Co-Benefits of Regenerative Agriculture: Beyond Carbon Sequestration

How regenerative agriculture practices can

help us reach global climate targets while restoring soils, supporting biodiversity, and more.

Regenerative agriculture (“regenerative ag”) is gaining recognition as a sustainable alternative to conventional farming that helps mitigate climate change and offers a wide range of co-benefits. While carbon sequestration is a well-known advantage of regenerative agriculture — with the potential to help keep global heating within the 1.5-degree Celsius target — there are several other positive outcomes that make regenerative ag a critical climate investment today.

Let’s dive into some of the key benefits of regenerative ag to understand what these farming practices could accomplish at scale, how nature restoration can buy us time to scale more permanent carbon removal technologies (IPCC), and how to support farmers implementing these practices.

Improving Agricultural Soils to Help Reach Global Climate Targets

A few critical improvements to agricultural soils could contribute to limiting global warming to within 1.5 degrees Celsius, the aspirational target set out in the Paris Agreement.

Improved soils could sequester more than a gigaton of carbon dioxide per year — a significant amount relative to the 10-gigaton-per-year target that scientists predict will need to be removed annually by 2050 to keep up with climate targets.

Healthy soils act as a natural carbon sink, capturing and storing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Regenerative farming practices like cover cropping, crop rotation, and reduced tilling can enhance soil's capacity to sequester carbon, as opposed to intensive farming practices that exacerbate greenhouse gas emissions.

With more adoption among farmers, regenerative ag can reach pivotal CO2 sequestration levels that limit global temperature rise and consequently help to avoid environmental tipping points related to climate change.

Soil Carbon Co-benefits: Improving Soil Health, Biodiversity, and More

Soil carbon sequestration, via regenerative agriculture or other methods, is critical for climate change mitigation and adaptation. Building and preserving soil carbon promotes a host of benefits provided by soil organic matter (SOM). Some noteworthy benefits include:

  • Enhanced Soil Health, Fertility, and Nutrient Use Efficiency: Soil health is defined as “the continued capacity of soil to function as a vital living ecosystem that sustains plants, animals, and humans.” By employing practices such as cover cropping, crop rotation, and reduced tillage, regenerative farmers create a favorable environment for beneficial soil organisms and microorganisms. This leads to increased organic matter content and improved nutrient cycling, which can help reduce dependence on greenhouse gas-intensive fertilizers and enhance crop yield per unit of land — a concept known as sustainable intensification.
  • Improved Soil Structure: The practices involved in regenerative agriculture can significantly improve soil structure. A better soil structure promotes plant growth and can increase the land's resilience against various forms of degradation. Improved soil structure also supports:
  • Resistance to Erosion: Soil erosion, whether from wind or water, can lead to the breakdown of soil aggregates and release greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Regenerative agriculture practices can protect against erosion by improving soil structure and maintaining the carbon-rich topsoil.
  • Improved Soil Water Dynamics: Healthy soil is like a sponge, efficiently absorbing rainwater, reducing the need for irrigation, and enabling regenerative farmers to use less water on their land. Regenerative practices can improve soil structure which can enhance soil water dynamics like infiltration, filtration, and water-holding capacity. This can improve the soil's resilience against drought and other forms of water stress.
  • Improved Air and Water Quality: Conventional farming can threaten watersheds and pollute drinking water when nitrogen-rich fertilizers and toxic pesticides and herbicides run off fields into nearby creeks and streams. Regenerative practices like cover cropping can lead to improved air and water quality by reducing the runoff of harmful chemicals — especially since regenerative practices often utilize fewer chemicals than conventional practices overall
  • Support for Soil Biodiversity: Soil is home to an immense variety of organisms like bacteria, fungi, insects, and worms. These organisms play key roles in ecosystem functions such as residue decomposition, carbon and nitrogen cycling, and disease resistance. Regenerative practices like reduced tillage can help support and enhance this soil biodiversity by minimizing disturbances to soil life.
  • Enhanced Ecosystem Biodiversity and Conservation: Diverse crop rotations and intercropping methods provide food and shelter for a variety of insects, birds, and small mammals, which contribute to natural pest control.
  • Nutrient-Dense Food Production: By focusing on soil health and biodiversity, regenerative agriculture promotes the production of nutrient-dense food. Healthy soils produce crops with higher levels of essential nutrients, resulting in more nutritious food options for consumers. Additionally, regenerative practices can help minimize the use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, reducing chemical residues in food and supporting sustainable and healthy dietary choices

Regenerative agriculture practices hold significant potential to not only sequester carbon and mitigate climate change but also deliver a host of other ecological and economic benefits. It's a climate solution that promotes a more sustainable and resilient food system.

The Time for Regenerative Agriculture is Now

Regenerative agriculture presents a tangible, readily available strategy to tackle climate change. While the development of permanent carbon removal technologies is crucial for our long-term climate strategy, the IPCC mitigation strategies support nature restoration ASAP — especially since the technology to do so already exists. By focusing on improving the health and carbon-storing capacity of our soils now, we are buying ourselves time—time for research, time for innovation, and time for the gradual deployment of future carbon dioxide removal solutions.

Expanding regenerative ag practices requires collective action from farmers, businesses, policymakers, and industry leaders — we all have a part to play.

The State of Regenerative Agriculture Adoption

Despite the compelling benefits of regenerative agriculture and its critical role in avoiding tipping elements, farms using regenerative practices are still the minority in the United States.

Several barriers deter farmers from transitioning to regenerative practices;

  • The financial risk associated with changing farming practices
  • Lack of technical knowledge and support
  • The initial yield dip often associated with the transition period
  • Market systems that favor conventional farming

Farmers are on the front lines of this transformation, but they cannot do it alone. Businesses play a critical role by funding regenerative ag in their supply chain and integrating carbon credits into their budgets and climate portfolios. Policymakers and industry leaders also need to create an enabling environment that encourages adopting these practices, through supportive policies, funding, research, and education.

How Your Business Can Support Regenerative Agriculture and Make a Positive Climate Impact

Businesses can help catalyze the transition to regenerative agriculture. When possible, you can opt to source from regenerative farmers when there is agriculture in your supply chain. You can also purchase regenerative ag-based carbon removal credits — like Nori Regenerative Tonnes, which represent carbon stored in the soil for at least ten years and get farmers paid for regenerative practices.

By buying Regenerative Tonnes, you provide a financial incentive for more farmers to adopt and maintain these practices. This creates a virtuous cycle where increasing demand for carbon credits drives more regenerative farming, leading to more carbon sequestration, healthier soils, and a more sustainable agricultural sector.

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