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Sustainable Agroecosystems: Cropping Using Regenerative Agricultural Principles

Over the last century, intensive farming practices have had significant negative consequences for the soil and surrounding ecosystems. By disrupting the natural function of these habitats, the valuable ecosystem services they provide are compromised and are the source of the multitude of environmental issues we face as a society. Natural systems make up a complex web of interconnecting functions, with nothing operating at full health if parts of the system are damaged. Thus, we must consider these systems as a whole, examining not only how each component functions, but how they all fit together and interact in the bigger picture.

Agricultural production practices need to be guided by policies that ensure regenerative cropping and grazing management protocols to ensure long-term sustainability and ecological resilience of agroecosystems. It is not sufficient to aim at sustainability alone as we have substantially degraded our agroecosystems with negative consequences over substantial areas of the world. We need to regenerate the soil and ecosystem function.

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Trails of Regeneration: Stemple Creek Ranch Survives COVID-19 by Selling Direct to Consumers

“Trails of Regeneration” is covering the effects of COVID-19 and gathering stories from regenerative farmers, ranchers and ecosystem experts on how the world is rapidly changing and what it means for biodiversity and regenerative food, farming and land use.

 TOMALES, California — Spread of the coronavirus is causing major disruptions in the U.S. food supply chain, as several major meat processing plants have closed their doors and farmers are being forced to dump milk, break eggs and plow under perfectly good produce.

 With the closing of schools, restaurants and businesses, farmers have had to find new and creative ways to connect their products to consumers. The latest episode in our “Trails of Regeneration” video series features a rancher on the frontline of COVID-19 and his journey in adapting to the challenges posed by the pandemic.

Husband and wife, Loren and Lisa Poncia, own Stemple Creek Ranch, a 1,000-acre regenerative farm located in the coastal hills of Northern California. At the ranch, purposeful rotational grazing is key to producing high-quality pastured and humanely raised animal products. It also works to promote biodiversity by preserving sensitive wildlife habitat and restoring natural watersheds.

Like many farmers around the world, the Poncias have been hit hard by the coronavirus outbreak. In an exclusive interview with Regeneration International, Loren explains how his farm lost 95 percent of its restaurant business seemingly overnight. 

The farm’s direct-to-consumer sales, on the other hand, have increased significantly. “Our online sales are skyrocketing,” Loren told Regeneration International in a Zoom interview. He and his 15 employees—while practicing social distancing and wearing protective gear—are working around the clock to cut and package products to be shipped direct to customers. 

The couple has also seen an increase in sales at their local farmer’s markets.

 “We sell at two farmers markets in northern San Francisco that are going strong. People are coming out to buy directly from us,” said Loren. “What we noticed is that people are buying more than usual because they are no longer eating out and are forced to prepare 21 homecooked meals a week and that requires a lot of food.”

For decades, the organic regenerative food movement has advocated for more direct-to-consumer sales and better access to local food. That vision is gaining momentum amid the pandemic.  As the industrial food supply chain breaks down amid COVID-19, demand for locally produced food has surged.

 “In my local community people are united in helping and watching out for their neighbors, so we’re actually seeing a surge in solidarity,” said Loren. 

 Stemple Creek Ranch practices purposeful grazing to improve soil health

 In 2013, Stemple Creek Ranch was asked to participate in a 10-year study with the Marin Carbon Project, a consortium of independent agricultural institutions in Marin County, California. The project’s mission is to increase carbon sequestration in rangeland, agricultural and forest soils to mitigate the effects of climate change.

The Marin Carbon Project required the ranch to complete a soil assessment before applying organic compost to a portion of pastureland in an effort to increase soil carbon. The benefits were enhanced by purposefully grazing livestock, which help stomp the compost into the ground and leave behind natural fertilizer. 

On its website, the ranch says it’s “excited to be on the forefront of this ground-breaking research that is showing how best agriculture practices can harness atmospheric carbon to improve soil content on farms, and mitigate the effects of global warming.”

The regenerative practices not only build resilience on the ranch, but they also help educate consumers and get them excited about where their food comes from, said Loren, adding that it’s a win-win for food and farming, human health and the environment. 

“Smallhold regenerative farmers are a resilient bunch and we can get through this because we have all the fertility we need on our farm,” Loren said.

