Regenerative agriculture

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Regenerative agriculture (RA) is an approach to food and farming systems that rejects pesticides, artificial fertilizers and aims to regenerate topsoil, increase biodiversity,[1] improve water cycles,[2] enhance ecosystem services, increase resilience to climate fluctuation and strengthen the health and vitality of farming and ranching communities.[3][4][5][6]

Regenerative agriculture is based on applied research and thinking that integrates organic farming, permaculture, agroecology, agroforestry, restoration ecology, Keyline design and holistic management.

On a regenerative farm biological production and ecological structure grow more complex over time. Yields increase while external inputs decrease.[7]

Hoverfly at work


Rodale Institute, Test Garden

Late 1800s through 1960s[edit]

Julius Hensel (1844–1903) was an early advocate of restoring trace minerals to soil with dust from primeval stones and reported success with his steinmehl (stonemeal). He opposed the use of chemicals in agriculture. He claimed that his steinmehl could replace chemical and animal fertilizers.[8]

George Washington Carver (1864–1943) was one of the early proponents of sustainable agriculture.

While botanist Sir Albert Howard (1873–1947) was in charge of a colonial research farm at Indore, India, he documented and tested Indian organic farming techniques. He refined the traditional Indian composting system into what became known as the Indore method. He shared this knowledge through the Soil Association in England and the Rodale Institute in the US.[9]

Ruth Stout (1884–1980) by the 1950s had perfected a "no-till" method of gardening that she promoted as "no work" in her books, How to Have a Green Thumb Without an Aching Back and Gardening Without Work for the Aging, the Busy and the Indolent.[10] Her work led to other innovations in no-till practices, such as slash and mulch in the tropics.

Agronomist William Albrecht (1888–1974), promoted the relationship between healthy soil and nutrition.[11]

J.I. Rodale (1898–1971) was an early proponent of organic and regenerative farming and founder of the Rodale Institute. He encouraged organic gardening through his writings, research and publishing.

Lady Evelyn Barbara "Eve" Balfour (1899–1990) was a founder in the organic farming movement. She was one of the first women to study agriculture at an English university, graduating from the University of Reading to begin farming in 1920. By 1939, she had launched Haughley, an experimental farm, to test organic farming. Her findings were published in Living Soil (1948), which became a classic. Haughley was the first long-term comparative research project to contrast organic and chemically-based farming.[12]

Maynard Murray (1910–1983) pioneered the merger of biology, health and agriculture from the 1930s when he began experimenting with "sea-solids"–mineral salts that remain after total sea water evaporation. Around 1940, he conducted experiments to determine the proportions of trace minerals and other elements present in sea water that were optimal for growth and health of both terrestrial and marine life. His experiments demonstrated that plants fertilized with sea solids and animals fed sea-solid-fertilized feeds grow stronger and more disease resistant. Murray presented his work in Sea Energy Agriculture (1976). Largely ignored during his lifetime, he helped define the role of trace minerals in healthy growth.[13]

Bhaskar H. Save (born 1922) created Kalpavruksha ("wish-fulfilling tree") Farm in Umbergaon, India in 1953. After practicing traditional agriculture with poor results, Save switched to organic farming and developed a system of natural farming. He used intensive interplanting in which short life-span vegetables (alpa-jeevi), medium life-span species (madhya-jeevi – such as banana, papaya and custard apple) and long life-span species (deergha-jeevi–such as chikoo, coconut, mango) are combined and phased in over time until the long-lived species matured.

Australian geologist P.A. Yeomans (1904–1984) developed the Keyline design, an approach to farm planning and water management. Keyline used maps to analyse the topography to channel rain water into earthen dams for irrigation, build roads on ridges, plant trees in 'Contour Strip Forests', position farm buildings, arrange subdivision fencing and renovate pastures.[14]

1970s through 2000s[edit]

Field Hamois Belgium Luc Viatour
Agroforestry on a grazing farm, Taylors Run

Masanobu Fukuoka (1913–2008) was a farmer, activist and author of the practices and theory of natural farming that he based on four core principles: no cultivation, no (chemical) fertilizers, no weeding and no pesticides. Among his teachings is that a successful farmer must partner with the natural environment and derive an intimate understanding of it together with the plants. His "seed balls" cultivation innovation is widely used in horticulture and retail products, including lawn seed.[15]

Mechanical engineer and ecologist John D. Hamaker (1914–1994) advocated remineralizing soils. His motivations included a desire to help create a healthy, just civilization rooted in ecological wisdom and his claim that malnutrition and disease followed by famine and glaciation could be ended.[16]

Booker T. Whatley (1915–2005), popularized U-Pick farms and their direct marketing approach through fee-based subscriptions. He was among the first practitioners of sustainable agriculture to focus on the economic concerns of small farmers, encouraging them to identify high value crops that could be profitable on smaller farms, such as shiitake mushrooms, the husbandry of small ruminants and specialty cheeses.[17]

