Farming alone contributes more than $132 billion to the U.S. economy; although, it also faces its fair share of struggles, including tariff wars and changes in consumer behaviors. However, the most significant challenge in this sector would be extreme weather events and the degradation of arable land.
These factors have led to the steep decline in farming operations over the last century. For instance, in 1935, there were more than 7 million farms in operations. Today, we have less than 2 million active farms, employing just 1.3% of the employed U.S. population.
Erratic weather patterns, changing climate, and soil degradation are not only hurting farmers but consumers as well. People have less food variety on their tables and are paying top dollar for healthy food. Global warming is nothing new, and we’re finally starting to feel its adverse effects.
Rising sea levels are infiltrating groundwater aquifers, causing flooding on croplands, soil salination, and drought. Additionally, increasing carbon dioxide emissions are reducing the iron and zinc levels available to growing crops, lowering yield quantity and quality.
This degradation of soil fertility and the environment has led to the increasing calls to “reverse the direction” of global agricultural practices from degenerative to regenerative.
Now, what exactly is regenerative agriculture, and how can regenerative hemp farming help?
What is Regenerative Farming?
Regenerative agriculture is a system of farming practices and principles that enrich the soil, increase biodiversity, improve watersheds, and enhance ecosystem services. It involves the rehabilitation of the entire farm ecosystem by focusing on soil health, farm water management, fertilizer use, and more.
When crops photosynthesize, they draw carbon dioxide from the atmosphere with the help of sunlight, water, and nutrients from the soil. Plants utilize the carbon dioxide to manufacture energy-rich organic compounds to grow stems, roots, and leaves.
The excess carbon is transported to the plant roots and stored in the surrounding soils and will eventually be utilized by microbes and fungi. In turn, the soil microbes release a variety of rich nutrients to the soil. This gives the soil a sustainable structure, allowing it to store more water.
Several key regenerative farming techniques need to be adopted to maintain this balance, including:
1. Conservation Tillage
Tillage and plowing can significantly erode topsoil and release vast amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. This leads to compacted or bare soil, which depletes crucial soil microbes that promote the growth of healthy crops.
When farmers adopt low-till practices, they’ll minimize the physical disturbance of the soil. Over time, this will increase levels of organic matter in the soil, creating a healthier and more resilient environment for crops to thrive – all while keeping carbon levels low.
2. Rotation and Cover Cropping
When exposed to the elements, the topsoil will erode and wash away all the crucial nutrients used for healthy plant growth. Planting the same crop on a particular piece of land will lead to the build-up of some nutrients and depletion of others. Essentially, bare soil is lousy soil.
By strategically adopting crop rotation and deploying cover crops, farms can infuse more organic (and more diverse) matter into the soil. This will also naturally prevent pest problems and diseases.
3. Crop Diversity
Different crops release different carbohydrates into the soil via their roots. Microbes feed on these carbohydrates, and, in turn, return different types of nutrients into the soil that crops can utilize.
By increasing the diversity of crops on a farm, you can help create rich and nutrient-dense soils for more productive yields.
4. Minimizing Chemical Use
Besides reducing the physical disturbance of the soil, it’s also crucial to be cautious of the chemical activities that damage soil health over time. For example, the misapplication of pesticides, fertilizers, and herbicides can disrupt the natural soil pH, destroying important microorganisms and reducing the permeability of the soil.
You can avoid this by using farm chemicals sparingly to maintain a natural balance in the soil, which will lead to healthier crops and boost yields.
5. Integrating Livestock
When animals graze on a piece of land, their hooves break up the soil, exposing more nutrients to new plants. This will help speed the build-up of organic matter in the ground, equipping the land with the right nutrients for germinating seeds. It’ll also improve the water retention rate of the soil.
Why is Regenerative Agriculture Necessary?
Many farmers are still skeptical about regenerative farming because it requires significant changes in farming activities. While change is difficult to embrace, it’s necessary in this case – especially since it improves the survival chances for the entire population in the future.
By boosting soil health naturally, regenerative agriculture will help to:
Maintain Crop Yields
Regenerative farming techniques reduce the risk of yield loss caused by a range of stressors and improve the quality of the yields. This will ensure the world has an adequate supply of healthy food for years to come.
Make Crops More Resilient
According to a study by Rodale Institute, crops under organic systems are more likely to be resilient to extreme weather conditions such as drought. The study stated that organic corn yields were up to 40% more resilient than conventional corn crops.
Generally, crops are made more resilient by ensuring the soil is healthy and teeming with essential microbes that’ll help to displace and suppress pests, weeds, and diseases naturally.
Improve Farm Profitability
According to recent reports, wine farms that have adopted regenerative agriculture have seen gross margins of up to 50% and single-digit improvement in profits.
In another study, regenerative-grown corn achieved 78% higher profits than conventional corn farming systems.
Besides profitability, regenerative agriculture isn’t capital intensive. This means you don’t have to spend much money on inputs like fertilizers and irrigation systems because the process is generally self-sustaining.
Achieve a Sustainable Future
The loss of fertile soil and crop diversity poses a significant threat to our survival.
According to scientific research, if the current soil destruction rate (through erosion, decarbonization, chemical pollution, and desertification) is maintained for the next 50 years, there will no longer be adequate arable land to feed the whole human population. Additionally, much of the population will suffer from serious health issues caused by a qualitatively degraded food supply (loss of crucial nutrients and minerals in the food).
It may also be impossible to keep global warming at bay and halt the loss of plant diversity due to the increased levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and the extinction of several pollinators.
To mitigate these issues, farms must adopt regenerative agricultural practices today for a more sustainable future.
How Can Hemp Fuel Regenerative Agriculture?
For the better part of the 20th century, hemp wasn’t grown for commercial use in the United States. This was heavily due to the negative perception of the crop by the public, and its relation to cannabis.
Fortunately, over the last few years, the laws surrounding hemp cultivation have been reassessed, and many people around the world are now discovering the all-around positive effects that come with hemp cultivation and consumption.
Hemp cultivation is also bolstering the regenerative agriculture movement. While there are still obstacles that continue to disrupt the industrial hemp sector, hemp has proven to be one of the few ways that can help the country achieve a sustainable future.
Here’s how regenerative agriculture with hemp can help:
Support Soil Fertility
Over the years, conventional agriculture has damaged soil through irresponsible tillage and chemical use. What’s more, farmers have relied on monoculture (the growing of a single cash crop in a given piece of land year after year), instead of adopting crop rotation to support soil health. This has resulted in a significant decrease in soil fertility.
With regenerative hemp farming, soil fertility can improve in three ways:
1. Increasing Essential Soil Nutrients
Hemp produces high-quality biomass (matter that returns to the soil for decomposition, increasing essential nutrients for better soil health). Thus, rotating different cash crops with hemp can replenish the soil with added nutrients for a high-quality soil structure during the next cultivating season.
2. Reducing Soil Erosion
Since the hemp plant has longer roots than most annual and perennial crops, it can help reduce soil erosion by holding soil particles in place. This prevents them from being blown or washed away by the elements. It’ll also improve the soil’s water retention capability.
3. Limiting Soil Pollution
Hemp – being a hardy plant – can grow in less fertile soil and absorb toxins, heavy metals, and other pollutants to leave your land and surrounding water resources pollution-free.
Increase Plant Diversity
Compared to other cash crops, hemp is more resistant to pests. This means farmers don’t have to use pesticides, which can cause adverse health effects, pollute water sources, and kill pollinators. Hemp is also a deterrent to some predators which kill pollinators.
Reverse the Effects of Human-Caused Climate Change
Carbon dioxide accounts for more than 80% of greenhouse gas emissions – and a significant percentage of this comes from fossil fuel burning.
Hemp is a zero-carbon energy source (it doesn’t release any carbon dioxide) and can be used to produce biofuel. If we replace fossil fuels with zero-carbon energy sources, we have a 65% chance of maintaining global warming temperatures below 1.5°C for years to come.
Besides emitting zero carbon dioxide, hemp can also help to remove this particular gas from the atmosphere. Research estimates that for every 1 hectare of industrial hemp grown, about 22 tons of carbon dioxide is eliminated from the atmosphere. This means that if we dedicate more farming land to hemp cultivation, the greenhouse effect could effectively be eliminated in just a couple of years.
Regenerative Hemp Farming for a Sustainable Future
Hemp is estimated to have more than 25,000 different uses – all of which are eco-friendly and sustainable. The regenerative hemp farming approach focuses on restoring soil health that has been degraded by poor agricultural and industrial practices. This method will promote a healthier ecosystem by rebuilding and maintaining the soil organic matter through holistic farming.
In other words, regenerative farming allows nature to balance itself. However, to fully benefit from regenerative agriculture, hemp cultivation needs careful management to prevent over-stretching the available resources.
Have you contributed to regenerative hemp farming? What hemp farming practices have you adopted to conserve the environment around you? Let us know.
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