Biology

Can Regenerative Farming Combat the Greenhouse Gases of the Farming Industry?

Anna Almasan

An essay regarding how high quality soil can capture carbon and reduce the effects of climate change

Abstract

With the ever more prudent threat of the climate crisis scientists have been searching for solutions. One such solution has presented itself in the form of Regenerative Farming. Regenerative farming is preferred as it is a low-cost, low-emission technique.

Can Regenerative Farming Combat the Greenhouse Gases of the Farming Industry?

This essay outlines the characteristics, benefits, and drawbacks of regenerative farming and how it has impacted climate change [1,2]. Regenerative farming is an overarching term that refers to techniques that aim to regenerate the local ecosystems with the help of native species, such as buffalos in the USA. Buffalos are animals native to North America and are part of the Bovidae family which domesticated cows also fall into. Buffalos lived in abundance prior to colonization. In pre-colonial times they acted as a food source, while their hides were used for clothing, shoes, etc. Buffalos continue to be threatened due to the aggressive hunting patterns that were common following colonialism. Regenerative farming, in the American Midwest, has been used to strengthen buffalo populations while also regenerating the local grass and plant ecosystem through regenerative grazing.

Regenerative farming refers to grazing, farming, and fishing practices that aim to move away from commercial farming practices, for the purposes of reducing the carbon footprint of the farming industry, by rebuilding soil organic matter and restoring degraded soil biodiversity – resulting in both carbon sequestration and improving the water cycle [2,3,4].

Regenerative farming allows native species to occupy a large piece of land which over time allows for the creation of a self-sustaining system, as the animals live off the plants and resources of the land, while also producing bodily waste which breaks down and acts as a fertilizer. Over time the bodily waste decomposes and becomes a new layer of topsoil which actively improves soil health [2,3]. This is because manure supplies nutrients like nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium—molecules that aid the growth of plants. Moreover, manure also helps create more stable pH levels in soil, which creates a more stable growing environment. This allows for healthier, more resistant crops to grow [11]. Manure also provides improved soil structure due to its increased carbon capture ability compared to inorganic fertilizers, while reducing the carbon emitted into the atmosphere. This could over time mitigate the effects of climate change [11].

The main aim of regenerative farming is to replenish former farmland and develop sustainable farming practices. Though the exact meaning of sustainability has been debated amongst climate scientists, Prof. Kurt-Juergen Huelsbergen defines the term as “Not to live at the expense of the environment and of coming generations, but rather to strike a balance between exploitation and renewal when using resources”[3].

Furthermore, when this practice has been used in areas that have dealt with desertification, such as Ethiopia, it has been shown to reverse those adverse effects. Moreover, as described above, regenerative farming created a self-sustaining system. One positive of this is that it reduces production costs, and therefore it is also sustainable in a socio-economic sense. The regenerative efforts in Ethiopia have shown that a singular regenerative technique is not effective and that multiple techniques must be used at the same time for any significant changes to happen[1,2,3].

A further positive of regenerative agricultural practices is that grassland plants such as clovers or grass, which grow as a result of regenerative farming, have been shown to be effective carbon stores. Carbon stores sequester and store carbon, as if more carbon is held in carbon stores less would be in the atmosphere. [5] This is also true about higher quality soil which will act as a large store and is expected to reduce the average global temperature by 0.5°C by 2100 when combined with other climate control strategies [10].

Another principle of regenerative agriculture is diversity within crops, which aims to make crops more resistant to illnesses. Currently, most commercial farms rely on monocultures (the cultivation of a single crop in a given area). In monocultures, if a singular plant is affected by a disease, it is common for the entire field or at least a majority of it to be affected. Diverse crops on the other hand have helped increase resistance. This could allow for a higher yield which provides clear socio-economic benefits to both farmers, and consumers. Moreover, lack of plant diversity has proven to be dangerous to crops. For example, banana varieties have become completely extinct during the 20th century due to lack of diversity. This has now led to the banana variety which is commercially available to be completely different from those of the past [6,7,8,9].

