What is regenerative agriculture?
Regenerative agriculture, also called regenerative agriculture, is a system of agricultural principles and practices that aim to increase biodiversity and improve soil fertility, improve water quality and restore ecosystems.
In other words, it is agriculture that includes a range of practices that combine production with the protection and restoration of ecosystems.
The basic idea of regenerative agriculture is to create farming systems that work harmoniously with nature. This includes minimal disturbance to the soil structure, increasing soil water retention and restoring water resources, using plant diversity, crop rotation, using natural methods of plant protection and pest control, and increasing the presence of organic matter in the soil by, among others, using crop residues as compost .
The most important effects of using regenerative agriculture practices include improving the quality of a key resource in agriculture, arable land, and thus more effective and environmentally friendly plant cultivation and soil carbon sequestration (retaining CO2 in the soil and reducing its emissions into the atmosphere).
Unlike conventional farming methods, which rely on, among other things, intensive tillage, intensive use of chemical plant protection products and artificial fertilizers, and monocultures, regenerative agriculture focuses on creating sustainable, sustainable and more natural farming systems that bring benefits both for farmers and the environment.
It is worth noting that regenerative agriculture is not merely a set of specific techniques or practices, but rather an approach that emphasizes understanding and reflecting the principles and processes found in natural ecosystems.
Regenerative agriculture is an adaptive approach to soil management that aims to conserve and rehabilitate entire food and farming systems while supporting soil health principles. We must pay special attention to achieving the goals of improving soil, optimizing resources, mitigating climate change as well as improving water quality and availability. At the same time, we use methods tailored individually to the farm, because there is no single recipe for success.
In the Top Farms Group, regenerative agriculture is the standard Kodeks 5C.
What are the benefits to the farm of using regenerative agriculture practices?
Regenerative practices largely concern the soil and are intended to improve its physico-chemical properties and, as a result, increase fertility. Therefore, on the one hand, we reduce the use of expensive and emission-intensive means of production, and on the other hand, we increase production potential, generating higher income, which in combination gives higher profit with lower environmental impact. In other words, the farm provides the soil with the best according to the principle: as little as possible and as much as necessary.
Cultivated soil in a regenerative way, it will be more resistant to erosion and sudden atmospheric phenomena (droughts, heavy rains), we will increase and improve the quality of the yield, we contribute to carbon sequestration, i.e. permanent binding and depositing of carbon in the soil, thanks to which agricultural activities can largely help to stop global warming. It turns out that an increase of only 0.1 percent. the content of organic matter in a 30 cm layer of soil in one hectare allows for the binding of approximately 2.5 tons of carbon, i.e. as much as 7-9 tons of carbon dioxide. Therefore, farms run in the spirit of regenerative agriculture are low-emission farms that can additionally earn money on the so-called carbon certificates.
Regenerative practices on the example of Jagrol
Jagrol, part of the Top Farms Group, is an excellent example of beneficial regenerative conversion. The farm once thrived as a typically conventional farm, but over time and with the development of food producers' awareness, a decision was made to implement regenerative farming practices.
Regenerative practices in Jagrol include the fact that cereals constitute about 40 percent of the crop structure, giving way to other plant species in the crop rotation. For many years, most of the area has been cultivated using no-plow technology or strip cultivation. A very important element of each rotation is a cover crop mixture appropriately selected for the successor plant. Elements of biological protection of crops against pests are being introduced. Valuable landscape elements, such as water tanks (Jagrol has approximately 60 ha) and field trees are protected and restored.
Jagrol has been using regenerative agriculture practices for over a decade, but according to Paweł Kaczmarek, President of Jagrol and Top Farms Wielkopolska, the transition from conventional to regenerative agriculture can take place in as little as two years.
In practice, all activities and treatments in Jagrol's fields are consistent with the copyright Code 5C. Thanks to these principles, the company is able to naturally counteract climate change and improve soil quality.
