Most people in the produce industry have heard of the term “regenerative agriculture,” just as they have heard of sustainable and organic agriculture.
But the difference between all of these is not always clear.
On August 24, the International Fresh Produce Association BB #:378962 hosted a virtual town hall on regenerative agriculture, as explained by Tanner Starbard, director of agricultural planning for Mad! Agriculture, a four-year-old Boulder, CO-based company dedicated to helping farmers apply regenerative practices to their operations.
As the name suggests, regenerative agriculture is not just about sustainability: it is about restoring agricultural land to a state of health that could have been degraded by conventional practices.
Regenerative farming is not the same as organic farming, as it does not automatically exclude the judicious use of chemical pesticides. Starbard says that while his company tends to work with organic growers, they “may not want to go all the way to an organic standard.” He also points out that some “could even meet organic standards without having to go through the certification system”.
The “link” of regenerative agriculture, according to Starbard, is soil health, which is both the product of the plants and animals that have been in a place and the means to create more plants.
Regenerative agriculture cannot change a type of soil: “you are not going to change sandy soil into clay soil”. Instead, it’s about making sure the soil is healthy.
The structure of the soil – the extent to which it holds together – is a crucial element.
Tillage, although necessary in some circumstances, tends to destroy soil structure, so part of this program reduces tillage as much as possible. Soil is a “short-term benefit” of tillage, he notes, although “over the long term the soil tends to compact.”
The long-term goal is to reduce “the depth and frequency of tillage”, including limiting it to “two or three inches from the top level of the soil profile” to preserve soil structure at higher levels. deep.
Biodiversity is another major theme for a farm’s “working and non-working areas,” Starbard notes. Possible strategies include planning for “intentional pollinator habitat”.
Starbard has paid some attention to regenerative agriculture as it relates to the produce industry.
Obviously, crop rotation won’t be possible for permanent crops, but he notes that he’s worked with avocado growers who have “great success growing annual and perennial cover crops” as a way.” to increase pollination, fertilization and reduction of other pests”. .” Another advantage is “not having to spray or mow between rows”.
Another consideration is the “spreading of plants at several levels of height”, although, Starbard points out, “I hope the canopy will cover almost the entire field”.
Unusually for commercial agriculture, regenerative agriculture includes an aesthetic element. Starbard compares it to the terroir in viticulture: “How does wine express the beauty of the place? He urges winegrowers to “find the terroir of their place. How can cultivated cultures be expressive and healing of this place? »
At the center, Starbard points out, is the producer as a human being. Part of the program aims to allow producers to spend more time with their families and be less stressed about their operations.
In this sense, regenerative agriculture is as much about people as it is about the land.