When thinking of dirt (unless as a soil scientist), one doesn’t think of a complex and interconnected community of microorganisms, insects, and other biota. As it turns out, this is exactly where modern, industrialized agriculture’s issues begin. It’s also where the most impact on climate instability has its roots and where solutions may be found.
Regenerative agriculture or farming is a growing trend with an abundance of scientific evidence to support it. This may be the key to undoing the undesirable climate situation the world is currently facing. However, a little bit of context is required. Industrialized agriculture is based on an input model. Like most science of the 20th century, it seeks to break things down to their simplest elements.
While it’s not a terrible approach for some things, when it comes to farming, inputs (such as single elements like nitrogen) don’t necessarily function the same way in nature as they do in the laboratory. Essentially, the industrial approach robs the soil of vital nutrients, strips it with chemical herbicides and pesticides, over-farms it, and then seeks to put back single elements. The result is a grey-brown dust where nothing lives and a 50 gigaton carbon output.
Regenerative agriculture or farming is all about putting those nutrients back into the soil naturally and reestablishing the soil communities. These communities are more robust. Not only are the plants healthier, but they offer greater nutrition in their edible parts for both humans and animals. The sequestration of carbon in an active, healthy soil matrix is one of the largest benefits of this practice.
However, it’s important to understand that the term doesn’t refer to a single practice but to a suite of practices. No single approach alone will solve the issue of an unstable climate. One practice involves sequestration of carbon in a healthy soil matrix.
Critics point out that it’s not a feasible strategy in order to reduce carbon emissions. However, looking at the suite of practices, reducing reliance on artificially fixed carbon, a technology that requires an enormous amount of fossil fuel in order to be effective, could well be one step towards a more stable climate.
While there is some sense to critics’ claims, they often negate to mention artificial nitrogen, the overall impacts of soil depletion and erosion, and other factors. This, like soil, is not a single-issue debate. It cannot be reduced to a simple one-to-one matter.