Restoring and Preserving Soil Health Using Regenerative Agriculture
Regenerative agriculture practices improve soil health through an increase in soil carbon content, improving or protecting soil biodiversity, and improving soil physical properties. Increased soil carbon content generally means increased microbial population in the soil, as well as increased concentration of organic nutrients, and increased plant nutrient availability (Schreefel, 2020). Microbes in the soil also provide inorganic nutrients through the degradation of minerals, further contributing to increased soil fertility. Increased soil biodiversity provides multiple benefits: it makes the soil more resistant to pests, disease, pollution, and other negative influences; it optimizes nutrient cycles, creating multiple redundant potential pathways for matter transport; minimizes the use of outside inputs (like fertilizers and pesticides). Improvement in soil physical properties refers to properties like soil structure and porosity, moisture-holding capacity, and water filtration rate. These reduce water usage and water runoff and improve the diffusion of air into the soil, where it is converted to plant nutrients by microbes.
Regenerative agriculture helps protect the global microbiome by protecting the biodiversity of local soil microbiomes. Industrial agriculture has led to reduced biodiversity, and uniformity of the local soil microbiomes, making them less resilient to pests and disease. This requires the use of large quantities of chemical agents like fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides to maintain high agricultural yields, which has further negative effects on the local and the global microbiome. Regenerative agriculture promotes growth and increased biodiversity of local microbiomes, reducing the need for use of chemicals, thus having positive downstream effects on both the local and the global microbiome. This also makes the local microbiome more resilient to negative influences and makes it easier to rebuild it after natural disasters.
The global microbiome has been undergoing continuous changes for decades as a result of human activity. The human microbiome has been changing due to changes in human diet and lifestyle. The expanse of agricultural land and land for livestock grazing at the expense of natural habitats lead to a decrease in microbiome diversity, although "endophytic and rhizosphere microorganisms associated with major crops have undoubtedly increased in abundance." (Mei, 2010) Significant negative changes to the ocean's microbiome as a result of human activity, pollution, and global warming have also occurred. (Brown, 2014; Halpern, 2015; Harvell, 2007). These negative trends in the ocean's microbiome likely will continue as warming and oxygen depletion are expected to have a major imminent impact. Significant consequences for marine life will most likely ensue.
Coalition for Regenerative Agriculture
District of Columbia