LaCanne and Lundgren (2018), Regenerative agriculture: merging farming and natural resource conservation profitably. PeerJ 6:e4428; DOI 10.7717/peerj.4428
This recent scientific paper produced several fascinating findings.
- Regenerative farming systems provided greater ecosystem services and profitability for farmers than an input intensive model of production.
- Pests were 10-fold more abundant in insecticide treated fields than on insecticide-free regenerative farms
- Pest abundance is lower in fields that have greater insect diversity, enhanced biological network strength and greater community evenness.
- Suggested mechanisms to explain how diversity and network interactions reduce pests include
- Other processes that may not be easily predicted (i.e. the advantage of ecological diversity and complexity)
- In other studies, farmers that replaced insecticide use with agronomic forms of plant diversity invariably had fewer pest problems than those with strict monocultures.
- Reducing insect diversity and relying solely on insecticide use establishes a scenario whereby pests persist and resurge through adaptation
- Other agronomically sound practices applied to improve the resilience of systems to pest proliferation include:
- Winter cover crops
- Lengthening crop rotations
- Diverse field margins using conservation mixes; and
- Utilising non-crop plants between crop rows
Farmers who proactively design pest-resilient food systems outperform farmers that react to pests chemically
- Regenerative fields had 78% higher profits over industrial production fields. Nearly twice the profit for regenerative over conventional.
- Regenerative fields implemented three or more practices such as planting a multispecies cover crop, eliminating pesticide use, abandoning tillage, and integrating livestock onto the cropping ground.
- Profit was positively correlated with the particulate organic matter (POM) of the soil, not yield
- POM is biologically and chemically active and is part of the labile (easily decomposable) pool of soil organic matter (SOM).
- Organic matter is considered the basis for productivity in the soil.
- SOM increases water infiltration rates and supports greater microbial and animal abundance and diversity
- The only way to generate SOM in situ in cropland is through fostering biology, which inherently is driven by plant communities through sequestration of CO₂ from the atmosphere
- Eliminating tillage, implementing cover crops and cycling plant residue through livestock all enhance this process and are important practices used in regenerative food systems that raise POM in the soil.
- By promoting soil biology, organic matter and biodiversity, regenerative farmers required fewer expensive inputs such as biocides and fertilisers, and managed their pest populations more effectively.
- Soil organic matter is a more important driver of farm profitability than yields.