Regenerative Agriculture, the resource intensity of nourishment

Regenerative Agriculture.

Sunday, March 15, 2009


“The nation that destroys its soil destroys itself” (Roosevelt 1937).

Modern agriculture is based almost entirely on fossil fuels and natural gas. The former are used to run tractors and other kinds of farm machinery while the latter is cracked in a thermal catalytic process called “steam reforming” to make hydrogen…………………..

…………………While modern farming almost entirely relies on such synthetic fertilizers in “open systems”, regenerative agriculture refers to “semi-closed systems”: i.e. those in which inputs of energy, in the form of fertilizers and fuels, are minimized because those key agricultural elements are recycled as far as possible. Conventional agriculture is mostly “open” and hence large inputs are necessary since much of them are wasted and it is a matter of maintaining a sufficient productive density of fertilizers, pesticides, mechanical energy, to maintain production on poor soils with much of the living matter and natural animal life (earthworms, beetles etc.) gone. Indeed, modern soils have been described as dead, and only remain productive because of artificial and voluminous inputs derived mainly from crude oil and natural gas. As the latter sources of energy and chemical materials begin to wane and finally fail, so will most of the world’s agriculture.

Although they are usually more energy efficient overall, regenerative systems generally need higher on-farm labour than open systems do, as shown by a study of 1144 farms in the United Kingdom and Ireland. From a conventional economic standpoint this is seen as a disadvantage and a disincentive to move over to using regenerative systems. However, in terms of relocalised communities and economies, so long as the labour costs are practicable, there may be positive benefits, in terms of the maintenance or creation of social capital and community livelihoods: i.e. the economy is retained within the community, possibly using some kind of local currency or barter system……………

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