22 Jun Organic Regenerative Agriculture: Farming That Goes Beyond Sustainability
The concept of organic regenerative agriculture is nothing new; civilizations have implemented strategies to work with nature to produce food for thousands of years. However, as we revisit the practices of our ancestors with a scientific approach, we are learning about how regenerative agriculture fundamentally shapes the world’s perception of sustainable agriculture. In turn, we’re seeing sustainable practices being adopted by backyard gardeners, growers, and farmers around the world.
The organic farming production model naturally aligns with many aspects of regenerative agriculture. Hinged on working with nature, rather than against it, both organic farming and regenerative agriculture can lead to a sustainable agriculture model while upholding two of the pillars of organic farming: social fairness and soil health.
When combined and implemented together, the regenerative and organic production models create better, healthier communities by reestablishing a farmer middle class. Every advancement is underpinned by the establishment and strengthening of the soil’s ability to produce an abundant and nutritionally dense food source.
Throughout our article, we will discuss the principles involved in building a healthy soil profile and how organic farming practices relate to soil health.
The Pillars of Organic Regenerative Agriculture
#1 – Nitrogen
Nitrogen is a critical component of plant, animal, and soil health. Additionally, nitrogen is one of the essential macronutrients responsible for the shift of agriculture from non-source point to a source point of pollution as eutrophication zones increase in our nation’s lakes and Mississippi Delta region. All in all, nitrogen is one of the most extensively applied nutrients in agriculture, either in synthetic or organic form, and is used by a growing crop to form the chlorophyll needed to achieve maximum growth.
Organic nitrogen can be added to the soil in many forms, but plant residue (compost), animal manure, and green manure are the most common sources in organic farming practices. Each reference provides organic matter for the soil; nitrogen is a secondary contribution with a primary benefit. The atmosphere is also a substantial source of organic nitrogen.
The vast majority of organic nitrogen is unavailable to a plant and must be converted to a plant-available form by soil microorganisms. Enter regenerative organic agriculture practices, PhycoTerra® and PhycoTerra® Organic.
The five principles that govern regenerative organic agriculture work to keep the nitrogen cycle in balance and nitrogen working with the ecosystem, rather than against it. And PhycoTerra® and PhycoTerra® Organic, Heliae’s proprietary soil amendment, lays the foundation by supporting initial microbial activity within the soil microbiome.
Five Principles of Regenerative Organic Agriculture & Nitrogen Preservation
- Minimal or no-tillage farming allows the life cycles of soil microorganisms to function in perpetuity, regardless of season or crop, to ensure that nitrogen is continuously generated and used.
- The incorporation of biodiversity ensures that a ratio of nitrogen-fixing legumes supply and makes available a soil store of nitrogen for future crop usage throughout the growing season.
- Keeping the soil surface covered at all times provides a tri-fold benefit. The practice incorporates organic matter, which is subsequently converted to nitrogen by microorganisms, acts as a temperature regulator to ensure an optimal environment for soil microorganisms to live and flourish, and prevents erosion and the runoff of nutrients and minerals that can pollute bodies of water.
- Maintaining a living root system is the crux of the soil microbiome. A living root system releases exudate into the rhizosphere that attracts beneficial soil microorganisms.
- Livestock integration stimulates rapid photosynthetic activity and concentrates on organic manure-fertilizer, which acts as another food source for the soil.
#2 – Microbe Management
There are more microbes in a teaspoon of soil than there are people on earth, and as a scientific community, we are just beginning to unlock the potential of microbial interaction within the soil biome. What we do know is that without microorganisms, a soil biome ceases to function naturally. Therefore, the goal of any agriculture production model should first be the development and management of the soil microbiome—a goal regenerative organic agriculture meets and continually works to exceed. And when paired with the innovation of PhycoTerra® and PhycoTerra® Organic, beneficial microbes are increased nearly three-fold.
Microorganisms are responsible for maintaining balance within the ecosystem and act as catalysts in both the carbon and nitrogen cycles to maintain balance within each. Water holding capacity and water infiltration are positively impacted when soil microorganisms create aggregation within the soil microbiome.
As byproducts, plant life, human life, and water availability are intricately woven into the success of the soil microbiome.
