5+1 Principles of Regenerative Agriculture - Part 1

Marek Pytlík
May 11, 2021
Regenerative agriculture

Regenerative agriculture is a holistic method of soil management that harnesses the power of photosynthesis in plants to store carbon in the soil, enhancing soil health and crop resilience. In particular, it improves soil health and quality through practices that increase soil organic matter, which helps increase the diversity and quantity of soil biota, the availability of nutrients, and the soil's ability to retain water.

The basic principle is to mimic nature and its ecological and biological processes and relationships as closely as possible. These self-renewing and self-regulating principles make it possible to increase the resilience and health of the ecosystem. Since they have been operating long before the advent of humans, it is appropriate to take them into account and work with them instead of against them.

Sunlight, water, minerals, plants, mammals, insects, and microorganisms ideally work in harmony. Unfortunately, most of the current production model today is about man trying to impose his will on nature. As producers, we have adopted the current model, which leads to land degradation. But if we follow nature's template, we can use the five principles of a healthy ecosystem to regenerate our resources and the environment we live in. Below we will first briefly present them all, and then individually - in more detail - in the following blog articles. We have added one more bonus principle that should be part of the thinking of every good farmer.

The 5+1 principle of regenerative agriculture:

  • Continuous coverage of the soil surface
  • Minimum amount of mechanical and chemical soil disturbance
  • Maximum diversity of plants, animals, insects, and soil biota
  • Aim to have living roots in the soil ideally all year round
  • Integration of livestock on the soil
  • Be receptive to nature and its processes

Principle #1: Minimal soil disturbance

In nature, tillage does not naturally occur for certain reasons. We too should minimize soil disturbance and reduce mechanical tilling, chemical inputs (plant protection products), fertilizers, and other practices that harm living and non-living soil components.

Mechanical processing of any kind

  • has a negative effect on soil structure
  • has a negative effect on water absorption (surface runoff & water erosion)
  • has a negative effect on soil organic matter content
  • has a negative effect on the micro- and macro-edaphon

Plant protection products and synthetic fertilizers

  • adversely affect arthropod and insect life
  • negatively affect soil fungi populations (reduction of mycorrhiza) and bacteria
  • may also have a negative effect on the growing crops (leaf burn, etc.)

Soil is an ecosystem that has evolved over the time into a highly sophisticated and efficient system of mutually supportive symbioses. However, this system has been disrupted by human intervention and it is now necessary to restore the soil's natural properties, step by step, in order to restore its fertility. The ideal is to start applying minimal tillage and sowing or planting into mulch, stubble, or directly into the support crop (whose growth has either frozen or been rolled by the cutting rollers or chemically treated).

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Principle #2: Covering the soil surface

It is necessary and essential to keep the soil covered throughout the year, whether it is plant debris or living vegetation. As is the case in nature, which is constantly trying to cover the soil surface. In natural conditions, we do not normally encounter exposed soil, except in upheavals and landslides.

Continuous vegetation ground coverage

  • reduces water erosion
  • reduces wind erosion
  • protects against high temperatures (reducing soil drying and soil micro-organism activity)
  • helps increase soil organic matter content (an energy source for soil biome)

Continuous vegetation cover can be achieved by firstly minimizing mechanical tillage and secondly by growing cover crops (sometimes also referred to as intercrops) ideally in a multi-species mixture.

Auxiliary crops

  • increase biodiversity (attract beneficial insects and pollinators)
  • cover the soil surface and thus prevent overheating of the soil
  • build soil aggregates together with bacteria and fungi
  • increase soil organic matter
  • participate in the nutrient cycle
  • provide food and shelter for organisms
  • suppress weed growth
  • convert solar energy to our benefit (even when it would otherwise be unused)
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