Calcium this is the key to building soil fertility. All activities aimed at fertilizing the soil begin with improving its reaction (pH). Jagrol applies calcium fertilization as needed in the form of chalk lime or sugar lime to regulate the pH. The idea is to obtain a slightly acidic or neutral reaction, which is characteristic of good soils.
As one field is not equal to another, the soil reaction in individual plots differs in terms of pH. This requires an individual approach to a field or even a fragment of it. That's why the company uses precision agriculture, which helps you get detailed information about your soil.
Jagrol adapts individual elements of agrotechnics, including pH regulation, to changing conditions, dividing the fields into plots of several hectares, and then tests the soil. Soil analyzes are performed not only in terms of its reaction.
To properly perform all measurements, an objective approach to the field is required, which is why the company uses the services consulting company, which is able to support the entire process, from selecting sampling sites to laboratory testing.
What can be obtained from such measurements?
Precise sampling from the same places every year makes it possible to detect changes that are impossible to observe with the naked eye. Thanks to the use of soil analyses, maps of soil abundance in individual components are developed. On their basis, application maps are created for not only variable liming, but also variable fertilization with potassium, phosphorus and magnesium, which saves used fertilizers and prevents over- or under-fertilization of fields.
Of course, the main fertilizer carrier at Jagrol are natural fertilizers, which contain a whole range of essential ingredients needed for the soil to function properly. Plant nutrients are supplemented with mineral fertilizers. Thanks to this, only as much fertilizer is used as necessary and where it is really needed. Precision farming technologies are helpful in this regard, thanks to which the company is able to precisely apply fertilizers, which have recently become more and more expensive.
Coal is organic matter without which there is no life! It is one of the most important elements of nutrient circulation. Common agricultural practices, including intensive cultivation, the use of synthetic fertilizers and the use of pesticides, contribute to the increased release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. One of the goals of regenerative agriculture is to restore the organic matter content in the soil and thus reduce the negative impact on the carbon footprint. In other words, Jagrol contributes to soil carbon sequestration through the use of regenerative agriculture practices.
Modern agriculture is adopting practices that increase the rate of CO2 removal from the atmosphere, i.e. binding it into sugar in leaves, which then creates other organic matter and is incorporated into plant tissues or deposited in the soil. Therefore, effective carbon sequestration is one of the elements leading to ensuring soil health and reducing the carbon footprint.
Organic fertilizers contain all the necessary elements in an easily digestible form, i.e. one that can be easily taken from the soil with the help of microorganisms and then transformed in plant cells. On the other hand, the soil is enriched with humus, which is the most effective form of organic matter that builds fertility. Jagrol uses fertilizers in the form of slurry, manure and chicken manure.
A substitute for natural fertilizers are artificial fertilizers, which at first glance may be more efficient, or their action may seem faster, but remember that this is illusory. Firstly, artificial fertilizers have a very high carbon footprint and, moreover, they contain highly concentrated nutrients, which may result in rapid over-fertilization of plants. Excess ingredients are harmful to both the soil and the organisms living in it. That's why Jagrol focuses on nature.
Cover crops are understood as crops contributing to the growth of organic matter and soil enrichment. Cover crop mixtures are able to fulfill many roles at the same time, which is why they are more efficient than single species. For example, they support biological nitrogen fixation, are a source of biodiversity, limit the population of pests, improve the soil structure through "root drainage", suppress weeds or prevent erosion by protecting the soil. Hence the English equivalent of the Polish name, i.e. cover crops.
At Jagrol, catch crops are used for spring crops, corn and root crops. In the case of Jagrol, root crops are potatoes, which on the one hand are the raw material for the production of tasty French fries, but on the other hand they contribute to a significant reduction in the level of humus in the soil. Therefore, cover crops are to act as a biological sorbent. By growing various species, the company counteracts this unfavorable phenomenon.