Plants and trees rely on the soil’s success to cycle nutrients, provide water, and create a healthy growing environment. Humans rely on plants and trees to capture greenhouse gasses, provide oxygen, filter runoff waters, and produce a food source for human consumption or livestock feed.
#3 – Regulation of Air and Water
In some ratios, all soil is made of sand, silt, and clay to create texture. The addition or building of organic matter also adds to the composite and both, texture, and organic matter, create a finite habitat for soil microbes in the micropores between particles.
One of the challenges of conventionally farmed acres is compaction (or the removal of pore space) from within the soil that prevents water and oxygen from reaching both the microbial population as well as a plant’s roots. Regenerative organic agriculture practitioners prevent compaction by keeping the soil covered to deflect and minimize the impact of rain droplets and reducing or eliminating tillage, which creates a hardpan at the base of the tillage depth.
Both plants and microbes require oxygen and water to survive. Soil microbes, along with regenerative organic agriculture practices, maintain the balance of available oxygen and water within the soil biome by forming soil aggregates, or clumps of bound-together soil particles. The stability of soil aggregates is determined by the amount and quality of “glue,” or fungal hyphae produced glomalin, they are held together with.
Stable aggregates create pore spaces that increase aeration and water holding capacity; they also improve water’s infiltration into the soil to prevent runoff and soil erosion during rain events.
Insect and earthworm populations, both of which play critical roles in the soil biome’s food web, are also improved when water and oxygen are readily available, and synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides are not employed.
#4 – Good Fungi
Arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi colonize the majority of cash-crops, making it an essential asset to all models of production agriculture. The fungus plays two crucial roles in the maintenance of plant health and the maximization of plant vigor during the growing season.
- In a symbiotic relationship with plant roots, arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi act as an extension of a plant’s root system to access immobile micronutrients such as phosphorus, boron, zinc, and copper. In exchange, the plant roots deliver the glucose the fungus needs to respire. Under drought conditions, the arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi extend access to additional water molecules within the soil. Aeration is improved as the roots, and hyphal extensions create new pathways in the soil biome.
- The fungal hyphae, the white, root-like system of mycorrhizal fungi, create the glomalin “glue” that binds soil aggregates. The more mycorrhizal fungi present in a soil biome, the better aggregate adhesion will be, and, proportionally, the higher the water infiltration and water holding capacity of the soil will be.
When tillage occurs, the mycorrhizal fungi colony is destroyed and must rebuild before it can benefit other plants. Conversely, reduction or elimination of tillage practices allows fungi colonies to flourish and expand to reach more plants or trees within an agronomic system.
#5 – Carbon
It is estimated that regenerative organic agriculture holds the capacity to capture 100% of carbon dioxide emissions, and in doing so, shift the progression of global climate change. By implementing regenerative organic soil health-promoting practices, the soil would act as a carbon sink, keeping carbon tied up in an ever-evolving carbon: nitrogen exchange between organic matter and the microbes charged with decomposing it.
The host of benefits, aside from the significant effects of reversing greenhouse gas effects, is evident both above and below the soil’s surface: in the nutritionally dense food crops produced, functional biological ecosystem and improved structure of the soil—all measurable, all visible to an observant eye.
Biology can be seen in the diminishing thatch or residual crop being consumed and converted to plant-available nitrogen by the microbe population. An improved soil structure can assess an earthy smell, black-cottage cheese-like appearance, and a simple infiltration test. And the nutritional quality of food can be measured with a Brix test and observation of bright color and aromatic scent.
Regenerative organic agriculture is a myriad of observation opportunities.
Achieving Soil Health Through Organic Farming
Since 2012, Heliae® Agriculture has been focused on researching and developing solutions to building a healthy life: for plants, for humans, for animals, and for our planet. Making the Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI) list of approved organic products and earning California Department of Food and Agriculture Organic Input Material (OIM) registration, PhycoTerra® Organic has shown marked efficacy on more than 20 crops.
Both of Heliae® Agriculture’s flagship products, PhycoTerra® and PhycoTerra® Organic leverage the power of nature to deliver the plant-available nutrients crops need when they need them. To learn more about making the transition to regenerative agriculture using PhycoTerra® or PhycoTerra® Organic, visit PhycoTerra.com, or contact the Heliae Development team directly.