The World’s Soil Is Dying. Regenerative Agriculture Might Bring It Back to Life

By Nadia Solomon, age 13

Five billion acres of land is home to the farmland that feeds the world, but according to the World Economic Forum, in 50 years even this won’t be able to produce enough food to meet demand. Current mass-farming techniques favor cheapness over sustainability, and the soil that grows the world’s crops is nearly damaged beyond repair. Still, there’s hope. Regenerative agriculture, a farming technique focusing on soil health, is gaining momentum across the world. 

Keeping soil healthy is key to sustainable farming, climate adaptation and feeding the world. Unhealthy soil makes crops less bountiful, prevents future crops from being planted and emits higher carbon emissions. A major contributor to soil damage is large-scale industrial farming techniques that use pesticides, heavy machinery and less crop rotation. A farmer who chooses regenerative farming methods focuses on cultivating a nutrient-rich and sustainable farming environment. Regenerative methods include keeping “cover crops,” a type of crop that grows in winter that actually helps prevent soil erosion and returns nutrients to the soil, and reducing the amount of plowing, which helps to keep CO2 in the soil. Additionally, alternating animal grazing pastures helps enrich the topsoil. 

“Yield at all costs means that Mother Nature then pays. Climate change is her telling us: No more.”
– Sarah Carlson

Some large-scale farms have begun working toward making their farms healthier. Before COP27 took place last November, 12 big food companies, such as McDonald’s and Gatorade, committed to promoting regenerative agriculture. However, many critics wonder if they’ll follow through. In a press release in 2021, PepsiCo detailed their plan to “spread regenerative farming practices across 7 million acres, approximately equal to its entire agricultural footprint” by 2030. More than a year into this pledge, they’re only 5% into their goal.

Currently, regenerative agriculture practices are used in just 15% of farmland across the globe, according to a report from the Sustainable Markets Initiative (SMI). To keep global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, that number must be increased to 40% by 2030, according to SMI. However, regenerative agriculture is costly, and the transition takes time. Often farmers see a drop in yield after converting to regenerative practices. “We need to invest in those farmers to de-risk that transition,” said Sarah Carlson, a member of Practical Farmers of Iowa, to NPR. We must start to find new ways to grow our food industry not based on the theory of “yield at all costs,” explained Carlson. “Yield at all costs means that Mother Nature then pays. Climate change is her telling us: No more.”

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