The principle adopted is that species in mixtures are adjusted to the needs of the plants in the main crop, and so, for example, for the above-mentioned potatoes, a mixture of sunflower, oat, buckwheat and radish was used. It also has an invaluable aesthetic value, because cover crops usually bloom colorfully in September and October, when the weather around us is increasingly gray and gloomy.
By cutting and grinding green manure in late autumn, the company provides the soil with valuable organic matter, which builds the field water potential of the soil, i.e. it determines the ability of the soil to absorb water. This is extremely important, because the phenomenon of drought is no longer strange to anyone.
Over the last 20 years, it has been observed that the driest region in Poland is the Greater Poland Lake District, where the rainfall deficit is the largest, next to the Łódź Voivodeship. Many farmers use "drawing water from the soil" as a counterargument to catch crops. However, you should be aware that the opposite is true. In addition to providing the soil with green matter, catch crops also play a significant role in stopping the outflow of nutrients into the Baltic Sea, which has been discussed more and more recently.
Cultivation - intensive cultivation disturbs the biological life of the soil, which is why Jagrol focuses on conservation cultivation. The company mainly practices no-plough cultivation to minimize disturbance to the soil. In fields, the soil is loosened deeply without turning and mixed shallowly, which favors humification processes, i.e. the formation of humus.
Jagrol encourages everyone to pay attention to their own cultivation, because one of the most important mottos in the Top Farms Group is: "Grow as little as possible and as much as necessary." And here the issue of potatoes arises again - as a root crop, it is a definitely unfavorable crop in terms of reducing the number of soil cultivation treatments. In turn, a good example in the field of agricultural cultivation is the increasingly popular strip cultivation, which uses soil loosening only in the plant sowing zone, which significantly reduces the impact on the soil and thus also water losses.
Culture is life in symbiosis with the environment. Activity derived from "culture" is primarily the strengthening of activities that protect the field's surroundings as a place of production directly related to interactions with the neighborhood, including: creating a landscape, establishing crop rotation, rational water management, planting trees, participating in local initiatives or reducing and controlling the consumption of resources. plant protection.
Jagrol is equipped with a sprayer and the company uses it, but often the doses used are less than 5% of the registration dose, which significantly reduces the amount of residues in the products. The company has been cooperating with local beekeepers for many years. Currently, the Bee TOP project is also underway , under which 5 bee colonies have arrived at Jagrol.
Jagrol also plans to revitalize ponds and carry out activities related to small retention. Around the reservoirs you can see many rare, protected species of water and wading birds, such as the meadow harrier and the common tern.
To sum up, Paweł Kaczmarek - President of Jagrol and Top Farms Wielkopolska - believes that, as farmers, we should focus first on choosing biological production methods and, as a last resort, if there are no alternatives, use chemical methods that have a negative impact on our environment. We should support biological soil life, invest in organic matter, reduce the use of synthetic fertilizers and use diversified crop rotation. Thanks to the above techniques, we are able to produce more food of better quality, benefiting not only the natural environment, but above all, ourselves. Let's focus on nature.
Regenerative agriculture guarantees the economic stability of the farm
We hear a lot about the need to improve the fertility and yield potential of the land, as well as about regenerative agriculture and its effects in increasing the organic carbon content, i.e. humus, in the soil. But what does the situation look like in terms of the costs and benefits of introducing regenerative practices on the farm?
Many farmers decide to switch from conventional agriculture to regenerative agriculture, especially those "old and old", because they want to leave behind land that will be able to produce good crops. They want to consciously cultivate and repair the soil. They are also driven by economic considerations. Nowadays, agricultural production means are becoming more and more expensive. The prices of fuel and fertilizers are constantly rising, and agricultural produce prices are falling. Unfortunately, farmers have little influence on these factors. However, it is possible to consciously approach expenses and look for solutions that will allow you to save money without giving up achieving satisfactory yields. In the face of instability on the agricultural products market, every saving matters.
