Regenerative Farms Yield Soil Health and Higher Profits than Chemical-Intensive Operations

Published: July 11, 2018

Ecologically-based farming systems contain far fewer pests and generate much higher profits than their conventional, chemical-based counterparts according to research published in the journal PeerJ earlier this year by scientists at South Dakota State University and the Ecdysis Foundation. The study supports calls to reshape the future of agriculture, as ‘regenerative’ farms, which avoid tillage and bare soil, integrate livestock, and foster on-farm diversity. These farms are found to represent an economically viable alternative to overly simplified, pesticide and fertilizer-dependent cropping systems. Given the study’s focus on corn cropping systems, such a shift is possible for thousands of farmers throughout the United States.

Researchers looked at roughly 75 fields on 18 farms, measuring the organic matter in the soil, insect pest populations, corn yield as well as profit. Farms using pesticide treatments, which in corn fields is represented primarily by the use of neonicotinoid-coated seeds, had 10x higher pest levels than regenerative farms. As noted in the study, pest populations are a function of the biodiversity within the crop field. Biodiveristy increased on regenerative farms not only because farmers sprayed fewer pesticides, but because they also allowed more plants to grow in between rows. More plants lead to higher numbers of predatory insects and increased competition for pests, while conventional farms mistakenly attempt to simplify the ecosystem by replacing this diversity with pesticides. Lower levels of biodiversity, however, leads to fewer predators, less competition for crop pests like aphids, and the rapid development of pesticide resistance which facilitates pest outbreaks.


Regenerative Agriculture: Merging Farming and Natural Resource Conservation Profitably

Authors: Claire E. LaCanne and Jonathan G. Lundgren | Published: February 26, 2018

Most cropland in the United States is characterized by large monocultures, whose
productivity is maintained through a strong reliance on costly tillage, external fertilizers,
and pesticides (Schipanski et al., 2016). Despite this, farmers have developed a regenerative model of farm production that promotes soil health and biodiversity, while
producing nutrient-dense farm products profitably. Little work has focused on the
relative costs and benefits of novel regenerative farming operations, which necessitates
studying in situ, farmer-defined best management practices. Here, we evaluate the
relative effects of regenerative and conventional corn production systems on pest
management services, soil conservation, and farmer profitability and productivity
throughout the Northern Plains of the United States.


Soils Ain’t Soils

The world-renowned Andre Leu gave a fascinating insight recently in his presentation on regenerative agriculture to a group of local farmers at Hallora. The Gazette’s RUSSELL BENNETT headed along to soak in as much as he could about, among a range of topics, where most farming starts – the soil…

Author: Russell Bennett | Published: July 5, 2018

A guest of the Baw Baw Food Movement, Andre Leu’s presentation late last week on regenerative agriculture broke down just what it is for farming to be ‘sustainable’ or ‘organic’, and explored how to regenerate the environment in which agricultural farming takes place.

An internationally-recognised speaker and the author of ‘The Myths of Safe Pesticides’, Andre is also a past president of IFOAM – the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements – and was the first Australian to hold that position.

He has over 40 years’ experience in all facets of organic agriculture, including growing, pest control, weed management, post-harvest transport, new crops and education – not just in Australia, but right across Asia, Europe, America, and Africa.


Main Street Project Hosts Carbon Farmers and Ranchers to Share Midwest Regenerative Agriculture Model

Each year, Northfield-based Main Street Project has made strides in its goals to develop community-based, regenerative, sustainable agriculture in and around Northfield. It’s made enough progress now to be an example for others.

Main Street Project Chief Strategy Officer Reginaldo Haslett-Marroquin, left, stands with Aaron Clare, of Nebraska Forest Service, at Main Street’s demonstration farm. Photo credit: Philip Weyhe/Northfield News

At the end of June, a few dozen people from all across the Midwest made their way to Northfield to see and learn about Main Street’s systems and consider how they might bring elements of the operation back home. The visitors saw Main Street’s new 100-acre demonstration farm, just north of Northfield, and one of its free-range poultry units, just south of Northfield. Then they stayed the night downtown and gathered there in the morning to talk about what’s happening and what’s in the future.

