With incremental changes in practices, including a gradual reduction in the direct costs of synthetic inputs and tillage, it soon becomes clear that regenerative farming practices allow for greater profitability, through the simultaneous improvement of soil health and agro-ecosystem resilience.
Regenerative farming restores the natural fertility of agroecosystems and captures more carbon than it emits. It produces nutrient-dense food, clean water and abundant biodiversity. It integrates agroecological practices such as conservation agriculture, organic farming, agroforestry, permaculture and holistic livestock management.
The use of synthetic inputs should be minimised and gradually replaced by organic fertilisers and biopesticides. On the long-term, artificial fertilisers lead to soil nutrient imbalance and crops dependency, while synthetic pesticides reduce the populations of beneficial insects and symbiotic soil bacteria and fungi. Organic fertilisers, such as manure, compost and biofertilisers provide organic matter in a natural way, boosting soil fertility and crop development. This helps soil life thrive as well as restore soil structure.
Deep tillage and ploughing generate heavy soil disturbance, thus disrupting the natural soil structure and turning soil life upside down. It leads to problems like soil compaction, erosion, and loss of water retention. Minimum (shallow) tillage and no-till practices helps avoiding soil turnover and disturbance. As a result, soil life (especially earth worms) can thrive.
In nature, soils are permanently covered by living plants. This is the intrinsic function of a healthy soil whose development and performance are enabled by the natural symbiosis between soil, microorganisms, and plants. Agricultural practices that leave soils bare for several months go against these natural principles.
Cover crops (sown between seasonal cash crops) help maintaining and improving the soil structure with their root system. Moreover, cover crops recycle nutrients and accumulate organic matter which will gradually be released for the following cash crops.
Diversity and complexity are the foundation of resilient agro-ecosystems. Conversely, monoculture farming systems quickly turn fragile, losing efficiency and profitability over time. By diversifying the crop rotation, crops' resistance to pest and disease increase, the soil structure improves, which in turn improve soil’s water retention capacity. We like to emphasise the importance of diversity in space: associated crops or companion cropping with different rooting depth and above-ground biomass; and diversity in time: succession of cash crops, cover crops, and temporary pastures.
Over-specialised farming systems lead to the dissociation of livestock and crops, resulting in a loss of the valuable interplay between organic matter, minerals, and soil biological life. Animals are an integral part of a healthy, balanced ecosystem and the (re)introduction of grazers, together with semi-perennial grasslands and pastures, is considered one of the most valuable practices in regenerative agriculture.
In parallel, trees also play an essential role in agricultural ecosystems. In addition to their production function (fruit, timber, etc.), trees, through their deep root system, cycle nutrients and store carbon, while above ground, trees protect crops and animals from the elements. Agroforestry is therefore a particularly useful way to increase the stability and resilience of a farm