by Clinton Monchuk
Farmers use many different practices to maximize their farmland’s potential but also to ensure that it is sustainable in the long run, both economically and environmentally. Each farmer tackles this differently, depending on the type of farmland they have and what markets are available to sell what they produce.
Organic and Conventional Farming
Most people have heard of organic and conventional farming systems. Although, the food derived from both methods are nutritionally the same, the methods farmers use to grow the food is different. For example, synthetic fertilizers and pesticides can be used on conventional farms, while organic farmers must use organic fertilizers and pesticides. Conventional farmers use special equipment that reduces soil disturbance (no –till) and keeps soil from blowing away, while organic farmers choose other practices like planting cover crops.
Soil Health is Important to all Farmers
There are pros and cons to each farming style and farmers choose which works best for their situation. The common theme across different farming systems is the effort that farmers devote to building soil organic matter. This is also true of regenerative farming.
Regenerative Farming Defined
Regenerative agriculture is an emerging farming practice that combines components from both organic and conventional farming. The 2020 Real Dirt on Farming defines the key principle of regenerative farming as striving to improve soil health over time—something conventional and organic farmers are also committed to. It aims to reduce soil disturbance (no-till), integrate livestock such as cattle, maximize crop diversity and maintain soil coverage through a holistic approach that involves both crops and animals. Over time, these practices build soil organic matter and increase carbon sequestration.
Comparing regenerative agriculture to my own more conventional farm, the majority of these production methods align with what our family does such as no-till farming and rotating crops, except that we don’t fully integrate livestock into our system. Another difference is that we use crop rotations of between 3 to 6 years depending on the land, while regenerative farmers might use a much longer rotation that includes grasses and forage for cattle.
In the end, every farm is different and each farmer works hard to find what works on their best farm. Whichever practice a farmer chooses they are all continually evolving and adapting to maximize their assets, improve sustainability and protect the environment.