Regenerative farming practices have the potential to reduce the impact of climate change due to their ability to capture and store carbon. However, it is important to note that regenerative farming is not the only way to reduce the effects of climate change and that a wide array of techniques, such as renewable energy, taxation on emission, and others can also help battle climate change.

While the future is uncertain it is clear that we must take action in order to preserve the future of our planet and future generations. It is possible that implementing renewable resources, such as wind power and solar panels, in combination with the use of regenerative farming will be key to a sustainable future. Though, in the case of regenerative farming it is instrumental that our approach is staggered so as to not risk disturbing our current food systems.

References

  1. Stanley, K. M., D. Say, J. Mühle, C. M. Harth, P. B. Krummel, D. Young, S. J. O’Doherty, et al. 2020. “Increase in Global Emissions of HFC-23 despite Near-Total Expected Reductions.” Nature Communications 11 (1). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-019-13899-4
  2. “Climate Change Mitigation as a Co-Benefit of Regenerative Ranching: Insights from Australia and the United States | Interface Focus.” 2020. Interface Focus. 2020. https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/10.1098/rsfs.2020.0027
  3. “New Tools for Sustainable Farming: Agricultural Scientists Quantify ‘Sustainability.’” 2021. ScienceDaily. 2021. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/08/090826073438.htm
  4. Abera, Wuletawu, Lulseged Tamene, Degefie Tibebe, Zenebe Adimassu, Habtemariam Kassa, Habtamu Hailu, Kindu Mekonnen, Gizaw Desta, Rolf Sommer, and Louis Verchot. 2019. “Characterizing and Evaluating the Impacts of National Land Restoration Initiatives on Ecosystem Services in Ethiopia.” Land Degradation & Development 31 (1): 37–52. https://doi.org/10.1002/ldr.3424
  5. Reich, Peter B., Sarah E. Hobbie, Tali D. Lee, and Melissa A. Pastore. 2018. “Unexpected Reversal of C3versus C4grass Response to Elevated CO2 during a 20-Year Field Experiment.” Science 360 (6386): 317–20. https://doi.org/10.1126/science.aas9313
  6. Lansing, J. Stephen, Stefan Thurner, Ning Ning Chung, Aurélie Coudurier-Curveur, Çağil Karakaş, Kurt A. Fesenmyer, and Lock Yue Chew. 2017. “Adaptive Self-Organization of Bali’s Ancient Rice Terraces.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 114 (25): 6504–9. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1605369114
  7. Zuppinger-Dingley, Debra, Bernhard Schmid, Jana S. Petermann, Varuna Yadav, Gerlinde B. De Deyn, and Dan F. B. Flynn. 2014. “Selection for Niche Differentiation in Plant Communities Increases Biodiversity Effects.” Nature 515 (7525): 108–11. https://doi.org/10.1038/nature13869
  8. Aguilar, Jonathan, Greta G. Gramig, John R. Hendrickson, David W. Archer, Frank Forcella, and Mark A. Liebig. 2015. “Crop Species Diversity Changes in the United States: 1978–2012.” Edited by John P. Hart. PLOS ONE 10 (8): e0136580. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0136580
  9. “Climate Change Effects on Black Sigatoka Disease of Banana | Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences.” 2019. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B. 2019. https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/10.1098/rstb.2018.0269
  10. Mayer, Allegra, Zeke Hausfather, Andrew D. Jones, and Whendee L. Silver. 2018. “The Potential of Agricultural Land Management to Contribute to Lower Global Surface Temperatures.” Science Advances 4 (8): eaaq0932. https://doi.org/10.1126/sciadv.aaq0932
  11. Ozlu, Ekrem, and Sandeep Kumar. 2018. “Response of Soil Organic Carbon, PH, Electrical Conductivity, and Water Stable Aggregates to Long-Term Annual Manure and Inorganic Fertilizer.” Soil Science Society of America Journal 82 (5): 1243–51. https://doi.org/10.2136/sssaj2018.02.0082

About the Author

Anna is a 16-year-old student, currently studying Biology, Geography, and Spanish. She hopes to become an environmental consultant. Anna is incredibly passionate about making science more accessible for the average person.

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