Farmers can introduce some regenerative practices on their farms immediately. It does not require special equipment or large expenditures, and the benefits can be considerable. Some of the equipment that farmers often have at their disposal (e.g. cultivator, tiller) can be safely used in regenerative agriculture, and there is no need to plow. It is also worth conducting soil tests, which allow you to make informed decisions in each field. Each field should be treated individually. Soil diagnostics allows for more effective farm management in terms of fertilization and cultivation.
The cost of introducing regenerative practices is initially mainly associated with investing in detailed soil tests and the services of specialists who, based on the laboratory results, will prepare appropriate recommendations tailored to a specific farm. However, this investment will pay off in the savings generated.
In many cases, when farmers transition out of plowing, they can use existing machines that allow for deeper soil penetration without turning it. This reduces the number of trips around the field and allows you to save a lot on fuel costs. Also, improving the calcium to magnesium ratio, thanks to soil tests and appropriate response to their results, may translate into fuel savings because it loosens the soil structure.
Additionally, changing the approach to fertilization can result in large savings. The idea is to nourish the soil, not the plants. It often turns out that there is no need to lime the field so often with a constant dose. In the case of phosphorus and potassium fertilizers, the implementation of the received recommendations regarding soil nutrition may indicate that in some fields they do not need to be used at all, and in others their amount can be significantly reduced. This allows you to significantly reduce expenses on fertilizers, which constitute a significant percentage of costs in the structure of every farm. In addition, the use of natural fertilizers allows you to maintain a high brix content (carbohydrate content), which translates into increased plant resistance to diseases. Thanks to this, you can also save on plant protection products.
Some farmers have concerns that regenerative farming practices may cause significant yield declines in the early years. Of course, the yield is influenced by many factors, such as weather or the quality of the seed material. However, after the first year on farms you can notice that during heavy rains the soil absorbs more water. Plants in the first phase of growth have better conditions for rooting.
What does soil fertility depend on?
In order to properly take care of soil fertility, it is necessary to first familiarize yourself with the definition of this concept. Soil fertility can be described as the natural ability of the soil to meet the needs of the plants that grow in it. Soil fertility is the result of a combination of its physical, chemical and biological properties, which are designed to create appropriate conditions for plant growth.
There are many factors that affect the condition of the soil. Interestingly, not all of these factors are natural. Currently, regenerative agriculture is becoming more and more popular, which involves actively supporting the soil in maintaining appropriate fertility.
If we are talking about natural factors that directly affect soil fertility, it is worth mentioning, among others, its morphological structure. The morphological properties of the soil profile, as well as the soil thickness and the level of organic matter content in the form of humus, are of great importance.
The physical properties of the soil, such as its structure, texture, porosity, pore system, thermal and water properties, as well as the total granulometric composition, are also extremely important. The biochemical and biological properties of the soil are also important for its fertility, such as the content of appropriate organic substances and biological activity. The chemical and physicochemical properties of the soil, such as nutrient abundance, presence of toxic substances, soil pH and its buffering capacity, also contribute to soil fertility.
Lack of soil fertility can be a serious challenge because it makes it difficult to properly utilize its potential. The deficiency of essential minerals, which are a direct source of food for plants, means that they do not have appropriate conditions for growth. In such a situation, it is worth using regenerative agriculture, which has the potential to influence the future of stopping and even reversing climate change. Additionally, it has a positive impact on the quality of food produced in this way.
Such natural soil nourishment brings numerous benefits! A soil layer rich in organic humus matter and balanced in minerals will be an excellent substrate for various plants. The regenerative cultivation system allows calcium, magnesium and potassium ions to penetrate deeper layers of the soil, which contributes to improving its structure and better water retention. Additionally, intensive ion exchange facilitates the supply of plants with essential minerals, which are extremely important for their growth and development.
How to improve soil fertility?
