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Regenerative Agriculture Initiative, Chico State University: Grazing for Change co-host

The Initiative for Regenerative Agriculture is comprised of a working group of multi-disciplinary faculty, community, and industry members who have come together to develop collaborative research and teaching strategies for primary purpose of drawing down legacy levels of greenhouse gas emissions through carbon sequestration and ecosystem service restoration. This science based effort will have far reaching implications across disciplines in areas of climate and food policy, agricultural husbandry practices, food justice, business models, as well as local food sheds. The intent of this group is to spur the creation of an educational focus investigating agriculture that restores climate stability from a transdisciplinary perspective and ultimately to share best practices from the initiative’s research efforts with society and the broader agricultural community.

 

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What is Regenerative Agriculture?

 

“Regenerative agriculture” describes farming practices that reverse climate change by rebuilding soil organic matter while also restoring soil biodiversity.”

 

Specifically, Regenerative Agriculture regenerates or builds fertile topsoil, primarily through the practices that increase soil organic matter.  This essential soil nutrient not only aids in increasing soil biota diversity and health, but increases biodiversity both above and below the soil surface, while increasing water holding capacity, sequestering carbon thus drawing down climate damaging levels of CO2, and improving soil structure to reverse civilization-threatening human-caused soil loss. Research continues to reveal the damaging effects to soil from tillage, chemical applications, and carbon mining that modern agriculture has super-imposed on a living biological system. Regenerative agriculture reverses this paradigm to build for the future. The goal of regenerative agriculture is to enhance the quality and resilience of our vital agricultural system, while helping to mitigate shifting climate conditions through the improvement soil health by increasing organic matter, nutrient and water retention, biodiversity and disease resistance.

There are four goals of the RAI:

 

  • Research.

Furthering research in the area of soil building and carbon sequestration will remain at the forefront of this effort to inform farmers, policy makers, and the general consuming public as to most effective practices to reduce atmospheric GHG levels and soil fertility insuring food security.

 

  • Education.

Providing experiential learning opportunities in regenerative agriculture to students and offering public forum to the broader community.

 

  • Policy.

To support the dialogue for social change policy that provides incentives for farmers and ranchers to sequester carbon will be researched and developed.

 

  • Extension and Collaboration.

Developing open source platforms and collaboration with other universities, companies, and individuals will be developed to insure rapid dissemination of best practices and early adoption.  Additionally, reaching out to farming communities to offer courses, demonstration sites, and dialogue will remain at the center of this initiatives efforts.

Regenerative agricultural practices are:

 

Practices that (i) contribute to generating/building soils and soil fertility and health; (ii) increase water percolation, water retention, and clean and safe water runoff; (iii) increase biodiversity and ecosystem health and resiliency; and (iv) invert the carbon emissions of conventional agriculture to one of remarkably significant carbon sequestration cleansing the atmosphere of legacy levels of CO2.

 

  • No-till/minimum tillage.  

Tillage breaks up (pulverizes) soil aggregation and fungal communities while adding excess O2 to the soil for increased respiration and CO2 emission. It is one of the most degrading agricultural practices greatly increasing soil erosion and carbon loss. Conversely, no-till/minimum tillage, in conjunction with other regenerative practices, enhances soil aggregation, water infiltration and retention, and carbon sequestration.

 

  • Increase Soil Fertility.

Soil fertility is increased in regenerative systems biologically through application of cover crops, compost, and animal manures, which restore the plant/soil microbiome to promote liberation, transfer, and cycling of essential soil nutrients.  Artificial and synthetic fertilizers have created imbalances in the structure and function of microbial communities in soils, bypassing the natural biological acquisition of nutrients for the plants, creating a dependent agroecosystem and weaker, less resilient plants.  Research has observed that application of synthetic and artificial fertilizers contribute to climate change through (i) the energy costs of production and transportation of the fertilizers, (ii) chemical breakdown and migration into water resources and the atmosphere; (iii) the distortion of soil microbial communities including the diminution of soil methanothrops, and (iv) the accelerated decomposition of soil organic matter.

 

  • Build Biological Diversity.

Increasing biological ecosystem diversity begins with inoculation of soils with composts to restore soil microbial community population, structure and functionality restoring soil system energy (C-compounds as exudates) through full-time planting of multiple crop inter-crop plantings, multispecies cover crops, and borders planted for bee habitat and other beneficial insects. This can include the highly successful push-pull systems. It is critical to eliminate synthetic nutrient dependent monocultures, low-biodiversity and soil degrading practices.

 

  • Managed Intensive Grazing/Holistic Planned Grazing.

Well-managed grazing practices stimulate improved plant growth, increased soil carbon deposits, and overall pasture and grazing land productivity while greatly increasing soil fertility, insect and plant biodiversity, and soil carbon sequestration as the most critical elements of regenerating livestock and farming systems. These practices not only improve ecological health, but also the health of the animal and human consumer through improved micro-nutrients availability and better dietary omega balances. Feed lots and confined animal feeding systems contribute dramatically to (i)unhealthy monoculture production systems, (ii) low nutrient density forage (iii) increased water pollution, (iv) antibiotic usage and resistance, and (v) CO2 and methane emissions, all of which together yielding broken and ecosystem-degrading food-production systems.

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