What is regenerative agriculture?
In 2021, Dr. Kristine Nichols, a soil microbiologist and regenerative agriculture expert, estimated that out of 895 million acres of agriculture only 1.5% of land was farmed regeneratively. Lots to unpack in that sentence, first, let’s go back to the basics. What does regenerative agriculture even mean?
The best and simplest way to explain regenerative agriculture is the intense focus on soil health. To do that, farmers prioritize thriving microorganisms, good water retention, minimal soil erosion, and balanced nutrient levels. They think about the soil as a resource that can regenerate itself.
Healthy Soil = happy and healthy ecosystem & positive environmental impact
Geographical location, climate variation, natural soil composition and the type of crops grown means there’s no single best way to achieve soil health. People all over the world have found many different ways to practice regenerative farming. Here are the most common for our region, in the upper Midwest.
Crop Rotation/Crop Sequencing
Probably the easiest entry level regenerative farming technique out there. Crop rotation* (AKA Crop sequencing). Alternating crops grown year after year on the same plot of land.
Each crop needs different levels of nutrients to thrive and it gets those nutrients from the soil. When the soil is forced to give up the same nutrients year in year out, the soil becomes nutrient-deplete. This isn’t good for the soil, the crop, or the farmer.
No till farming
Tilling a field, breaks up the top layer of soil, which dries out the soil in the spring after the snow melts. This prevents weeds, which left unchecked can quickly suppress your crop (not good for the farmer).
No till farmers help the below ground systems and structures stay intact by skipping that step and going straight to planting. This reduces soil erosion and improves water retention in the soil.
Immediately planting a cover crop after a harvest can help the soil get back to equilibrium and sustain balanced nutrient levels.
For example, after harvesting corn in the fall, farmers can plant a grass like barley, wheat or rye to help reduce soil erosion. These grasses use up excess nutrients that the corn didn’t need while adding nutrients that were depleted by the corn.
These cover crops can even serve as a grazing option if the farms livestock. And the livestock can provide fertilizer to the field while grazing. Additionally, these cover crops help capture carbon from the atmosphere…which feeds the soil (are you catching on yet?).
*Crop rotation practice is only applicable for annual crops (those that have to be replanted every year).
Other regenerative agriculture practices in the upper Midwest include sod programs/prairie stripping, managed grazing, crop diversity and composting.
Tenera Grains, our 7th generation farm, began practicing regenerative techniques in 2015. By focusing on the soil we converting 1,100 acres of farmland to regenerative agriculture and started producing the teff and buckwheat used in Teffola.
Our farm grounds us. Our passion drives us.
We are working towards sourcing all ingredients grown with a similar mindset. This won’t be an easy task by any stretch of the imagination. With role models like Kristy Lewis of Quinn Snacks and Joni Kindwall-Moore of Snactivist paving the way, this is a challenge we believe is possible.
It only takes one person, planting one seed to change the world.