Fertile soil is necessary to provide plants with adequate water, air and mineral resources. How can soil fertility be improved to increase yields in quantity and quality?
Improving soil fertility is extremely important because it allows plants to better use available minerals for growth and development. Unfortunately, a decline in soil fertility has been observed for some time, and crop productivity is deteriorating for several reasons.
The threats to soil fertility include:
- progressive acidification processes
- accumulation of pollutants such as heavy metals
- soil erosion
- no crop rotation
- no organic fertilization
- excessive use of chemicals
Therefore, it is worth considering how to increase soil fertility to create favorable growth conditions for plants and provide them with appropriate nutrients.
To understand how soil fertility affects plant growth and health, it is important to look at the factors that influence it. Among many factors, important elements include organic matter content, farming methods and fertilization. However, let's focus on the three main factors that determine soil fertility: soil pH, humus content and soil structure.
Soil reaction as a factor influencing its fertility
Soil pH has a significant impact on the development of the root system and plant growth, and also regulates the availability of minerals. Different plants have different sensitivity to the acidic reaction of the soil, so determining the optimal pH should take into account the type of soil and the requirements of cultivation in a given area (plants may be more or less acidophilic).
One way to regulate soil pH is liming. Calcium is a key nutrient for soil and affects its fertility. Liming improves the physicochemical properties of the soil, its structure and the availability of nutrients. This is a simple procedure that has a positive effect on the soil pH, improves its structure and enables better use of nutrients. Soil liming is one of the main practices associated with regenerative agriculture, which aims to restore and maintain the natural potential of the soil.
Humus content in the soil
Humus plays a key role in plant growth and determines the amount and quality of crops. Humus improves the soil's ability to store nutrients and prevents their loss, affects its ability to retain water and reduces the effects of drought. Moreover, the presence of humus promotes beneficial soil microflora. How to increase the humus content and improve soil fertility? It is important to regularly use natural and organic fertilizers that provide valuable organic substances and nutrients to the soil. Proper crop rotation, i.e. appropriate sequencing of cultivated plants, also contributes to increasing the humus content in the soil.
Soil structure and fertility improvement
Soil structure refers to the organization of particles of the solid phase of the soil, where soil grains are stuck together into aggregates, i.e. structural conglomerates. A well-shaped soil structure has a positive effect on its ability to retain water and nutrients, and also protects it against drying out and erosion. The formation of humus has a positive effect on the soil structure, making it absorbent and more stable.
How to increase soil fertility?
Soil with a high humus content and proper balance of microelements is characterized by a greater ability to store water and provide essential nutrients to plants. So how to increase soil fertility? One way is to practice regenerative agriculture. It is a holistic approach to soil cultivation, which aims to recreate and maintain its yield potential, while respecting the natural environment and its resources.
There are many ways to improve soil fertility, such as:
- regular use of natural and organic fertilizers that provide organic substances and nutrients to the soil
- proper planning of crop rotation , i.e. appropriate arrangement of various plant species in the field in subsequent seasons - thanks to this, the soil is better used, various plants complement each other in terms of nutrients, and the risk of pests and diseases is reduced
- leaving crop residues in the field , i.e. not completely removing plant residues after harvest, but leaving them on the soil surface - this provides protection against erosion, pathogens and nitrogen loss and enriches the soil with organic substances and minerals
- soil liming - a treatment aimed at optimizing soil reaction and having a positive effect on its physical, chemical and biological parameters
- using minimal or no-tillage techniques that limit the burial of plant residues and preserve soil structure
- the use of compost and green fertilizers , which introduce organic substances, microorganisms and nutrients to the soil
- reducing the use of chemicals such as pesticides and herbicides that can negatively impact the health of the soil and its organisms
- regularly monitoring and testing the soil to assess its condition and needs, and adjusting fertilization and cultivation practices based on the analysis results
Improving soil fertility is a long-term process and requires a systematic approach. It is also important to understand individual soil conditions and adapt growing practices to specific needs and requirements.