Charles Walters (1926–2009) was an economist, journalist, farmers advocate in the first phase of his career with the National Farmer's Organization; and founder, publisher and editor of Acres U.S.A. Walters penned hundreds of articles and was author or co-author of books, including Eco-Farm, Weeds: Control Without Poisons and Unforgiven. In 1970 Walters coined the term "eco-agriculture" to unify the concepts of "ecology" and "economy" to reflect his belief that unless agriculture was ecological, it could not be economical.[18]

Robert Rodale (1930–1990) was an advocate of RA, fostered the Regenerative Agriculture Association, published books on the subject, funded research, established demonstration fields, sponsored practitioners in the field and spread RA around the globe. He coined the concept of 'regenerative organic agriculture' to distinguish it from 'sustainable' agriculture. He served as CEO of The Rodale Institute.

Patricia Lanza (b. 1935) authored books about "lasagna" gardening or sheet mulch gardening, as perfected by Ruth Stout.[19] The lasagna method feeds the soil biota from above and encourages the soil food web to do the work of aerating and mixing the nutrients into the soil below.[20]

Austrians Sepp (b. 1942) and Veronica Holzer created hugekultur, a terraced system of mounds on Austrian mountainsides. The mounds are built of organic materials, a traditional way of growing in the region of the Krameterhof in Lungau, but at 1000+ meters above sea level. Holzer's mounds are considered one of the world's few perfectly working permaculture systems. After almost 40 years, their farms support pond culture, terraces, a water power station, thousands of fruit trees, thirty types of potatoes, grains, fruits, vegetables, herbs and wildflowers — growing in the forest, on steep hills, on rocky outcrops, on stone pathways and around ponds, all without the use of pesticides, herbicides or synthetic fertilizers.[21] They created a video, Farming With Nature: A Case Study of Successful Temperate Permaculture.[22]

Takao Furuno (b. 1950) is the architect of the Aigamo Method, a modernization of an 800-year-old Chinese technique of using ducks in sustainable rice cultivation. Funuro's system combines commercial rice cultivation with duck husbandry, aquaculture and vegetable production. Aigamo ducks are derived from wild and domestic ducks, whose ducklings provide the labor for cultivation, pest control and manure to fertilize the rice. This eliminates dependency on chemical fertilizers, pesticides, molluscicides, fossil fuels and heavy duty equipment, providing a safe and productive environment.[23]

Microbiologist Elaine Ingham popularized the importance of soil health and the soil food web.[24]

John Jeavons created Grow Biointensive, a sustainable 8-step food production method, which combines elements of French intensive and biodynamics techniques.

Jacob Mittleider created the Mittleider Method, a contemporary method of soil-less agriculture. Jim Kennard refined this method.[25]

Bill Mollison and David Holmgren created permaculture or "permanent agriculture", an approach that combines ecological design with natural principles.[26]

Keyline Irrigation, Taranaki Farm

Ecologist and gardener Don Weaver assisted John Hamaker in advocating for policies and practices of soil remineralization, biosphere regeneration and climatic stabilization.[16]

In the 1980s, the Rodale Institute began using the term ‘regenerative agriculture’.[27] Rodale Publishing formed the Regenerative Agriculture Association, which published books in 1987 and 1988.[28]

By marching forward under the banner of sustainability we are, in effect, continuing to hamper ourselves by not accepting a challenging enough goal. I am not against the word sustainable, rather I favor regenerative agriculture.

However, the Institute stopped using the term in the late 1980s and it appeared sparingly (in 2005[29] and 2008) until they released a white paper titled "Regenerative Organic Agriculture and Climate Change" in 2014.[30] Its summary states, “we could sequester more than 100% of current annual CO2 emissions with a switch to widely available and inexpensive organic management practices, which we term 'regenerative organic agriculture.'” The agricultural practices described are crop rotation, compost application and reduced tillage,[30] similar to most organic agriculture.

From 1990 to 2010, RA was most explicitly practiced within the permaculture community. Influenced by Carol Sanford and the design and development work of Regenesis,[31] the ecological systems approach of permaculture led regenerative agriculture to incorporate whole farm design, multi-story agroforestry and rotational livestock integration.[32]

Author and restorative development consultant Storm Cunningham (b. 1951) documented the rise of what he then called "restorative agriculture" in his first book, The Restoration Economy. He defined it as a technique that rebuilds the quantity and quality of topsoil while restoring local biodiversity (especially native pollinators) and watershed functionality. Carbon sequestration has more recently been added to that definition, to help achieve climate restoration. Restorative agriculture was one of the eight sectors of restorative development industries / disciplines in The Restoration Economy's taxonomy. The other seven were watershed restoration, ecological restoration, fisheries restoration, brownfields remediation, heritage restoration, infrastructure renewal and catastrophe reconstruction. [33]

2010s onward[edit]

Sheep grower, historian, regenerative agriculture consultant and advocate Charles Massy published Call of the Reed Warbler: a new agriculture - a new earth, based on his PhD studies.[34] The book frames regenerative agriculture as a savior for the earth using case studies.[35]

Darren J. Doherty (1967-) founded Regrarians Ltd. in 2013, a non-profit promoting RA.[36] His Regrarians Platform extends Yeomans’ 'Keyline Scale of Permanence', layering social and economic lenses on top of the original agricultural ones.[37] They include climate, geography, water, access, forestry, buildings, fencing, soils, economy and energy.

