Regenerative is a new farming buzzword. What does “regenerative” mean to our farmers?
February 16, 2024
*Originally published on 10/18/19. Updated on 2/16/24.
We've been farming regeneratively since before "regenerative" was a buzzword. Did you know General Mills is hopping on the bandwagon?
When you hear the term “regenerative farming” you may have a specific vision in mind. Maybe you think about Joel Salatin’s animal rotations or biodynamic growing principles or planting micro-clover in your lawn.
The truth is that the word “regenerative” means something different to every grower.
The definition of regeneration is the renewal or restoration of a biological system after injury or a normal process. Whether organic or conventional, the process of growing food changes the soil. That’s a fact. But, how you practice regeneration and make sure the soil stays healthy varies.
There are many ways to regenerate your land, and it really depends on so many factors. First, you need to consider the quality of the soil, what you’re growing, the weather, and especially the soil history. Second, you need to consider your goal - remediating chemical residues, just enough regeneration get a good enough yield, creating a vibrant biodiversity, etc. Third, you need to consider your budget and what tests or supplementation or practices you can afford.
Aaron, the owner of Miller's Bio Farm, says that “There’s nothing that builds soil like a cow.”
Our farmers' fields are mostly maintained and regenerated by the cows grazing and pooping. That manure is the secret to healthy fields. Manure, manure, and more manure. Our farmers' Amish forefathers have known that simple truth for many generations, from at least the time they lived in Switzerland.
Since soil is complex, in addition to cows, our farmers use the Albrecht method of soil management to ensure the best quality pastures.
The Albrecht method is an area of soil science that takes into account the soil biology and creating the most ideal environment for plants to grow with the highest yield and highest nutrient content (those two go hand in hand).
Our farmers hire a soil specialist, who takes soil samples and has a variety of specific tests run. Each pasture is tested separately. The soil specialist then analyzes the results and makes recommendations to the farmer to add specific minerals to his fields.
The farmer adds all organic (non-synthetic) minerals. It's typical to add calcium on some pastures, sulfur and boron almost everywhere, sometimes zinc and copper, and even a random mineral like molybdenum some years.
It’s important that there’s no deficiency or excess of minerals. It’s a delicate balance that must be maintained to get proper yield and nutrition.
Our farmers know that pastures are really what they're growing. It all starts there. They're grass farmers. And, they've seen big results from meticulously maintaining their fields. They pay close attention and let it rest as needed.
Our farmers have fatter and healthier animals that shock state ag representatives and veterinarians when they learn they are fed 100% grass.
With healthier animals, you get stellar manure (AKA liquid gold). In fact, a couple of years ago, Aaron gave a neighboring farm doing things conventionally some of his excess manure. Even though the farm was about a mile away, you could visibly see the difference. Our nutrient-dense manure grew plants feet higher than those fertilized with conventional manure. Wow!
Aaron has seen cows go from lame to not lame when their feed is improved.
For example, he had a challenge when he switched his herd to 100% grass. Some of his cows developed osteoporosis and calcium deficiency. After he added minerals to his fields and had better forage, the cows got better. A nutrient-dense diet is so powerful.
The opposite of regeneration is neglect and deconstruction. Farmer addiction to glyphosate and NPK are real.
Money hungry companies capitalize on the deep rooted issue of farmers not being adequately compensated for their hard work. Oh here - if you just plant these GMO seeds and use this chemical fertilizer and spray this glyphosate-based herbicide, your yield will grow 200%. Sounds like a dream right? Well, it’s actually a nightmare.
Plants grown in soil contaminated with glyphosate cannot absorb as many minerals. This results in an abundance of low quality food. This mineral deficiency passes to the animals that eat the forage and their manure that’s used to fertilize. It’s a downward spiral of soil infertility that negatively affects the health of the plants, animals, and humans.
The same can be said for the NPK method of growing. Sure, nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium are super important when growing plants. However, that’s not all that’s needed. The soil’s biodiversity is so complex.
Soil is complex and even one year of misuse can take a decade to rebuild.
When a farmer is given land that is under-nourished, it takes about 10 years to rebuild that soil back to good health with crops and manure.
In the 1950s in Quarryville, there was a saying that a crow needed to pack its lunch to fly over. However, after decades of manure and many farms following organic growing practices, it now provides a nice lunch for a crow.
Our farmers want to not only keep it that way but improve the land the best they can.
To our farmers, regeneration means maintaining their fields by animals grazing and pooping and closely monitoring their mineral content.
It all comes from the ground up! After all, healthy soil makes healthy plants, which make healthy animals, which make healthy humans, which make a healthy planet.
What are your views on regenerative farming? Is this something you demand when shopping for food?