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Restoring Degraded Landscapes in Niger with Farmer-Managed Natural Regeneration

Author: Cathy Watson | Published: June 29, 2018

Farmer-managed natural regeneration (FMNR) of trees made headlines several years ago when 5 million hectares of Niger were found to have re-greened via the practice. FMNR is the encouragement of regeneration (and then management) of trees and shrubs that sprout from stumps, roots, and seeds found in degraded soils, such as those currently under agricultural production. Once established in farm fields, these new woody plants improve soil fertility and moisture for crops planted in combination with them, in a system known as agroforestry.

The news from Niger provided hope that a low-tech and low-cost approach could succeed after many years of failed tree planting efforts. Researchers crowded in and found that FMNR increased grain yields by 30%, boosted incomes, and was climate smart.

But a decade later, two scientists from Burkina Faso associated with the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) are still drilling down into the data.

Dr. Jules Bayala is Chief Scientist for the Sahel and Dr Patrice Sawadogo is a senior scientist. Cathy Watson, Chief of Programme Development at ICRAF, interviewed them for Mongabay about trees, soil carbon, and productivity to discuss whether FMNR is the fastest way to restore degraded landscapes, and if it has utility beyond drylands.

Cathy Watson: Why are you studying FMNR?

Patrice Savadogo: Since childhood I’d seen farmers regenerate trees. Then, when I grew up, experts claimed that FMNR is climate smart. Yet in the literature, we didn’t have sound evidence. I wanted to build scientific knowledge.

A farmer removes side stems from a Guiera senegalensis, the first step in encouraging the strong central stem to take advantage of the root system. Photo courtesy of ICRAF/P. Savadogo


Jules Bayala: FMNR had been practiced in Niger for quite some years. Yet nobody had assessed it systematically. We knew it was good, but by how much? Our idea was to be neutral.

Cathy Watson: You wanted more than positive stories. What else?

Patrice Savadogo: Well, we already knew that the most important thing that trees can do in the Sahel to sustain soil productivity is to improve soil carbon because that improves soil structure. The soil stays moist longer and that increases the ability of cereals to take up nutrients. So, we wanted to look at FMNR and carbon sequestration in trees and carbon accumulation in the soil.

Cathy Watson: And how have you been doing this?

Jules Bayala: Earlier studies used classes of adopters – people who adopted FMNR 15, 10, five years ago and those who had not adopted. So, we divided 160 farmers into those classes and sampled soil from the trunks of trees to the open area where we expected no tree effect.

Patrice Savadogo: We calculated above ground carbon by inventorying the species and numbers of trees and measuring the diameter of the stem and crown. To see what is going on below ground, we sampled soil to one meter deep.

At the World Agroforestry Centre, Dr Jules Bayala is Principal Scientist in the Sahel. Dr Patrice Savadogo is its Dryland Agroforestry System Scientist. Both from Burkina Faso and grew up watching their fathers work with trees. Image courtesy of ICRAF


Cathy Watson: What did you find?

Jules Bayala: If we look at the pattern of carbon, we see a decreasing amount going from tree trunk to the open area. It shows clearly that trees contribute to soil carbon. We can say definitively that FMNR replenishes carbon in soil.

Patrice Savadogo: Also important was that the more the soil is sandy, the bigger the effect of carbon addition. That is very critical because most soil in the Sahel is sandy. Generally, for carbon, FMNR is very good. We’ve measured other elements but, for the soil in the Sahel, carbon is key. You can bring in nitrogen. It is much more difficult to bring in carbon.

Cathy Watson: What do you mean by above and below ground carbon, and how do they relate to trees?

Jules Bayala: Carbon comes through photosynthesis. Photosynthesis takes carbon from the atmosphere and accumulates it as biomass. This biomass is recycled in the soil through leaf litter and root decay. In the soil’s top layer, carbon comes from leaves and animal droppings. Deeper down, it comes from fine root hairs that break down. By far the greatest amount of carbon in the soil comes from these roots for the simple reason that leaves get blown away and you have bush fires. What enters the soil from leaves is very little compared to what stays in the soil layer. Roots behave like leaves. The period you have the maximum leaves, you have a corresponding maximum of fine root hairs. When leaves decay, roots decay too.

