What is the “Dirt” on Regenerative Agriculture?

Updated: Apr 4

This may surprise you, but a big way to fight climate change lies in the dirt beneath our feet. By supporting an innovative farming practice called regenerative agriculture, our lands can be restored and achieve a natural balance to improve water quality, reduce land use degradation, and become a powerful approach to mitigate climate change.



Haven’t heard of it yet? Regenerative agriculture captures carbon out of the air while also producing food that’s denser with nutrients and healthier. It’s said we could sequester more than 100% of current annual US carbon dioxide emissions with a switch to this new way of farming. Some farms right here in Washington County are leading the way.


The Bad News: Conventional farming is still the norm. It relies on large areas of land usually growing just one crop and heavy use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, tilling, and irrigation. The agricultural sector contributes 24% of the greenhouse gas causing climate change. This form of farming kills beneficial microorganisms in the earth, insects, pollinators, and the fungi that tie the underground ecosystem together. From livestock, fertilizer, and burning crop residues come the twin demons of methane and nitrous oxide, more potent than carbon. These status quo farming practices are the number one cause of deforestation and topsoil loss. Waterways get polluted and crops are nutrient depleted. Essentially entire landscapes are rendered lifeless.


The Good News: Many farmers are realizing these techniques are unsustainable and are beginning to see their role in restoring a balanced, functioning ecosystem. Healthy dirt stores not just carbon, but also water and makes the land less vulnerable to drought. Healthy soil teams with microbes and natural nutrients that are fueled by carbon-rich plant matter made from solar energy and water. Grass-fed livestock, rotated from pasture to pasture, rebuild soil. Regenerative farming increases yields, biodiversity, improves food security, farm profitability, and boosts rural community economics.


Farmers, food producers, policymakers, and many stakeholders in food supply chains are moving in the right direction. Corporations like General Mills, Cargill, Target, Hormel Foods, and restaurant establishments are investing support. Associated carbon credit markets are providing new revenues. All at a time when it’s greatly needed.


It is becoming clear we cannot go back to farming as it has been. Farmers can transition to these methods and consumers can support them with their purchasing power. Agricultural landscapes can be rejuvenated to create rich ecosystems once again productive and sustainable.


How can you help the cause? Patronize regenerative farmers. Find local farms at Sustainable Stillwater MN’s Green Business Directory at GreenStillwater.org. Watch the award-winning movie Kiss the Ground to learn more: https://kissthegroundmovie.com. Utilize the resource information that will be posted on SustainableStillwaterMN.org. If you are a farmer, participate in programs like Soil Health Academy | Grow Healthier Soil, Food and Profits and the Soil Carbon Initiative (SCI).


 

Regenerative Agriculture in Minnesota


Minnesota Agriculture Overview

A robust industry from the beginning, Minnesota agriculture is showing no sign of slowing down. From top crops to thriving agribusinesses to agricultural education, this important sector is continuing to grow and support the state’s economy. Home to 74,542 farms spread across just over 26 million acres of land, as well as about 1,000 agricultural and food companies, the North Star State’s industry, provides more than 340,000 jobs for Minnesotans. Altogether, the industry contributes an impressive $75 billion to the state’s economy annually.


Minnesota makes an impact across the country with several top crops. The state ranks No. 3 in the nation in total crops cash receipts and breaks the top 10 in several different commodities, including sugar beets, oats, sweet corn for processing and green peas for processing, wild rice, soybeans, and many more. Several of these crops are important not only for the U.S. but the world, too. Soybeans, corn, and wheat are Minnesota’s top exports, heading across the globe to top markets in China, Japan, and Mexico.


The Minnesota Agricultural Water Quality Certification Program (MAWQCP) is a voluntary opportunity for farmers and agricultural landowners to take the lead in implementing conservation practices that protect our water. Over 1,150 producers and 800,000 acres have been certified as of January 2022 (from website). Those who implement and maintain approved farm management practices will be certified and in turn obtain regulatory certainty for a period of ten years. Certified producers receive regulatory certainty, recognition, and priority for technical assistance. Additionally, the public receives assurance that certified producers are using conservation practices to protect Minnesota’s lakes, rivers, and streams.



Regenerative Agriculture Examples

Green Businesses - Find & Compare Green Businesses Professionals (greenstillwater.org)

Farms listed in Greater Stillwater Area Green Business Directory that practice some Regenerative Agriculture Big River Farms, Strongheart Farms, KDE Farms, Cimarron Farms, and Awlyahsi·yó


Stoney Creek Farm (environmentalstewardship.org)

To learn more about the Soil Health Academy School at Stoney Creek Farm, visit Soil Health Academy | Grow Healthier Soil, Food and Profits or call 256/996-3142.


Birch Forest Farm


New Story Farm Hutchinson MN A Regenerative Farm & Community in Minnesota



Resources

Watch the award-winning movie Kiss the Ground to learn more: Kiss the Ground Film | Official Website (kissthegroundmovie.com)

Climate Solutions Rooted in the Soil - Westminster Town Hall Forum (westminsterforum.org)

Regenerative Agriculture - What Does It Mean? | Integrated Food Systems Leadership (umn.edu)

Advancing Soil Health & Water Stewardship | MBOLD

Forever Green Initiative | Forever Green (umn.edu)

Regenerative Agriculture | NRDC

Sustainable Farming Association of Minnesota (sfa-mn.org)

Minnesota Sustainable Agriculture | The Nature Conservancy

Sustainable Vs. Regenerative - Land Stewardship Project

Regenerative agriculture needs a reckoning | The Counter

Soil Carbon Initiative (SCI)

What is Regenerative Agriculture? | Green America

Regenerative Agriculture - MN350

CSA | Minnesota Grown

AgweekTV: Regenerative Farming - Bing video

MBOLD: Growing Innovation in Food & Agriculture

Regenerative Agriculture Alliance: Farming to Fight Climate Change and Empower Communities (buildersinitiative.org)

Regenerative farming: Why isn’t it more prevalent in Minnesota? | MinnPost

Agricultural innovation from idea to reality - AURI

Regenerative Agriculture Food Businesses Head West|Minnesota Department of Agriculture

regenerative agriculture (mnfoodcharter.com)

Nationwide study will examine the effects of regenerative agriculture | MPR News

Regenerative Agriculture: 4 Regenerative Farming Practices - 2022 - MasterClass


Corporate Food Producer Programs

Corporations nudge farmers to help the environment | MPR News

We’re Building Farmer-Focused, Regenerative Agriculture Relationships | Cargill

In response to these challenges Green America, in partnership with farms, companies, NGOs, and soil scientists, launched the first-of-its-kind certification for regenerative agriculture open to all farms and food companies: Soil Carbon Initiative.

A healthier planet – Regenerative agriculture - General Mills_For farmers - General Mills



Fact Sheets - Soil Health Academy





Written by Timothy Nolan - Sustainable Stillwater MN 4/1/2022

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