John Ikerd advocates for the "small" family farm and farmers and for sustainability in the US food system.[38] Ikerd is author of The essentials of economic sustainability,[39] Small Farms are Real Farms: Sustaining People through Agriculture[40] and Sustainable Capitalism (2005).[41]

Vermont farmer and farm consultant Abe Collins created LandStream to monitor ecosystem performance in RA farms.[42]

Mark Shepard founded New Forest Farms in Viola, Wisconsin and Forest Agriculture Enterprises and wrote Restoration Agriculture: Real World Permaculture for Farmers. He demonstrated how to grow more calories per acre than corn and soy without inputs. He does this through a mix of RA practices, balancing nut crops, livestock and keyline.

Ethan Roland Soloviev and Gregory Landua, cofounded Terra Genesis International (a regenerative agriculture and supply company), published Levels of Regenerative Agriculture (2016). In this paper, they describe a four-fold framework consisting of:

  • Functional Regenerative Agriculture: "humans can do good through their agricultural production"
  • Integrative Regenerative Agriculture: "grow the health and vitality of the whole ecosystem"
  • Systemic Regenerative Agriculture: "farms are woven into an ecosystem of enterprises operating in their bioregion"
  • Evolutionary Regenerative Agriculture: "harmonize with the potential of a place," and "develop a diversity of global and local regenerative producer webs"

Permaculture designer and researcher Eric Toensmeier[43] wrote The Carbon Farming Solution: A Global Toolkit of Perennial Crops and Regenerative Agriculture Practices for Climate Change Mitigation and Food Security (2016).[44] Toensmeier claimed that regenerative practices hold the potential to sequester massive amounts of CO
into the soil, all while providing adaptive and resilient solutions given a changing climate.[45]

Principles and practices[edit]

Regenerative agriculture is guided by a set of principles and practices.[5]


Principles include:[3][5][46]

  • Increase soil fertility
  • Work with wholes, not parts
  • Progressively improve whole agro-ecosystems (soil, water and biodiversity)
  • Connect the farm to its larger agroecosystem and bioregion
  • Create context-specific designs and make holistic decisions that express the essence of each farm
  • Express the essence of each person, farm and place
  • Make holistic decisions aimed at specific systems change
  • Ensure and develop just and reciprocal relationships among all stakeholders
  • Design for non-linear, multi-capital reciprocity
  • Continually grow and evolve individuals, farms and communities to express their potential
  • Continually evolve agro-ecological processes and cultures
  • Agriculture shifts the world