Reduced tillage or traditional tillage?
Are you wondering which approach - simplified tillage or traditional tillage - will be better for your plants and your soil? It is worth knowing that this choice depends on many factors. First, however, it is necessary to explain what simplified tillage is.
Simplified cultivation differs from traditional cultivation mainly by eliminating the use of a plow. A key element of simplification is the lack of plowing, which means that any changes to the soil are only superficial and sowing is carried out directly.
In most cases, there is no need to purchase new equipment to introduce reduced tillage, as many farms already have the necessary equipment. Important machines that can be used in reduced tillage include a stubble cultivator and a seeder.
The stubble cultivator is equipped with string rollers, which are designed to cut the soil without turning it over. String rollers loosen the surface layer of soil without disturbing its structure and organization. This reduces the risk of soil erosion and also preserves soil microorganisms that are beneficial to soil health.
Due to the fact that many farms already have stubble cultivators and seeders, the costs associated with the introduction of simplified tillage can be minimized. However, it is worth remembering that the adaptation and optimal use of these tools requires appropriate planning of the simplified cultivation process and appropriate adjustment of their settings to specific soil and crop conditions.
Currently, more and more farmers decide to implement simplified cultivation on their farms. To understand why it is popular, and before making a decision about choosing simplified cultivation, it is worth familiarizing yourself with its benefits.
One of the most important are the economic benefits of this method. Reduced tillage is much more profitable, which is a deciding factor for many farmers. First of all, large farms with extensive arable areas can enjoy visible savings because the lower costs of farming are more noticeable at a larger scale of production. It is also worth noting that the trend of simplified cultivation is no longer limited only to large farms. Increasingly, medium-sized and small farms are also adopting this form of agricultural activity.
Other advantages include reducing working time and using fewer machines, which allows farmers to save on fuel and the costs of maintaining the machinery fleet. Farmers notice positive changes in their farm budget.
Beneficial changes in the field itself are also undeniable, as the reduction of the tillage system has a direct impact on the improvement of the soil structure.
When it comes to the disadvantages of reduced tillage, the greater challenge of weeds is often cited. There is a risk of weeds that are difficult to control, such as couch grass. However, farmers are getting better at dealing with this problem by using appropriate mixes of cover crops that help control weeds.
It is important that farmers try to balance the advantages and disadvantages of both farming approaches to find the optimal solution for their farm. It is also important to take into account local soil and climate conditions and the availability of water resources.
The choice of the appropriate form of cultivation can be made easier by estimating the potential financial benefits of switching to simplified cultivation. However, it must be remembered that the final decision depends on the individual conditions of a given farm, both in economic and production terms.
What is strip-till?
This is a modern, gentle method of soil cultivation, which has been known in Poland for over a decade and is becoming more and more popular in many countries. This is one of the conservation tillage systems. This technology focuses on eliminating plowing and reducing field travel. In most cases, cultivation is done in one pass. A strip tillage machine is a very complicated and complex unit, consisting of components that perform a number of activities in one pass.
The strip-till cultivation process involves loosening strips of land to the depth of the root layer (about 20-30 cm) without turning it over, while using fertilizers at the same time. The strip-till method allows for good preparation of the seed bed, thanks to which the seedlings receive optimal conditions for germination.
It should be emphasized that only narrow strips of land in which plants will grow are loosened, and the remaining part of the field remains untouched, which helps to maintain the favorable structure and moisture of the soil. On top of the intact areas, there is mulch made from crop residues, which also plays a positive role. However, the loosened strips are fertilized and sown.
This method aims to reduce cultivation costs by reducing labor, fuel and environmental impact. Strip-till cultivation also allows you to minimize soil erosion, increase water retention and improve the chemical composition of the soil.
Strip-till technology is most often used for growing soybean, potatoes, corn, sunflower, sugar beet, winter and spring wheat and rapeseed.