“With COVID-19, we are seeing provisions for inputs such as chemical fertilizers and pesticides getting tighter, and their distribution becoming more complicated. Hopefully, it will push some to look at using compost, worm teas and the greatness of soil health, adopting things like they were before World War II when we didn’t need to use chemicals.”

Despite the challenges, farming in a pandemic has presented the ranch with new opportunities to evolve its business model. The internet has been especially helpful, giving farmers and ranchers around the world the ability to share their successes and failures with one another. 

“We’ve been able to learn from each other by sharing ideas and learning from one another’s mistakes,” said Loren. “I think there’s a lot of really good things that could take off for small-scale agriculturists around the world.”

As far as the quarantine goes, Loren said there’s no other place he would rather be than confined to his ranch with his family. 

“I am really enjoying the fact that I am confined with my family and that I am eating three meals a day with my family and appreciating the bounty we are able to partake on a daily basis,” Loren said. 

“We are adapting and changing to the challenges, trials and tribulations that keep heading in our direction, with things we can’t even predict. So work is very hard, long and stressful but we are making more time to break bread as a family and eat together, which is really awesome.”

Oliver Gardiner is Regeneration International’s media producer and coordinator for Asia and Europe. To keep up with Regeneration International news, sign up for our newsletter.

Tierras ricas en carbono pueden evitar catástrofes climáticas

ARLINGTON, Estados Unidos, 31 mar 2020 (IPS) – Las tierras ricas en carbono, en bosques, turberas y humedales, pueden ahorrarle al planeta una catástrofe climática, a condición de que no se destruyan ni se degraden, advirtió una investigación de la organización Conservation International divulgada este martes 31.

El carbono irrecuperable se encuentra en seis de los siete continentes en que la organización divide el planeta, incluidas grandes reservas en la Amazonia, en la cuenca del Congo, Indonesia, el noroeste de América del Norte, el sur de Chile, el sudeste de Australia y en Nueva Zelanda.

La investigación, dirigida por los científicos Allie Goldstein y Will Turner, destacó que “el mundo necesita que el carbono irrecuperable que contienen estas tierras, más de 260 000 millones de toneladas, se quede en el suelo”, para alcanzar la meta de emisiones cero requerida en el planeta para el año 2050.

En cambio, si se libera a la atmósfera a través de la destrucción del ecosistema, este carbono generaría 26 veces las emisiones globales de combustible fósil de 2019.

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Nature’s Waste Becomes the Soil’s Nourishment

A new way to compost

For less than one dollar per acre, a composting bioreactor increases crop yield, nutrition and biological diversity in fields.

Usually composting means gathering discarded fruits and vegetables and having them decompose into healthy materials for the soil. But recently, a new composting method has evolved – a practice that uses a specific blend of grasses and leaves.

A little more than six years ago, David C. Johnson, a faculty affiliate at the Center for Regenerative Agriculture at California State University – Chico, discovered a new way of composting – he invented the Johnson-Su Composting Bioreactor. Since then, he’s fine-tuned, tested and experimented with this low-cost unit, and he has asked others to join him.

Isaac Broeckelman, a soil conservation technician at NRCS in South Hutchinson, decided to do just that. He is building a few bioreactors and getting ready to see how they work in Kansas weather.

Next fall, he plans to present a workshop on how to build and use these inexpensive tools.

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Natural Solutions to the Climate Crisis? One-quarter Is All down to Earth

Joint research conducted by the Nature Conservancy and the Kunming Institute of Botany, Chinese Academy of Sciences, calculated the carbon-storing power of global soils and showcased approaches like agroforestry designed to capitalise on untapped potential.

A critical, nature-based approach to mitigating  has been right at our feet all along, according to a new study reporting that soil represents up 25% of the total global potential for  (NCS) – approaches that absorb CO2 from the atmosphere and lock it into landscapes, including forests, croplands and peatlands.

Representing the first time soil’s total global potential for carbon-mitigation across forests, wetlands, agriculture and grasslands together has been cataloged, the study provides a timely reminder not to neglect the power of soils and the many benefits these ecosystems can deliver for climate, wildlife and agriculture.

Published in the journal Nature Sustainability, the study is titled “The role of soil carbon in natural climate solutions.” The research also argues that a lack of clarity to date regarding the full scale of this opportunity and how to best capitalize on it has restricted investment.

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Healthy Soils Lead to Healthy Food and Added Value for All

It’s been said that America has the most plentiful, safe and nutritious food supply in the world. In 2018, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service reported that 89.9% of U.S. households were food secure throughout the year, with 11.1% of households reporting some food insecurity at least some time during the year, an improvement over the prior year.