Cathy Watson: And the relationship between FMNR, carbon and crop production?

Patrice Savadogo: Very strong. In fact, we believe that without FMNR, soil will have a very low yield or not produce any crop. Because the main problem with soil in the Sahel is the low carbon. We found that on farms where you have FMNR, soil carbon is better, and it relates to the presence of trees. Where you find a very limited number of trees, you find low production of cereals – maybe 200 kg/ha. As tree density increases, yield reaches 300 kg/ha. The most we found was 500 kg, usually where FMNR had been for quite some time. That doubling of yield is due to trees.

A field of millet in Mopti, Mali, already showing benefits from newly preserved individuals of Combretum glutinosum that a farmer is assisting to resprout from stumps. This is a fast-growing drought-resistant shrub common in the Sahel where rainfall is 200-700 mm per year. Photo courtesy of ICRAF/P. Savadogo

Cathy Watson: What about other benefits from FMNR?

Patrice Savadogo: Farms with no trees or a very limited number are more fragile when there is a shock. When you have a drought spell, the crops suffer more than in places with more trees. Crops that grow next to trees perform better than those further away because of the soil carbon but also the microclimate around the tree. You see the millet plant being taller with a bigger head of grain.

Cathy Watson: How does FMNR work? Is there a particular sequence?

Jules Bayala: FMNR is when farmers encourage naturally-occurring trees. In the 1970s in the Sahel, trees were top killed by a period of aridity and then cut for firewood. But the roots kept living in an underground forest. Farmers prune the stems from the living stumps to encourage the strongest ones to shoot up into trees. There is also germination of seeds from the bank of seed in the soil. But about 95% of the trees come from stumps.

Patrice Savadogo: The younger the farm is in its practice of FMNR, the less the tree diversity. Regeneration of those stumps and the germination of existing seed gives you trees. Those trees attract birds or mammals that bring in more seed, and you start to see new species and more diversity. In Niger, you start with Guiera senegalensis. The farmer will say, “This species was there when I started.” Then species like Acacia seberiana and Bosia sengalensis appear, and Balanitis aegyptiaca is brought in by camels in their droppings.

Cathy Watson: How many trees can a farmer achieve?

Jules Bayala: In the beginning they have few. They select and nurture them. Livestock are roaming around. You have to protect them until they reach a certain stage. It’s long. But the density can reach more than 200 stems per acre. Then farmers reach a point where they must reduce them. They get a lot of firewood that generates substantial income in countries like Niger where the fallows, bush and forest are gone.

Bayala showing a newly regenerated Faidherbia albida in a cotton field in Southern Burkina Faso. Besides fixing nitrogen, this species sheds its leaves during the cropping season thus competing less with annual crops for light. During the dry season, it puts out leaves, providing protein rich forage to livestock during this critical period of quality feed shortage. Image courtesy of ICRAF


Cathy Watson: Is it best to have many species or fine to have just Guiera, for instance?

Patrice Savadogo: Different species is best. We looked at the nitrogen-fixing trees and non-nitrogen fixers that farmers preserve. A farm with five to eight species, of which one to two are nitrogen fixers, will have more benefits for its soil than if you only have Guiera and Piliostigma, which don’t fix nitrogen.

Cathy Watson: Is FMNR better than planting trees?

Jules Bayala: It’s much easier. “Better” depends on what you want. If you are targeting soil restoration and wood energy, FMNR is far better. If you are targeting fruit trees and the seed for fruit trees is not in the soil, you will not get them. In the first years of FMNR, the farmer can only work from the stocks and seeds he has.

Cathy Watson: Are there limits to FMNR?

Patrice Savadogo: Yes, we cannot regreen only with FMNR. We must combine it with tree planting because if the farmer does not have rootstock, what do you regenerate? We also need to improve soil moisture because even with FMNR, if you don’t have good soil moisture, trees will not develop well. Zai pits, stone lines, and half-moon techniques hold water.

Jules Bayala: I agree. In this very harsh climate where you have eight months of no rain, you need those water conservation structures. They catch a seed as rain washes it along, and the space around them is a niche with higher humidity which helps the seed survive.

