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Regenerative Agriculture: An introduction

Updated: Feb 19, 2020

The term Regenerative Agriculture is becoming widely used in all circles of modern-day agriculture – academics, famers, consultants and service agents to the agricultural industry are all using this term to suit their way of researching, producing or selling their products.

But what exactly is Regenerative Agriculture?

Written by Simon Hodgson

To understand a regenerative agro-ecological system one must look to how nature manages soil, which is the basis of any production system.

As agriculturalists we seldom give as much attention to how nature does this as we should, relying more on a scientific as opposed to a natural approach – however, these natural methods should form the basis of our approach to soil fertility. So, what then are the main principles underlying nature's approach to agriculture?

To start, mixed species farming is the rule – plants are always found in connection with animals – from the simplest invertebrates to mammals, where many species form a diverse community which coexists. The vegetable kingdom exhibits similarities in that monoculture is never attempted and mixed species are the rule.

The soil is always protected from direct action of the elements – sun, wind and rain – to ensure as far as possible nothing is lost. With full cover maximum use of sunlight for photosynthesis is achieved. The leaves of plants covering the soil break up rain drop velocity and effect into a fine spray which is gentler on where it falls. Full cover also reduces the destructive effects of high-speed erosive winds.

With the slowing down of the water by mulch or crop residues – moisture is conserved in the top layers of soil. Infiltration rate is increased and is slowly transferred to the subsoil levels for storage. Humus and organic matter rich soils absorb water as would a sponge. There is reduced runoff and what does runoff is slowed down and does not have as much of an erosive effect as it would on bare soil. No water is wasted.

A covered soil makes its own fertility. Microbes thrive and recycle plant and animal wastes into mineral rich compounds which the plants in those soils can use. These processes are speeded up by temperature and moisture. They are sanitary – no offensive smells, no flies, no need for sewerage systems or rubbish removal. The system regenerates itself.

Organic matter is broken down and eventually forms humus. The soil carries a large reserve of mineral nutrients and there is no hand to mouth existence in how nature manages its farming system – the crops and livestock look after themselves. Nature has never found it necessary to design the equivalent of a spraying machine to apply fungicides or insecticides to control fungus, bacterial or insect problems.

There are diseases and pests in the system, but these are kept in balance and under control by the diversity present in the ecosystem.

So, if one were to try and define Regenerative agriculture it may be summed up as follows:

“A farming system where monoculture does not exist, and animals of some form are included in the system. Great lengths are gone to, to preserve the soil by keeping it covered all the time with either living plants or crop residues to prevent wind and water erosion. The mixed animal and vegetable leftovers are converted into plant available compounds and nothing is wasted. Concentrated care is taken to improve water infiltration rates and water holding capacity. Rebuilding and restoring balances where pests and diseases are controlled resulting in ever increasing soil fertility”.

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