grow in fertility, their water and nutrient holding capacity also increases, thereby building the natural, biological productivity of the land and encouraging species growth, which continues this positive loop of regeneration.
In essence it’s all about working with and optimising the land’s natural biological systems, which takes time but ultimately increases land’s resilience.
3. Regenerative agriculture is being proposed as a solution to feeding people while also tackling climate change and increasing environmental risk
Regenerative models focus on increasing the resilience of land’s ecological systems, rather than extracting from these systems solely to achieve market returns.
On the flip side, if land is intensively cultivated, it can release carbon into the atmosphere, increase water run-off and chemical leaching, degrading natural systems and exposing them to increasing environmental risk.
The fact that a regenerative model boosts biodiversity and sequesters carbon makes it an attractive solution to mitigating against climate change and the nature crisis.
The pivotal question in the debate about regenerative agriculture is whether it can produce enough food.
Typically there may be a drop in yield when adopting certain regenerative techniques, but more evidence is needed before reaching concrete conclusions.
It is also important to remember that sustaining high yields can be environmentally damaging, so a key consideration is the improved long-term environmental resilience of regenerative models against the increasing environmental precarity of high yielding, intensive systems.
4. Regenerative is not the same as sustainable
There is often confusion over the difference between regenerative systems and sustainability. All regenerative models are sustainable, however, not all sustainable action is regenerative.
A regenerative system fixes the root cause of the problem and then renews its growth potential, whereas sustainability focuses on mitigating impacts or not letting the problem get any greater.
5. Innovation will be key to the future of regenerative agriculture
Looking to the future, there are significant opportunities arising around the possibilities of fusing a regenerative mindset with agritech advances.
This would offer a hybrid future of effective and efficient technology working alongside natural biology.
There are many ways in which this could be of benefit, for example in ecological monitoring and data collection.
For regenerative agriculture to become a truly investable paradigm shift, the industry needs to develop standardised approaches to quantification and accreditation.
There is demand for systems resilience from supply chains and policy direction, but in order to optimise this momentum, regenerative agriculture needs to be able to measure and demonstrate its impact.