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What does “regenerative” mean to the farmer?

October 18, 2019

When we hear the term “regenerative farming” we 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.

Farmer Aaron says that “There’s nothing that builds soil like a cow.” 

The farmer’s 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. The farmer’s 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, the farmer uses 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). 

The farmer hires 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. He typically adds calcium on some pastures, sulfur and boron almost everywhere, sometimes zinc and copper, and even molybdenum one year.

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.

The farmer knows that his pastures are really what he’s growing. It all starts there. He’s a grass farmer. He’s seen big results from meticulously maintaining his fields. 

He has fatter and healthier animals that shock state ag representatives and veterinarians when they learn they are fed 100% grass. 

He 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 farmer wants to not only keep it that way but improve the land the best he can. 

To our farmer, regeneration means maintaining his fields by animals grazing and pooping and closely monitoring its mineral content. 

It all comes from the ground up!

Marie Reedell