Cathy Watson: Is the case closed? FMNR is good?

Patrice Savadogo: No, we need to know more to recommend the optimum density and diversity of trees to optimize crop production.

Jules Bayala: It is not closed. We need permanent plots where you go back frequently and do the same measurements and get solid data showing the trend with time.

Cathy Watson: What about the farmers?

Patrice Savadogo: In Niger, farmers now preserve trees and are very discerning. They can say, “We don’t want Acacia. The thorns puncture our bike tires.” But they preserve Balanitis despite its thorns because it is big, the leaves are sauce and fodder, and the seeds give oil. Farmers know a lot. They regenerate trees by feeding seed to livestock – some germinates better if it goes through the gut. But we need still more uptake of FMNR in Niger and across the Sahel.

This feature is part of an ongoing series about the global implementation of agroforestry, view all articles in the series here.

Reposted with permission from Mongabay.

Seeds: Farming Forever

Author: Kerry Hoffschneider | Published: June 19, 2018

It has been 100 years since Jacob and Alma Gonnerman purchased their farm in York County, Neb. on August 2, 1918. Raymond and Evelyn Gonnerman bought the same farm on February 4, 1947. Since 2004, Raymond’s grandson Scott and his wife Barb have been owners and stewards of the Gonnerman homestead.

Recently, more than 40 farmers and ranchers from across the Midwest – Iowa, Indiana to Kansas, traveled to this century farm to learn about the regenerative practices Scott and Barb have implemented to ensure their land carries on for the next 100 years and more. They also journeyed there to listen to two presenters – Christine Jones, PhD, who is an internationally-renowned soil ecologist from Australia and founder of Amazing Carbon, and Jay Fuhrer – a Soil Health Specialist from Bismarck, N.D. who represented the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Menoken Farm, a demonstration farm implementing cover crops and other regenerative practices located outside Menoken, N.D. –


Carbon Farmers Work to Clean Up the World’s Mess

Author: Dana J. Graef | Published: June 14, 2018

It was a bright afternoon in March of 2011 when I met Pedro (a pseudonym) on his organic farm in the mountains of Costa Rica, north of San José. I was there to do research on changing agricultural practices in the country. As we walked around his land, he showed me his greenhouses where lettuce, potatoes, and peppers grew. The warm air smelled earthy and sweet.

Outside, there were curving rows of carrots planted in the dark earth. He pulled some out and, after washing off clumps of dirt that were clinging to the roots, handed them to me to taste. They were different colors, and each had its own flavor—the yellow was sweeter than the white.

There was a slight breeze. The rolling landscape was vibrant and green. And there was carbon in the ground. Pedro knew it was there, and he was talking about it because of climate change.


Regeneration Guatemala Seeks to Transform Rural Guatemala Agriculture

In 2017, several members of Social Lab Guatemala, an incubator for social business, were inspired to build a national model for regenerative agriculture in Guatemala. Their inspiration led them to strategic partnerships with Regeneration International (RI) Main Street Project (MSP) and ultimately to the formation of Regeneration Guatemala.

Regeneration Guatemala’s mission is to rebuild the deteriorated social, ecological and economic systems in Guatemala by transforming the agricultural landscape through regenerative agriculture and land-use practices, with a focus on Poultry-Centered Regenerative system design.

The organization is off to a strong start. This year, a team of young entrepreneurs, farming cooperatives and rural community members are in the process of establishing five regenerative poultry farms. These five pilot projects form the centerpieces of five regional demonstration models for how to scale regenerative poultry production while simultaneously developing the regional infrastructure needed to grow a national regenerative agriculture industry. 

RI and MSP both played key roles in the launch of Regeneration Guatemala. Reginaldo Haslett-Marroquin, principal architect of the MSP poultry-centered regenerative agriculture model and an RI founding partner and steering committee member, had this to say about working with the team in Guatemala:

“As a Guatemalan immigrant living mostly in the U.S., but as someone who owes most of my training and professional capacity to the teachings of our elders and our rural community leaders in Guatemala, being able to turn around and bring all of the experience accumulated through years of learning and capacity-building back to Guatemala is really a dream come true. One must not be confused as to what I am bringing back, it is not a foreign idea, it is an idea that was born in Guatemala, in the forest and in the rural communities, which I have been able to further develop with support from people all over the world.”

