Regenerative Agriculture & No Till: A Compelling Climate Solution

Regenerative agriculture is a holistic land management practice that seeks to regenerate topsoil health, increase biodiversity, enhance ecosystem services, and increase resilience to climate change, among other things. The guiding principle behind regenerative agriculture is to improve the resources we use instead of destroying or depleting them. One great example of a regenerative agricultural practice that has great potential for climate adaptation as well as mitigation is no-till farming.

No-till farming is a style of regenerative farming where the soil is left completely undisturbed, allowing for the natural microbiome of the soil to grow and thrive. In conventional farming, the soil is tilled (the process of turning over and breaking up the top 6-12 inches of soil) in order to get rid of weeds and make the soil softer and easier to plant in, but also leaving the soil infertile and bare of any beneficial bacteria and microorganisms. While there are some benefits to tilling, there are also many reasons that farmers choose to go the no-till route.

When doing no-till farming, the best way to keep weeds at bay and retain a healthy soil moisture level is to use layers of mulch such as wood chips, grass clippings, or straw. This allows the moisture to pass easily through to the soil while also keeping it shaded and moist. Because of the use of mulch, there is much less water wasted in a no-till garden.

Soil naturally sequesters (stores) carbon under its surface, and when that carbon is brought to the surface via tilling, it can temporarily provide nutrients for crops, but as soon as the carbon in the soil is introduced to oxygen in the air, it turns into carbon dioxide that then enters the atmosphere which contributes to the GHGs that warm the planet (climate change). By keeping soil under the ground and not disturbing it, this carbon stays locked up in the soil and does not enter our atmosphere. No-till also reduces the need for chemical fertilizers, which also are a source of greenhouse gases.

A global shift to regenerative agriculture practices can help us fight some of the most pressing issues we face as a global community, poverty and climate change. The GRAIN Report found that small farmers produce most of the world’s food, and do it on a quarter of the world’s arable farmland. If there were to be a shift towards regenerative agriculture on these smaller farms, it would have a great impact on yields and decrease food shortages. In the case of climate change, regenerative agriculture could help reduce the 44-57% of global GHG emissions that are caused by agriculture. By sequestering carbon in soil, some of the impacts of climate change can be reversed. This is both a form of climate adaptation as well as a form of mitigation.