Practices include:[5][3][47]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Our Sustainable Future - Regenerative Ag Description". Retrieved 2017-03-09.
  2. ^ Underground, The Carbon; Initiative, Regenerative Agriculture; CSU (2017-02-24). "What is Regenerative Agriculture?". Regeneration International. Retrieved 2017-03-09.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m "Regenerative Agriculture". Retrieved 2017-03-07.
  4. ^ "Regenerative Agriculture | Regenerative Agriculture Foundation". Retrieved 2017-03-09.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k "Definition — The Carbon Underground : The Carbon Underground". Retrieved 2017-03-07.
  6. ^ "Regenerative Organic Agriculture | ORGANIC INDIA". Retrieved 2017-03-09.
  7. ^ Falk, Ben (2013). The Resilient Farm and Homestead: An Innovative Permaculture and Whole Systems Design Approach. Chelsea Green Publishing. p. 280. ISBN 978-1-60358-444-9.
  8. ^ Hensel, Julius. Bread From Stones: A New and Rational System of Land Fertilization and Physical Regeneration. Republished by Acres USA, Austin, Texas, 1991. 102p.
  9. ^ Howard, Sir Albert. An Agricultural Testament. London: Oxford University Press, 1943.
  10. ^ Stout, Ruth. Gardening without Work.
  11. ^ "Dr. William A. Albrecht - IFOAM".
  12. ^ Balfour, Lady Eve. 9,600 Miles Through The U.S.A. in a Station Wagon. London: The Soil Association, 1954.
  13. ^ Murray, Maynard. Sea energy agriculture. 2nd ed. revised. Austin, TX: Acres, USA, 2003. vii, 109p. Nauta, Phil. Building soils naturally. Austin, TX: Acres, USA, 2012. xvi, 303p.
  14. ^ Yeomans, P.A. The Australian Keyline Plan. Sydney: P.A. Yeomans, 1954. [Source: The Holistic Agriculture Library and The Challenge of Landscape - The Development and Practice of Keyline. Sydney: Keyline Publishing PTY, Ltd., 1958. [Source: The Holistic Agriculture Library]
  15. ^ Fukuoka, Masanobu et. al. The One-Straw Revolution: An Introduction to Natural Farming New York Review Books, 2009 and Natural Way of Farming: The Theory and Practice of Green Philosophy. Other India Press, 1985. 284p.
  16. ^ a b Hamaker, John D. and Donald Weaver. The Survival of Civilization. Hamaker-Weaver Publishers, 1982. 234p. Reprinted, 2002.
  17. ^ Whatley, Booker T. How to Make $100,000 Farming 25 Acres. Emmaus, Pennsylvania, Regenerative Agriculture Association, 1987. 180 pages.
  18. ^ "What is Eco-Agriculture? Acres U.S.A. Explains..."
  19. ^ Mother Earth News. (article)
  20. ^ Lanza, Patricia. Lasagna Gardening: A New Layering System for Bountiful Gardens: No Digging, No Tilling,No Weeding, No Kidding! Rodale Books, 1999. 256p.
  21. ^ Holzer, Sepp. Sepp Holzer's Permaculture: A practical guide to small-scale, integrative farming and gardening. White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing, 2011. xix, 246p.
  22. ^ ecofilm (15 August 2009). "PERMACULTURE - CULTIVER AVEC LA NATURE - Sepp Holzer TRAILER" – via YouTube.
  23. ^ Furuno, Takao. The Power of Duck: Integrated Rice and Duck Farming. Tagari Publications, 2002.
  24. ^ Ingram, Elaine. (2000) Soil Biology Primer. USDA.
  25. ^ Mittleider, Jacob. Food For Everyone: The Mittleider Method. Color Press. n.d, 624p.; Mittleider Grow-Box Gardens. International Food Production Methods, Inc., 1975. 195p.
  26. ^ Mollison, Bill. Permaculture: A Designer's Manual. Tagari Publications, 1988. 576p; Holmgren, David. Permaculture: Principles and Pathways beyond Sustainability. Holmgren Design Services, 2002. 320p. .
  27. ^ "AFSIC History Timeline | Alternative Farming Systems Information Center| NAL | USDA". Retrieved 2017-03-09.
  28. ^ "Tracing the Evolution of Organic / Sustainable Agriculture (TESA1980) | Alternative Farming Systems Information Center| NAL | USDA". Retrieved 2017-03-09.
  29. ^ "A truly regenerative agriculture | Rodale Institute". Retrieved 2017-03-09.
  30. ^ a b "Regenerative Organic Agriculture and Climate Change | Rodale Institute". Retrieved 2017-03-09.
  31. ^ Regenesis Group, 2016. Regenerative Development and Design: A Framework for Evolving Sustainability: Wiley Publishing, Hoboken, NJ.
  32. ^ Mollison, B. 1988. Permaculture: A Designers Manual: Tagari Press, ISBN 0-908228-01-5.
  33. ^ Cunningham, Storm. The Restoration Economy. Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2002. 340p.
  34. ^ Massy, Charles (2017). Call of the reed warbler: a new agriculture- a new earth. Queensland University Press.
  35. ^ "Author talk with Charles Massy call of the reed warbler". Trove.
  36. ^ "Darren J. Doherty CV – Regrarians". Retrieved 2017-03-06.
  37. ^ "The Regrarians Platform® – Regrarians". Retrieved 2017-03-06.
  38. ^ "Home".
  39. ^ The essentials of economic sustainability Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2012.
  40. ^ "Small Farms Are Real Farms". Acres USA.
  41. ^ Sustainable Capitalism: A Matter of Common Sense. Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2005.
  42. ^
  43. ^ "» Books, Articles, and DVDs". Perennial Solutions. Retrieved 2017-03-16.
  44. ^ "Book Review: The Carbon Farming Solution - Ecological Landscape Alliance". Retrieved 2017-03-16.
  45. ^ Toensmeier, Eric (2016). The Carbon Farming Solution. White River Junction, Vermont: Chelsea Green. ISBN 978-1-60358-571-2.
  46. ^ Soloviev, E. and Landua, G. Levels of Regenerative Agriculture. Terra Genesis International, High Falls, NY, 2016.
  47. ^ "The 9 Most Important Techniques In Regenerative Agriculture". Archived from the original on 2017-03-08. Retrieved 2017-03-07.
  48. ^ "Mark Shepard's Proven Technique - "Sheer, Total, and Utter Neglect"". 7 June 2013.