In the early 1980s the Rodale Institute first used the term ‘regenerative agriculture’. This was to challenge the use of the term ‘sustainable’, as agriculture can be sustainable while not being optimal or taking the opportunity to improve. The term regenerative agriculture was used to imply continued improvement.
In 2014 the term ‘regenerative agriculture’ was then used to describe the process of sequestering carbon (capturing carbon in soils) by utilising common and inexpensive management practices similar to those used in organic farming, such as crop rotation, compost application, and reduced tillage.
Since then the term has expanded to define a conservation and rehabilitation approach to food and farming systems. It focuses on topsoil regeneration, increasing biodiversity, improving the water cycle, enhancing ecosystems, supporting biosequestration, increasing resilience to climate change, and strengthening the health and vitality of farm soil.
Soil and Soil Resilience.
More recently the term regenerative agriculture has become aligned, or associated hand in hand, with the improvement of soils, improved soil fertility, and the benefits this provides to farms and rural communities. The approach typically promoted is a holistic one, taking into account farming and grazing principles as well as crop selection, crop management (e.g. minimal till), and compost use.
The underlying principle is increasing soil organic matter which contains organic carbon. Soils with higher soil organic matter are better able to feed and support soil microbial ecosystems. Soils with increased carbon levels and microbial activity have reduced nutrient loss pathways, are better able to make nutrients available to plants, have improved nutrient cycling, are more able to absorb and hold moisture, and are better able to withstand stresses such as inundation, drought or heat.
Given the benefits derived from higher soil carbon and improved soil biology improving this aspect of soils forms a key part of any regenerative program. The use of composts, manures, or mulches supplies organic matter to soils, in turn supporting, feeding, and at times supplementing soil biology.
BioAg – Supporting your Regenerative journey.
As mentioned, there are many aspects to regenerative agriculture. Common to all is the improvement of soils. The improvement of soils is a founding principle of BioAg.
Australian soils vary significantly. Some are weathered and low in nutrients, others have been under production for generations, seen varied use of chemicals, synthetic fertilisers, and high till practices, and have varied run down of humus levels (a key component of soils, influencing their ability to respond to issues and regenerate). Therefore, each farm has its own history and as such, each farm’s soils will have its own composition, its own opportunities, and issues.
At BioAg we work with growers to; understand the status of their soils through the use of accredited soil, leaf, and tissue testing, identify the issues present, recognise the planned grazing or cropping, and understand the available resources and a farmer’s appetite for change.
We then work with the farmer to develop a program of inputs that will support the planned activity as well as deliver soil improvements year on year. The key to this approach is understanding that issues built up over years or generations cannot be rectified in a season.
Our programs look to address the chemical, structural, and biological properties of soils.
Each program seeks to:
- Address key components of soil composition such as organic matter, and the availability of minerals, major nutrients, and trace nutrients
- Accelerate improvements in soil health and biology or address issues limiting seed germination, nutrient access, plant growth, reproduction or quality with biostimulants
- Support a grower’s desire to optimise growth and production, improving root growth and dry matter production, which both sequester carbon and can be returned to the soil to build soil carbon levels
For each operation there will be different requirements. A grazing operation will target the production of forage and fodders, with dry matter and root systems sequestering carbon to build soil health and aid nutrient cycling. Whilst in crop production or permanent plantings, organic carbon may need to be imported to farm as compost or manure to help build soil carbon levels.
Whatever your farm or soil type BioAg can help build a program suited to you.
Do I need to use fertilisers?
Selling produce off the farm means you are exporting nutrients and minerals out of your soils. At some point, and in some cases this is already apparent, the reduction in available nutrients or minerals in your soils will negatively impact your productivity.
The table below shows typical nutrient consumption for various produce types. While nitrogen can be captured from the atmosphere all other nutrients need to be supplied from the soil.
How best to access these nutrients and minerals is a key part of a BioAg program
Nutrients exported per tonne of produce sent off farms (kg)
Nutrients exported with some common produce. Information sourced from charts produced by Summit Fertilizers, Impact Fertilisers and others.
A BioAg program looks at the soil’s ‘pools’ of required minerals and nutrients, and if they can be accessed by rectifying soil properties such as organic carbon levels, pH or calcium levels or, when these pools are deep within the soil profile, how best to access them. However, as production is maintained, and produce is exported from the farm even these pools of nutrient will be exhausted.
When required nutrients or minerals are depleted a BioAg program looks to maintain farm productivity by replenishing these and considers a range of possible sources.
Nutrient pools in soils
BioAg programs commonly incorporate locally available ameliorants, composts or manures in combination with one or more of BioAg’s range of natural minerals, natural fertilisers and/or fermented liquid cultures (referred to as biostimulants). For non-organic crops additional synthetic fertiliser are often included to support peak demand of nutrients such as phosphate or nitrogen.
BioAg’s core range of products is suitable for all farming systems, including organically certified operations, and can be used exclusively or in conjunction with synthetic fertilisers, limes, gypsums, composts or manures.
What can a grower or farmer expect.
Everyone who starts with regenerative agriculture will be starting from a different place, with different needs and different timelines. As such each journey will be distinct. What is known is that whatever path is chosen results are not instantaneous, they accumulate over time.
Soil parameters over 10 years with a BioAg program
This series of diagrams below depict the improvements in soil parameters associated with long term BioAg program adoption. They are from the one farm and show results from a recently acquired block to a transition block to a fully functional block. The farm is organically certified.
Each BioAg program is focused on enhancing soils and promoting healthier better yielding plants. If you have been working with BioAg then you have already taken steps along your regenerative agriculture journey.
Whatever your farming practice, we have a program that will help your farm stay productive while improving soils. Our programs have helped leading growers achieve better yield and quality in crops and livestock.
Talk to the team about how BioAg can contribute to regenerative agriculture on your farm.