Haslett-Marroquin says that Regeneration Guatemala is a story of resilience. He explains that the threat to survival caused by the agricultural systems that came out of the “green revolution” can be reversed by reclaiming and adapting traditional and ancient knowledge.

“The answer to poverty and hunger and to developing the capacity of communities to feed themselves, was right there in the communities all along. The time has come to recover what we know, use what we have learned and recall the falsehood of empty promises that corporate factory foods will nourish the world. It is time to engage nature at its best and to unplug from degenerative systems that are destroying our forests and the very ecosystems on which we depend to feed the country.”

Regeneration Guatemala is starting out with five strategically located regenerative poultry projects. But the organization envisions many more as it works to fulfill its long-term vision for achieving high-impact, large-scale change in Guatemala.

A big part of the organization’s commitment involves saving and restoring ancestral knowledge developed and curated by indigenous Mayan cultures throughout the Mesoamerican region. Their practices, production systems and native species have been handed down through generations, and conserved by their descendents, through struggle and resistance. Despite colonization and violence, history and contemporary circumstances make it critical that this ancient knowledge be preserved and put back into practice.

It isn’t just the future of Guatemala that motivates this new organization. By becoming an active contributor to the international regeneration movement, the founders and members of Regeneration Guatemala hope to do their part to help address global warming, feed the country and the world, promote public health and prosperity, and provide the foundation for creating the conditions that ensure global peace and wellbeing.

Stay tuned in for more news from Regeneration Guatemala and the growing regeneration movement around the world by signing up for the RI newsletter here

Seeds: Regenerative Gold Medal Winner

Author: Kerry Hoffschneider | Published: June 5, 2018

Colleen Fulton won a gold medal in the Public Speaking Competition at both the Nebraska District FFA and State FFA Convention competitions this year. Her speech was entitled, “Regenerative Agriculture.” However, long before Colleen achieved these awards, her father Kevin Fulton, a farmer and rancher near Litchfield, Neb., went on a journey through agriculture that led him to change to the regenerative approach that has had a lasting impact on all his children – Colleen, Cami and Timothy.

Kevin attended High School in Loup City and assumed leadership roles at a very young age – everything from FFA president, captain of the football team to president of National Honor Society. He then went to college at Kansas State University to achieve a bachelor’s degree in animal science. He later went on to graduate school where he earned a master’s degree in exercise physiology and spent 27 years in competitive weightlifting – all over the country and world. That led him to a career as the Head Strength and Conditioning coach at the University of Massachusetts.


Carbon Farming Isn’t Worth It for Farmers. Two Blockchain Companies Want to Change That

Can the tech that powers cryptocurrency spark a regenerative ag revolution?

Author: Jessica McKenzie | Published: June 4, 2018

When the price of Bitcoin skyrocketed at the end of 2017, analysts crunched the numbers and concluded that the cryptocurrency was set to consume the entire global energy supply by the end of 2020. “Mining” Bitcoin involves solving increasingly complex mathematical equations that secure the network in exchange for newly-minted cryptocurrency—which incidentally requires lots of energy. Huge server farms have popped up around the world for the express purpose of generating the virtual cash, from China to upstate New York, where one town put a moratorium on new commercial cryptocurrency mining operations to protect “the City’s natural, historic, cultural and electrical resources.”

But in spite of Bitcoin’s eco-unfriendly reputation, some organizations propose using blockchain, the technology that makes the cryptocurrency possible, to power a regenerative agricultural revolution. The ultimate goal is to reverse the flow of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere until atmospheric levels fall to a degree that scientists agree will stabilize the climate.

Regenerative agriculture describes a range of farming practices that prioritize soil health and biodiversity over short-term gains that can be derived from tilling and weeding, heavy pesticide use, or artificial fertilizers. Advocates of regenerative agriculture have long argued that holistic land management is better for the farmer and for the earth, but the movement has recently gotten a boost from interest in one of its other benefits: carbon sequestration.