Over the weekend, I was out in deep Cornwall for a conference about regenerative agriculture. The term is more and more in use, but the meaning is fuzzy. It seems to be associated with an equally fuzzy term— “sustainability”—and also with carbon sequestration. The panel I chaired was intended to put some parameters around regenerative agriculture by contrasting several different specific approaches to regenerative agriculture to highlight areas of convergence and diversity. It consisted of two market gardeners (one also farming heritage wheat), a soil specialist, and a pasture specialist.
For me, there was a clear take-away from that panel discussion—and the others on both days of the conference. Regenerative agriculture is a way of thinking, not a specific approach or set of approaches. This way of thinking can be identified by goals which clearly contrast with conventional agriculture.
In contrast with conventional agriculture, regenerative approaches:
The non-extractive and zero-input goals of regenerative methods mean that they can aim for indefinite sustainability—the ability to continue farming using those methods. And the boundary around “sustainability” is expanding to include not only the ecosystem (the local and broader systems of soil, air, and water) but also social and personal dynamics. This means developing business models that allow agriculturists to pay themselves enough to continue farming and make it structurally viable for intergenerational agricultural transitions.
Some observations about specific approaches to regenerative agriculture that deserve much more consideration: