What is Regenerative Agriculture?

Regenerative agriculture actively improves the health and function of the landscapes and living systems that it is operating within, while producing food. 

Discover Regenerative is showcasing the ecological, social and cultural impact of Australian regenerative producers. Our approach recognises and highlights the leadership of First Nations people and organisations, both throughout all agriculture sectors and also with a re-emerging native foods industry, that reflects the thousands of years of regenerative land management and food production.

Regenerative agriculture has massive potential to capture and store carbon in soils and vegetation, and build health and diversity in living systems. It is a critical pathway in responding to our ecological and climate crises, while providing healthy nutritious food. As regenerative agriculture builds ecological function (e.g. nutrient cycles; plants capturing sunlight; water cycles; biodiversity) over time, it reduces external input requirements such as fossil fuels and other synthetic inputs. For a detailed review of evidence on the benefits of regenerative agriculture, see the Open Food Network Knowledge Commons.

A critical difference between ‘regenerative’ agriculture approaches and more widespread ‘sustainable’ approaches, is that regenerative systems go beyond reducing impact, slowing decline, or enabling the system to continue as is – to actively improving ecological system health.

We find the term ‘regenerative agriculture’ useful because it describes the goal. ‘Regeneration’ means ‘the act of improving a place or system’.

Farmers adopting regenerative approaches to agriculture are trying to go further than reducing the environmental impact of their enterprise. They are trying to use that enterprise to improve the environment, to improve the function of the natural soil and landscape ecosystems they manage.

Eli Court, CEO at Soils for Life

Regenerative farms and farming systems are diverse. Some approaches consider the elimination of synthetic chemical inputs to be a pre-condition (i.e. those emerging from the organics sector), while others consider reduced but continued use of these inputs as necessary for the transition of conventional systems.   

There is no clear set of agreed processes and practices, as everything needs to be considered within the complex landscapes and food systems they are part of. However, there is broad agreement on both the Principles and desired Outcomes of regenerative systems.

Some key principles of regenerative agricultural systems

  • Keeping soil covered and minimising disturbance / disruption of structure and living systems within it (e.g. through ploughing, tillage etc)
  • Increasing plant diversity
  • Increasing presence of perennial (long-lived) plants, as they capture sunlight throughout the year, leading to a more developed root systems that supports soil health and carbon sequestration;
  • Encouraging water to sink into and be stored in the soil; and
  • Using animals and plants together to support each other e.g. animals generate and spread nutrients (manure) rather than needing fossil fuels to do so.

An agricultural practice is not regenerative when it discourages the evolutionary and self-organising potential of a living system.

What doesn’t constitute regenerative agriculture: Paddocks of bare soil/lack of ground cover, continual monocrops/lack of biodiversity, repeated spraying out paddocks prior to sowing new pastures or crops, set stocking, overuse of synthetic chemicals, fertilisers and pesticides, over-tillage/disturbance of soil.

Lorraine Gordon, Chair of The Regenerative Agriculture Alliance

Ecological outcomes

We expect that regenerative systems will result in measurable change in ecological function, increasing:

  • above- and below-ground species diversity;
  • soil organic carbon;
  • water infiltration or water holding capacity in soil;
  • soil aggregate stability
  • microbial biomass

So how can we know when a farm or producer is ‘regenerative’? 

Find out in Regenerative Assurance and Evidence