On a global scale, the ERS published its annual International Food Security Assessment in November. Given projections for increasing per capita incomes and lower food prices, food security is expected to improve in all 76 low- and middle-income countries studied over the next 10 years. And the share of people unable to reach the nutritional target is projected to decline from 19% in 2019 to 9% over the next decade of the regional populations. That’s a decline of 45%.

With our vast natural resources and our breadth of food and agriculture research, American farmers can grow enough to feed our own nation and many others.

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Soil Carbon: The Secret Weapon to Battle Climate Change?

Human society is literally built on soil. It feeds the world and produces vital fuel and fiber. But most people rarely give soil a second thought.

Recently, though, soil has been getting some well-deserved attention from environmental organizations, policymakers and industry leaders. It has been covered in news articles, argued over in policy debates and has even received an international day of recognition.

Why all this attention? Because the world urgently needs ways to keep carbon out of the atmosphere, and to build food security for a rapidly growing global population. Soil can do both.

However, current efforts to promote carbon storage in soil miss a key point: Not all soil carbon is the same. As scientists focusing on soil ecology and sustainability, we believe that managing soil carbon effectively requires taking its differences into account.

Soil carbon is amazingly complex

Building up soil carbon can help cut greenhouse gas concentrations in the air. It also improves soil quality in many ways: It gives soil structure, stores water and nutrients that plants need and feeds vital soil organisms.

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Down Under

Australia is salty, flat, and mostly dry. Repeated submerging by the ocean over the eons combined with a lack of geological uplift (necessary for weathering rock into topsoil) created thin, nutrient-poor soils that were rapidly depleted by a pattern of colonial agricultural designed for the wet climes of England. Plow, cow, sheep, gun, dog, fox, rabbit, and tractor – all exotic – transformed Australia’s fragile ecosystem into a ravished landscape of eroding gullies, denuded flora, and declining native fauna. The advent of industrialized crop and livestock production after World War II made things worse as tilling and overgrazing continued to deplete what remained of the soil’s fertility.

As I saw on my trip, however, a corner had been turned in Australia’s assault on its soil. On a sheep farm in northwest New South Wales called Winona, owned by Colin Seis, I learned that not only are Australians re-hydrating the soil of their depleted continent but they are re-carbonizing it as well.

 

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Why It’s Time to Stop Treating the Soil Like Dirt

• We risk losing the world’s topsoil within 60 years.

• Tens of millions of farmers could provide an incremental transformation of soil care.

• Businesses are underestimating the impact of nature loss.

One of my greatest joys is to see first-hand the many solutions already created to help solve the climate crisis. One of my greatest frustrations, however, is our inability to apply these solutions at scale.

2019 was the year that nature and land use made it to the top of the global agenda. It became clear that we will not meet the Paris Agreement if we don’t solve broken food and land-use systems.

Land degradation is affecting 3.2 billion people, and for far too long this has gone under the radar. This must change in 2020. If not, we risk that all the world’s topsoil be eroded in the next 60 years.

Healthy soil is a resource of incredible magnitude. It captures and stores water and carbon, increases biodiversity, and it preserves and increases food security.

Un uso apropiado de la tierra podría reducir drásticamente las emisiones globales

El uso de la tierra es ampliamente conocido como un factor importante detrás del cambio climático. Un nuevo documento proporciona una hoja de ruta ambiciosa para los cambios en el manejo forestal, la agricultura y la bioenergía para garantizar que los aumentos de temperatura global se mantengan por debajo del objetivo de calentamiento de 1.5 ° C.

Publicado en Nature Climate Change, el estudio explora medidas clave que pueden reducir a la mitad las emisiones del sector terrestre cada década desde 2020 hasta 2050. Partiendo de modelos climáticos, el estudio sugiere 24 prácticas que pueden proporcionar las mayores reducciones de emisiones y otros beneficios colaterales.

Los autores enfatizan el potencial de seis áreas de acción prioritarias:

(1) reducir la deforestación; (2) restaurar bosques y otros ecosistemas, particularmente en países tropicales; (3) mejorar el manejo forestal y la agrosilvicultura; (4) mejorar el secuestro de carbono del suelo en la agricultura; (5) reducir el desperdicio de alimentos de los consumidores y (6) hacer que una de cada cinco personas cambie a dietas bajas en carnes.

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